What does a catechumenal culture look like?

When I was 34, I moved from the Midwest to San Jose, California. That experience was a huge culture shift for me. It is difficult, however, to describe the depths and nuances of that shift. Culture is mostly invisible to the people who are “native” to it. One way to define culture is to say that it is a way of life. But that doesn’t completely capture the sense of what it is to live in California—or anywhere.

About a month ago, I was sitting in a barber chair in Louisville, and the barber, who was in in 70s, began to tell me everything that is wrong with California. Mind, he’s never been to California. He was repeating stereotypes, some of which had a bit of truth to them, but none of which were an accurate depiction.

Try as I might to offer a more accurate description of life in California, my responses fell short. I was reminded of Jesus’s response to two of John’s followers when they asked Jesus where he lived. Instead of trying to describe where he lived, he replied, “Come and see.”

When someone today asks where Jesus “lives” or who Jesus is or who Catholics are or what we believe, we should try to answer as best we can. But our responses are always going to fall short. Eventually, we are going to have to invite them to “come and see.”

What should concern us a lot is what they are going to see when they get to our parish. In other words, what is our culture like? What is all the stuff that is largely invisible to us but will be readily on display to newcomers? What does a catechumenal culture look like?

Catechumenal parishes are kerygmatic

Everything the parish does should in some way draw people more deeply into an encounter with Jesus. So a book club should never be just a book club, for example. The club doesn’t have to read religious books or even begin their meetings with prayer. But the members do have to have a love for one another in the way that Jesus loves us. Every ministry and activity of the parish should in some way be oriented toward communicating Jesus’s love (see Directory for Catechesis, 2).

Catechumenal parishes are mystagogic

“Mystagogy” is term that comes from the restored rites of the catechumenate. While the journey of faith includes a period specifically designated for the mystagogical catechesis of the neophytes, a catechumenal parish is always exhibiting characteristics of mystagogy. Specifically, this means two things:

  • People are always being formed as disciples in a staged, progressive manor that takes place in the midst of the community of believers
  • The privileged place of that formation is in the liturgy and the rites (see Directory for Catechesis, 2)

Catechumenal parishes have reinterpreted the goal of catechesis

If parishes are drawing everyone into deeper experiences of Christ so that they can then go out to communicate Jesus’s love to others, and if the training for that mission is staged, progressive, and grounded in the experience of Christ in the liturgy, catechumenal parishes will reorient their goal for catechesis.

The goal of all formation has to be communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ (see Directory for Catechesis, 3).

Catechumenal parishes form disciples for mission through a process of accompaniment

Communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ is accomplished is by accompanying seekers and one another along the journey of faith. The Directory for Catechesis says:

In fact, the overall process of internalizing the Gospel involves the whole person in his unique experience of life. Only a catechesis that strives to help each individual to develop his own unique response of faith can reach the specified goal [of intimacy and communion with Jesus Christ]. (3)

Catechumenal parishes have renewed their story of what it means to be “parish”

Catechumenal parishes

  • trust firmly in the Holy Spirit, which leads to joy and serenity
  • love Jesus Christ and long for an intimate knowledge of the mystery of Christ; this leads to a desire to initiate others into that mystery
  • are the natural places where faith is generated and matures
  • are always evangelizing in everything they do; they are gifted and inspired for this work by the Holy Spirit
  • realize the baptismal priesthood is active in the mission of the church and not passive consumers of spiritual services
  • are creative and flexible in the ways they announce the essential content of the faith; there is no one-size-fits all (see Directory for Catechesis, 4)

The culture of the Midwest and the culture of California are very different. But there are also places of overlap or interest that allows those with open hearts to “decode” the culture of the other. That is our task today for those of us in a catechumenal culture.

We have to pay attention to secular culture, looking for signs of overlap or interest so we can decipher their meaning and discern the best path to take to announce the good news. There are endless possibilities for encounter. The key is to go out and explore, always alert to the opportunity to proclaim the newness of faith (see Directory for Catechesis, 5)

Your turn

What does a catechumenal culture look like in your parish? What do you want it to look like? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


See also these related articles:

  1. How to form seekers when you have no resources
  2. A catechumenal culture is created by four modes of missionary discipleship
  3. Why a catechumenal culture is important
  4. Do you have millennials on your catechumenate team?
  5. You get what you measure: What the new translation of the Rite (Order) of Christian Initiation of Adults means by “conversion”

Photo by fauxels from Pexels.
Share Button


  1. For this pilgrim, it is hard hard to get your point when we don’t, and won’t have the document in front of
    us, for quite some time. I am reading: “Augustine and the Catechumenate,” by William Harmless, which I find, not only fascinating, but very insightful.. That said, I think that this “new” revision of the RCIA, is going to follow along these lines. I guess that what I am trying to say is this, and maybe this is what you suggesting as well: We need to be aware of where people are, but, instead of telling or, preaching to them, we need to ask the right questions, in order for the Spirit to continue the work he started. And, personally, I believe that this starts with us, and our prayerful relationship, submitting our will to the will of God. We, need to forget our agendas, leave our egos at the foot of the cross, and learn to follow the will of God, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And, it takes courage and persistence to succeed to work as a team and difficult decisions must be made…prayerfully, respectfully and compassionately.

    • Hi Mike. William Harmless’s book is wonderful. I’m glad you are enjoying it. I love your statement: “We, need to forget our agendas, leave our egos at the foot of the cross, and learn to follow the will of God, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” I think that is exactly the point. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.