Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Mass and the Catechumenal Process

Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, Utah [2:54:19]
[click pic to view video]
The catechumenal process, insofar as it is a gradual progression through stages of increasing profundity1, has many parallels in nature and in our every-day lives. All around us we see this progression: in the growing and blossoming of plants, in the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, and even in human life itself, as man is born, grows, weakens, and dies. The spiritual life, too, is a progression, and in much the same way as the physical life that we live. St. Thomas Aquinas illustrates this point eloquently when he compares our spiritual progression through the seven sacraments with the natural progression of man.2

One of these seven sacraments, the Eucharist, is the "source and summit"3 of our faith and our spiritual life. When we celebrate the Eucharist in the Mass, we experience yet another progression, as we grow in intimacy with the Lord and as His presence becomes more and more profound. From among the many examples in our world of gradual progression, there is nothing more splendid, more heavenly, than the Mass. Thus, it is ideal as a parallel of the catechumenal process.

The first stage in the catechumenal process is the precatechumenate. This is a stage of welcoming and of an initial preaching of the Gospel. Sessions may begin with prayer, and with praise and worship music to prepare the inquirer. This stage is also where the basics of salvation history are presented, and where the inquirer meets Jesus Christ for the first time. Similarly, the Mass begins with Introductory Rites. There is praise and worship music in the opening song and the Gloria. The participants first meet Christ in the person of the priest, who greets them and says an opening prayer. They also learn about salvation history and meet out Lord in the Liturgy of the Word.

Next in the catechumenal process is the catechumenate. This is where a more detailed and comprehensive elucidation of the faith is delivered. Here the catechumen comes to know Jesus greater still, as he learns more about His life and His Church. Similarly, in the Mass there is the homily, when the priest explains the message of the readings and how to apply them to our lives. There is also the recitation of the Creed, which is a powerful expression of our faith.4

After the catechumenate is a stage called purification and enlightenment. In this stage, the catechumen reflects on what he has learned and meditates upon its significance. He also looks towards the future and prepares himself for final acceptance into Christ's Body, the Church. Through prayer and spiritual exercises he hopes to achieve an even greater intimacy with the Lord. This stage ends with the Easter Vigil, where the catechumen receives the sacraments of initiation. Similarly, the next stage in the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The participants reflect on the gifts tha are being presented and pray that their lives too will be a gift and a sacrifice to God. They kneel in prayer and adoration as the elements of bread and wine become the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. While kneeling and then while processing forward to the altar they meditate on the great mystery of His Presence and long to accept Him with the proper disposition. Like the Easter Vigil, where the catechumen receives the fullest measure of Christ and HIs grace, the Mass culminates with the Communion Rite, when the participants receive the Eucharist, the most intimate communion with Christ we can achieve in this life.

The catechumenal process ends with mystagogy. This is a time of post-baptismal instruction, where the neophyte Christian is supported in his new faith, in his relationship with Christ, and in his quest to go out and live what he has learned. Similarly, after the participants spend a moment in silence reflecting upon what they have received, the mass concludes with a Blessing and the Dismissal. The priest blesses the participants "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," and exhorts them all to "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." They reply, "Thanks be to God!"
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[1] The stages of the catechumenal process are thus: 1.precatechumenate, 2.rite of acceptance, 3.catechumenate, 4.rite of election, 5.purification and enlightenment, 6.Easter vigil, 7.mystagogy.
[2] Summa Theologiae, Third Part, Question 65, Article 1
[3] Lumen Gentium, no. 11.
[4] The parts of the Mass that parallel the catechumenate stage also tend to flow into the other stages of the catechumenal process.

5 comments:

Laura said...

That was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed the comparisons made to the RCIA process, especially since I knew little about what actually went on. Comparing it to the thing which is the source and summit of our faith, to the rite without which I feel completely and utterly empty, was the perfect way, for myself, anyway, to present the progression of a person through the Rite of Christian Iniation for Adults.

Bravo.

phatcatholic said...

thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Nick! Thanks so much for posting this...I love it! I'm in the RCIA process right now and reading this was wonderful. Makes me even more eager for April 7th when I'll finally be a member of the Church! God bless+

-Becky (aka:sweetpea from phatmass)

phatcatholic said...

Good! I'm glad :D

Matt1618 said...

Hey Nick, I hope you don't mind, but I sent this article to a guy I'm sponsoring in RCIA at the parish I'm assigned too, giving you credit of course... thanks!

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