FORLORN YET PRIVILEGED: THE CASE OF
Dunning has written a pair of thought-provoking articles in the FORUM
Newsletter (summer 1992 and winter 1993) promoting the inclusion of
catechumens and candidates in the same rites preparing for initiation.
("Candidates" means those who are already baptized but
uncatechized.) These articles
explain Jim's proposal that all those preparing for initiation sign the book of
the elect and celebrate adapted scrutinies during lent.
reports that the responses to his articles support his experience; namely, that
all those seeking initiation follow a similar journey, and that journey should
then be marked by similar ritual stages.
like to broaden the conversation a bit, because I'm not convinced this is the
best solution. This article will
explain what Jim's proposal means, what problems it answers and creates, and
what other solutions may be considered.
EXPLANATION OF THE PROPOSAL
proposal can be seen as a response to three questions: 1) "What are the
appropriate preparatory rites for initiation?" 2) "Should these rites differ between the baptized and
the unbaptized?" 3)
"Should these rites differ between the catechized and the
3, since Jim deals only with the uncatechized here, he implies that catechized
candidates may celebrate simpler rites. Jim
answers 2 in the negative if the baptized are uncatechized.
He says the initiation journey is so similar for those approaching the
church for formation that the preparatory rites should all be the same.
Then, to answer the first question, he proposes that the appropriate
rites be adapted from the ritual text for the catechumenate, so that they fit
the needs of the entire initiatory group.
readers of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults will recognize that
if questions 2 and 3 were posed to the ritual text, they would seem redundant.
The text assumes that the baptized are catechized, and that the
unbaptized are uncatechized. In
fact, it assumes that the unbaptized are also unevangelized.
That means we assume they have not begun to meet Christ or the Gospel.
So the first period, the pre-catechumenate, introduces them to the
Gospel, by which they can decide if they wish to accept it, hearing it now for
the first time. Then they
can begin catechesis, or instruction and formation in the Christian way of life.
ministers of the catechumenate know that the ritual text errs on this point.
We have plenty of baptized who are uncatechized, and plenty of
non-baptized who know the Gospel better than most.
We also have baptized, catechized Christians who seek communion with our
church. But we tend to treat them
with the same process and rituals as the unbaptized, uncatechized.
Jim proposes, then, is wonderfully simple: No need to separate sheep from goats.
Everybody's on a journey, so let them approach the milestones together.
most obvious problem is that the ritual text sees things differently.
Continually it separates catechumens from candidates.
It envisions that those becoming catechumens will be met at the door of
the church (48), but those welcomed as candidates begin their journey with us in
a pew (416). It suggests that
catechumens be dismissed from the assembly after the liturgy of the word (67),
but that candidates are dismissed only if the whole assembly is (432).
And the rites of election and scrutinies are completed adapted when those
seeking membership have already been baptized.
going on here? The rituals express
the disparity between catechumen and faithful.
The faithful meet catechumens at the door, because they are joining us
from outside the Christian assembly. In
the dismissals, we permit them to meditate at great length on the word, because
they have just completed the period of evangelization, and now they need more
time to let the Scriptures sink in.
candidates are already baptized. Hence,
they have a place with the Christian assembly.
They are welcome to stay for the liturgy of the Eucharist because they
have already been forming their lives on the Gospel, because our creed is
already their creed, because they are accustomed to our prayers for the world
(the prayers of the faithful), because they share the Lord's Prayer with us by
their faith in Christ, and because in our communion of faith we may fittingly
offer the holy kiss of peace, a sign of the Christian family.
What's missing, of course, is communion.
That's why they're in preparation--to join full communion.
are the parishes who make these distinctions.
The catechetical group, most frequently comprising catechumens and
candidates, finds solace in sharing their catechetical and ritual experiences
together. So candidates willingly
dismiss themselves after the liturgy of the word; they can't receive communion
anyway. And besides, our
beleaguered initiation teams cannot honorably give more time to minister to
sacramentally disparate groups who seem to be on spiritually similar paths.
Rite of Election
rite of election poses its own symbolic problems. The ritual suggests that the elect (i.e., catechumens who are
ritually chosen early in lent to be baptized this Easter) sign the book, but
candidates for full communion do not. Clearly
the liturgy seeks a link between book and water, or more accurately, between
name and water. The primary symbol
of election is the name. Our names
are sacraments of ourselves. They
stand for what we stand for. We
sign on to ratify, to speak out, to pay our bills, to make the typed words of
letters our own. Our name is what
people use to call us. Election and
baptism will Christianize our names. In
that way, whenever someone calls us by our name, they call us Christian.
This is why catechumens also have the option of choosing a baptismal name
(200-205). This ritual makes sense
only if in baptism they're changing the name by which they wish to be called for
the rest of their lives.
however, are in another league altogether.
Having been baptized by name, their names already symbolize that they are
Christian. At best, the signing of
the book is redundant. At worst, it
ritually scorns their baptism.
problem is, most people experience the rite of election as a rite of preparation
for Catholic church membership, or as a rite marking another stage on the ritual
journey. Since all seek membership,
and since all pursue such a similar journey, to separate catechumens from
candidates at this point seems boorish. It
makes candidates feel like they're not good enough to have their names in that
book. The rite has become
counterproductive to what it tries to achieve: affirming the baptism of the candidate.
there are the scrutinies. Guideposts
for the season of lent, the scrutinies direct and purify those chosen for
baptism. The ritual is anchored by
exorcisms. These prayers ask God to
drive out the spirit of evil and fill the elect with the spirit of goodness.
Exorcisms do not presume that the elect had been demonically possessed,
but they do presume that the pre-baptismal state is more subject to forces of
evil than the state of baptism. If
the initiation rites incorporate new members into the body of Christ, if they
fill newcomers with the Holy Spirit, there must be some nasty former state out
there from which people pass in order to enjoy the fullness of life in Christ.
developed in the early centuries of church history, at a time when knowledge
about demons, temptation, and human psychology was quite primitive.
Flawed as they may be, they desperately try to define the spiritual
states people pass between in initiation rites.
Still, their goal is baptismal.
presume a spiritual state outside the body of Christ, and a desire to find in
the waters of baptism the new life in Christ promised in the Scriptures.
the scrutinies have several problems. The
terms seem all wrong in modern language. "Scrutiny" sounds like we're checking out one last
time whether or not we really want these candidates. (And that was a feature in the early days when these rituals
developed. We downplay it now.)
"Exorcism" sounds like a Hollywood drama expelling demons who
infest and contort the innocent. Further,
although the passage into baptism brings one along a serious spiritual journey,
we're less prone to suggest that the pre-baptismal state is demonic.
We recognize that God dwells in non-believers who, in the words of the
eucharistic prayer, seek God "with a sincere heart."
resolve this dilemma, many communities have decided to celebrate scrutinies
which identify the sins we all hold in common, the selfishness in human society
which keeps us all from Christ. In
a sense, we all need to be "exorcised". But, quite frankly, the ritual doesn't see it that way.
It still presumes that the unbaptized need big exorcisms (and some little
ones along the way (94)), and the baptized candidates need prayer for the coming
of the Spirit, but not exorcisms for the expulsion of spirits (compare 154 and
470)--unless, of course, the baptized have become demonically possessed.
recognition of common sin may help bring these archaic rituals a step further
along the way, but to expand the usage of exorcisms runs into dangerous
territory: either we apply a prebaptismal concept to the baptized (scorning
their baptism again), or in displacing exorcism from pre-baptism to post-baptism
we lump it with those questionable media-magnetic cases of demonic possession in
its most dramatic forms.
this entire assumption that exorcisms move people from the spirit of sin to the
spirit of Christ finds its corollary in the rite of infant baptism with the
concept of original sin. Since
babies don't commit personal sin, the liturgy faces a theological problem: In
what sense are babies passing from evil into new life? The answer comes with original sin. The doctrine assumes that we are all born into a prebaptismal
state which cries out for redemption. The
rite of infant baptism mentions the expression "original sin" in only
one place: the prayer of exorcism which precedes the pouring of water and
which may accompany the anointing with the oil of catechumens.
on the evils of our society, Jim Dunning finds original sin here: "We are
born into a world corrupted by this demonic power."
At first blush, this sounds right, but it does not square with the
traditional beliefs that original sin is what Mary was preserved from (Wasn't
she born into the same world?) and that it is wiped away by baptism (Isn't the
corruption still here?). Laudably
Jim tries to rescue a traditional term ("original sin") by giving it a
contemporary context ("corrupt world").
But his definition sounds more like what we used to call
"concupiscence": the human tendency toward personal sin.
In sacramental terms, original sin is what baptism does away with;
personal sin is what penance does away with; and concupiscence, like the corrupt
world, is always here. All the
doctrine of original sin need say is that in order for something positive to
happen in baptism, something negative must have preceded it.
It describes a feeble "spiritual state," a personal condition
from which one passes in order to enjoy the new life in Christ.
Jim is quite right that social sin is rampant, but it differs from what
we call "original". "Original
sin" is a faulty term even for the spiritual state it tries to describe: It
isn't really original, especially for those conceived in a Christian household
who have access to Christian burial if they die before baptism, and it isn't
really sin, since it does not of itself desire separation from God.
It's merely that darkness outside the light of baptism, that solitude
outside the Christian community. Even
in its most traditional sense, then, baptism eliminates it, and Mary was
miraculously preserved from it.
the doctrine is not neat. Notice
that by the time we deal with the adult rites of initiation, all references to
original sin disappear. Original
sin tries to reconcile an adult phenomenon with an infant's experience.
But read from infancy back to adulthood, original sin either becomes
exclusively a childhood phenomenon, or it is so overshadowed by adult personal
sin that it flies beneath the radar of the revised rites.
It's just as well: A survey of the history of original sin will reveal we
used to teach it was transmitted by intercourse and contributed to the
sinfulness of the sexual act, whether or not it was conjugal or even
pleasurable. No one wants to open
that closet door.
theological assumptions do not stir pride in every Catholic breast.
Encrusted with medieval notions of demonology and the worthlessness of
unbaptized human life, they badly need rethinking in an age of religious
pluralism and modern psychology. Rushing
all hands on deck to celebrate the next exorcism may cause us to slip rather
searching for solutions, we must say clearly what has been implied here: The
restored catechumenate, marvelous as it is, frequently misses the mark when
applied to contemporary religious experience.
For it to work, it must be adapted, and is being wonderfully adapted
throughout the world to make it fit modern needs.
main reason is that today's religious skyline differs from that of the third
century in two immense ways: the number of baptized non-Catholics joining our
church, and the number of infants baptized in the Catholic church who grow up
without catechesis. The third
century church faced a fairly common need: how to bring people from Judaism or
pagan religions into Christianity. Yes,
we still have that need, but it pales before these larger issues: How do we
welcome baptized non-Catholics to our communion table?
How do we ritualize a belated coming to faith for Catholic uncatechized
adults who were baptized as infants? This is not just the issue in your parish
church. This is the crux of the
problem throughout most of the Christianized world, especially that restless
giant of Catholicism: Latin America. The
restored catechumenate, however, focuses its attention on the third century
problem of the non-baptized (a small percentage of those who wish to approach
our communion table), and supports itself on many a medieval doctrine.
the disparities: Dismissing catechumens in the third century helped create a
sense of surprise at the Easter Vigil when the newly baptized would experience
the liturgy of the eucharist for the first time, and the element of surprise contributed
to the need for mystagogy; today, we encourage visitors to come to Mass.
Although heresy and schism crippled the unity of the early church,
today's multiple Christian religions embarrass the body of Christ and weaken its
impact in the global political scene. The
third century church largely baptized adults, along with some infants; today we
largely baptize infants, along with some adults.
We fed fuel to the fire in the evangelization of the new world with its
unbridled baptism of infants and adults in unprepared families, and by creating
a social expectation in virtually every Christianized corner of the world that
if you have a baby you get it baptized.
before adapting these rituals again, it's imperative to ask how useful they are
on the contemporary scene.
to do with our candidates? They
have a few adapted rites in the American edition of the ritual text, and they
are not invited into some of the most expressive rituals we have because they've
already celebrated the biggie, baptism. We
tell them they're privileged. They
solutions are possible:
Adapt all the rites.
solution (essentially that of Jim Dunning) suggests that since the journey is
the same (spiritual conversion) and the goal is the same (church membership),
the rites should be the same. To
make this solution work, all the texts need to be rewritten.
One simply cannot pray the scrutinies as they appear in the ritual text
for those who are already baptized. They'd
virtually announce that their baptism, contrary to Jesus and St. Paul, was
problem with this solution is how far do you go? Do you (gulp) adapt baptism itself? Many of our candidates would love to be baptized again,
because this life commitment helps them meet a real turning point.
But we know that baptism into the life of Christ is a once and for all
experience. Nonetheless, if the
journey is the same and the goal is the same, the ritual itself should look
mighty similar. The gulf between
the full immersion of a catechumen and the unmoistened sprinkling of a candidate
proclaims that the spiritual journeys were very different.
That's not our experience in the spiritual direction of those approaching
Develop a new complex of rituals for candidates.
solution would honor the importance of baptism for catechumens while proposing a
similarly dramatic series of rituals for those who are already baptized.
Such rituals might be useful even for very active Catholics who need to
express their recommitment to faith at different stages of life's journey.
The adapted rituals in the text are just too wimpy to fit the
extraordinary conversion our candidates experience.
scrutinies, adapted exorcisms may not be the best solution.
Exorcising the faithful creates a "devil-made-me-do-it"
mystique around sin. It invites one to feel released from the culpability of sin.
What may serve us better is not exorcisms, but penance rites, rituals
that invite us to confess our sin--both personal and social.
The advantage of the penance rite is that it may actually offer
forgiveness, a feature exorcisms lack. So
the focus of the rite may be off how awful we are and onto how merciful God is,
who even now extends forgiveness to the faithful.
Minimize the rituals for candidates.
solution asks why are we making it so difficult for the baptized to come to our
communion table? The rite of
reception itself suggests "that no greater burden than necessary is
required for the establishment of communion and unity (473)." Yet we are quick to say: Wait for Easter, join our groups,
get a sponsor, sign the book, kneel for exorcisms, (get sprinkled,) and come to
mystagogy sessions for another year.
that the goal of the process is coming to full communion.
The obstacle is often not the non-faith of the candidate, but the
400-year burden of too many Christian faiths.
How anxious we are for whole churches to share communion together, yet
how hesitant we are to let individuals eat with us.
We are not powerless to bring on ecumenical unity; we are powerful in
minimizing the requirements for full communion.
By making a big deal out of candidates joining our church we actually set
the ecumenical movement back. The
baptized have a right to a common table. Who
are we to stand in the way?
spiritual journey we ask of candidates is no less than the spiritual journey we
ask of every Christian. It need not
culminate in initiation. It could
culminate in a ritual of renewal common to the baptized.
there is no clear solution right now should not cause us dismay.
The restored catechumenate is new on our church scene.
We need time and experience with it to see where it fails and where it
succeeds. A thoughtful evaluation
of what we believe about baptism, the spiritual nature of the human person, and
the anthropological demands of ritualized conversion will help us see the light.
And that light will be Christ.
An abridged version of this article first appeared in Forum Newsletter 11/1(Winter 1994):3-4, 10.