Maureen is interested in becoming a Catholic, so she knocks on the parish door in November and is welcomed with open arms. She is unbaptized and has never had an experience of faith or a church community. She is an at-home mom searching for meaning in her life. She is immediately put in contact with other at-home moms in the parish who meet for prayer and play, and so her apprenticeship in the faith begins. She also participates in the evangelization gathering that meets for an hour on Sunday morning. The only agenda of this precatechumenate period is evangelization and conversion to Jesus Christ.
The period of evangelization/precatechumenate (see RCIA 36 coming soon) is not a time to teach Catholic doctrine; that will come in the period of the catechumenate. Nor is it a syllabus-oriented classroom model of education. This gathering welcomes people whenever they come seeking—November, February, June, or September. If there are inquirers there is a gathering and a community to greet them. The first period of the initiation process is a time for the seeker to become acquainted with Catholic life: to become immersed in the life of the community; to get to know parishioners, parish groups, parish activities; to be evangelized; to be mentored; to begin a love affair with the living Christ, our brother, our teacher, our Good Shepherd, our Savior, who wants to be in intimate friendship with us. It is a time to hear stories of faith—stories of the great biblical heroes such as Abraham, who heard the call of God and engendered a great nation, and Moses, who also heard that call and led his people out of slavery to the Promised Land.
The period of evangelization is also a time for inquirers to embrace God’s forgiveness, to begin to appreciate Jesus’ self-sacrifice of love on the cross, and to join their own joys and sorrows to that same cross. The heart of the precatechumenate is evangelization and conversion to Jesus Christ.
If a seeker is already evangelized, they belong in the continuous period of the catechumenate. The criteria for discernment are found in paragraph 42—initial conversion, acceptance of fundamental Christian teachings, and a sense of the Church. Once evangelized and having celebrated the rite of acceptance into the order of catechumens, the catechumen moves into the period of the catechumenate when it is discerned that initial conversion has taken root—whenever that is. For Maureen, it will probably be sometime in February or March. The Latin translation of paragraph 18 suggests that the rite be celebrated whenever it is “opportune:” “Two dates in the year, or three if necessary, are to be fixed [the Latin translation says opportune] as the usual times for carrying out this rite” (RCIA, 18).
Maureen will bypass Easter and follow the proscription in RCIA 7.2 and #6 of the National Statutes: “The second period, which begins with the rite of acceptance into the order of catechumens and may last for several years . . . comes to an end on the day of election“(RCIA, 7.2). National Statute #6 echoes the same: “Ordinarily this period should go from at least the Easter season of one year until the elect; preferably it should begin before Lent in one year and extend until Easter the following year” (NS #6). In other words, the precatechumenate lasts as long as it takes.
The period of inquiry is a journey into the mystery and heart of Jesus. It is a time for the seeker to begin a love relationship with Jesus Christ and begin to learn the life of a Catholic by doing what Catholics do.
Year-Round Catechumenate: Mary Birmingham, Liturgical Training Publications, 2007.Formed in Faith: Sessions for Precatechumenate, Catechumenate, Ongoing Faith Formation, World Library Publications, 2012.