The other day, I saw some young children playing T-Ball. We didn’t have T-Ball when I was a kid, and I didn’t really know what it was. I discovered T-ball is a simplified version of baseball, designed to introduce children as young as four to the game. I started out playing Little League, which requires more skill and for which I was woefully unprepared. Little League eventually evolved into Intermediate, Junior, and Senior League Baseball.
When we think about baptized candidates, we can imagine them on a similar path for learning to live the Christian life. Most of the baptized Christians in our formation processes would probably be intermediate, junior, or senior Christians.
What do different levels of formation look like?
Sometimes we get baptized candidates who are at the T-Ball level of discipleship, but they are not the majority. In other words, most of our baptized candidates have some level of formation and some level of skill at living as a disciple.
Those who have never had a meaningful encounter with Jesus need a different style of formation than those who are actively engaged on the journey of faith and have deep-level discipleship skills.
Most parish teams sense this need for differences in style but feel understaffed and under-resourced to provide a customized formation for the different baptized candidates they encounter. However, there is an easy(ish) solution. By facilitating the full, conscious, and active participation of the candidates in the liturgy, you will be leading each of them to their own unique encounter with Christ.
A very common reaction to this truth is that, yes, it is important that the candidates go to Mass, but that is not enough.
It may not be enough (depending on which candidate we are talking about), but it is a lot, lot more than most of us realize. That is why the church teaches that liturgy is the privileged place of catechesis (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1074).
Participating in the work of faith
When we talk about full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy, most of us think of things like singing, responding, gesturing — the ritual action of the rite. While that is one part of what the church means by participation, it is only the first level. In a sense, it is the T-Ball level. Everyone has to learn and master the very basics of the first level of participation.
As disciples encounter Christ at that first level, however, they eventually move to a deeper level of participation — participating in the priestly work of Christ. All of us know that we are made priests by our baptism. Our job as priests is to join ourselves to the priestly work of Christ on behalf of the world. We do that primarily at the Mass and also the other liturgies of the church. In the liturgy, we rehearse offering ourselves as a sacrifice of praise, just as Christ is offered as a sacrifice for the sake of the world. Then we go out from the liturgy to do that same kind of work in the world on behalf of those who do not know Christ.
We might consider disciples who are participating in the liturgy at that second level to be in the Intermediate League. However, there is yet another, deeper level of participation the church asks of us — participating in the Trinitarian life of God as human beings. This level of participation takes some time and a regular practice of liturgical prayer to attain. One way to think of this deepest level of participation is the different ways in which people share in communion at Mass.
Why are we proclaiming the good news?
Those at the T-Ball and Intermediate levels tend focus on what happens to themselves during communion. Knees bent and heads bowed, we tend to focus our own healing or transformation almost to the exclusion of everyone around us. Those at the deepest level of participation, however, encounter Christ in something like a Sprit-filled dance with the Father and with all those also gathered at the table and with all those in the world who are also being invited into the divine dance by the Holy Spirit.
At this deepest level of participation, the liturgy forms us to both be Christ for one another and recognize Christ in one another. This is the ultimate goal of our proclamation of the good news. And that is ultimately what we are forming the baptized candidates for.
By making sure each of your baptismal candidates, whatever level they are at, is full, consciously, and actively involved in the liturgy, you will be facilitating their own, unique encounter with Christ that will form them as true disciples.
What does participation look like among the baptized candidates in your community? How do you foster full, conscious, and active participation in the life of your parish? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
<h6>Photo by jfairone from Getty Images Signature.</h6>