The Catechumenate — A Process of Spiritual Formation

Will you open your heart and mind to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ? Answer: I will, with God’s help. (Rite of Admission of Candidates) Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…? I will, with God’s help. (The Baptismal Covenant)

The Catechumate is all about spiritual formation!

When I first began catechumenate ministry in 1981, the priest at St. Theresa’s responded to my request to take part in the adult education program. When I became the Director of the RCIA for the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, the new position was part of the Department of Adult Education. One of the national discussions at Notre Dame and in the North American Forum for the Catechumenate was whether or not the RCIA was part of Liturgy and Worship or of Adult Education. In the spirit of Catholicism, the answer was “both/and.” When I became part of the RCIA team at St. Rose Catholic Church in Roseville, that team was part of Adult Education. When I joined the catechumenate team at Trinity Cathedral, the catechumenate was part of “Adult Spiritual Formation,” (ASF) Trinity’s name for adult education. Or, at least, that was how I saw Adult Spiritual Formation. When I did diocesan workshops on the catechumenate, I did them, and they were received, as part of the “sacramental development” of adult education.

There was no discussion at any of these organizations during all of this time of the catechumenate being essentially a process of spiritual formation . The placement of the catechumenate within ASF implied that it was about classes for adults. The assumption was that these classes, and all others that ASF offered would somehow contribute to the participants’ spiritual formation. My team has campaigned for several years that we don’t hold classes; we have meetings. I don’t think we realized the implications of this change of language. At least I did not.

I continued waffling between whether the catechumenate should be part of liturgy and worship or part of ASF. I was pretty sure that no one would agree to moving it to Liturgy and Worship because the most significant part of the catechumenate was preparing participants for baptism and confirmation through classes.

Another part of this background is that I have participated in a long running debate as to whether or not there is sufficient doctrine taught in catechumenate. Jim Richardson, the Interim Dean at Trinity Cathedral, is the latest person raising this argument against the value of the catechumenate. My response has been that the catechumenate strictly speaking, i.e. as designed specifically for the unbaptized, is not about teaching Roman Catholic or Episcopalian or Lutheran doctrine but rather preparing people to be baptized into the Body of Christ. One is not baptized into the Catholic Church or into the Episcopal Church or into the Lutheran Church. St. Paul clearly gives us the Scriptural basis for this claim (I Cor 1:8-18). However I do concede that, because the formation is taking place within a particular denomination, that denomination’s ethos will envelope the formation. And I agree that confirmation involves committing oneself to entry into a particular denomination and hence could include teaching in the doctrines of the particular denomination. All candidates for the catechumenate and it’s related rites are asked the questions cited at the beginning of this blog. None are asked “Do you commit yourself to following the doctrines and dogmas of “X” Church?”

I am somewhat ashamed that my realization of the essential nature of the catechumenate has come late in my ministry. I have provided the above history partially as a justification of why is have been so blind to this understanding. And, in all fairness to Trinity, the placement of the catechumenate in ASF is part of how and why I came to this revelation. When the catechumenate is placed in the context of spiritual formation, all discussions of adequate doctrinal teaching become irrelevant. We are not about teaching. We are about reflecting on the Gospel and upon the apostles’ teachings, which are essentially the same as the gospels. (The Gospel narratives are the embodiment of the apostles’ teachings.). We are about incorporation into the Body of Christ, as that is reflected in the Gospels. I did not come to this realization until I retired. I did reflect on it while employed but the reflections were brief. I spent more time trying to figure out how to meet the objections of inadequate doctrinal education.

Now that we talk about the catechumenate as spiritual formation, how will it fit into the ASF department at Trinity? One can argue that the writing classes and chat groups serve the same function. Centering Prayer certainly is about spiritual formation but I don’t think we see it as part of ASF unless we are pressed as to where it “fits” in the Trinity organizational structure. Advocates of EfM argue that the faith sharing in the EfM classes makes that program “more than” classes. But the readings are in Scriptural exegesis and commentary, in Church history and in doctrinal theology. They are classes and EfM is a course of study.

It will be interesting to see if the new Dean will see this essential nature of the catechumenate. It is clear that Bishop Megan “gets it.” Her comments thus far on the nature of the catechumenate make that clear.

About Jerry

Catechumenate ministry is my passion. I have been involved in the catechumenate since 1980 in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal branches of the Church. I am a "progressive," ecumenical Christian who is realistic enough to know that the Church has never been "One"; is often not "Holy"; strives to be "Catholic" and is "Apostolic" only when members respect the Tradition rather than the latest customs. I have been fortunate to be able to focus on various elements of philosophy, theology and Christian history during my studies. I am able to bring them all to bear in catechumenate ministry.
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