The Catechumenate for Adults
In the year 1968 took place the first meeting of the people that they worked in the accompaniment of catechumens or in the catechesis of adults in Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland. From then on they have left happening every two years the European meetings, in which they participate the national teams of the catechumenate. In this meetings, starting from a topic proposed by the organizers, it is reflected on the challenges that think about to the catechumenado, experiences they are shared, one prays and it take place the faith, documents and publications are exchanged, and it is known in detail the reality of the catechumenate in the different local churches. In the last decades statements encounters have had a marked ecumenical character that has enriches the European catechumenate notably. These encounters are known as "Eurocat".
Also every year they meet the national responsible for catechumenate. In this meetings the last celebrated European meeting is always valued, the following one is programmed, the reality of the local catechumenate is known and you travels in a panoramic and in a detailed way the present time of each one of the national catechumenates in presented. This meeting is linked by a secretariat formed by three national responsible, which correspond to the countries in which will take place, is taken place or has taken place, some of the meetings of the European catechumenate. This meeting is known as "bureau".
I. A brief panorama of the history of the Catechumenate
1. The catechumenal way, destined to adults who ask to adhere to the Christian faith, is witnessed at the end of the 2nd century. It spread, subsequently, to all local Churches, being progressively enriched in its catechistic, liturgical, and ascetic-penitential content. All those who wanted to follow Christianity and were considered eligible were received among the catechumens. They stated then on a path, lasting generally several years, in which they got to know the Word of God in depth, developed their faith, and experienced conversion, going through a training in the Christian life that took place in the Christian community and was sustained by it. The Catechumenate was a fundamental stage in the Christian initiation process, and was structured by periods and degrees. The initiatory itinerary, developed in the early Church, stretches from the first steps into faith up to the celebration of baptism, confirmation, and the eucharist in Easter night, and concluded with mystagogy time. The Church expressed, through the Christian initiation process - a vital part of its pastoral ministry - its missionary and evangelizing action, and fulfilled its maternal function by generating sons and daughters for the people of the new alliance. An extended and articulated path was deemed necessary at a time when becoming Christians meant going against the tide in relation to the official culture, which was still pagan. It is possible to delve deeply into the early Christian initiation process thanks to the witness of the Fathers, who have conveyed their Churches´ experience through writings and catechesis.
2. This process of Christian initiation went into decline when, from the end of the 6th century, the Church´s pastoral did not perceive adult evangelization - an urgent priority in view of their Baptism. Being Christians, in fact, was always more - since the 4th century - the condition through which to belong to society. In the Hihg Middle Ages, in a situation of inhabiting stability in the Church, the generalized pastoral practice of infant Baptism was consolidated. When this praxis became dominant, the process of adult catechumenate became increasingly "obsolete" reaching the point when this vital component of the Church`s pastoral practice ceased totally. However, the rites proper of the catechumenate for adult`s initiation were never completely eliminated from the Christian initiation ritual in the centuries that followed. Only at the beginning of the 17th century, with Paul V´s adult baptism ritual, the Church prescribed that the rites scheduled along the catechumenate had to be all included in the same celebration as Baptism.
3. The Church experienced a re-awakeing of the catechumenal process in the 18th and 19th centuries, when missionary activity increased and spread in an effective way in different continents. The various religious Congregations appeared very active in re-introducing the process of the catechumenate. The great surge of activity and fervour restarted in Africa and spread to Asia and Oceania. It took some time for the proposal of the catechumenate to be accepted in the Churches of Europe and America, continents where almost the whole population adhered to the Christian faith, and DeChristianization was considered a phenomenon which was still marginal. It is only in the last fifty years that we have acquired an awareness of the process, a consciousness brought about by the changes that took place within the various societies, changes that rendered necessary a new approach in our pastoral practices.
4. In 1963, the Vatican Council II reinstated the institution of the catechumenate (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 64) and subsequently, in 1965, which the decree on missionary activity, it offered an essential description of it (cf. Ad Gentes 14). Drawing inspiration from the ancient tradition of the Church, the conciliar fathers proposed a vital process for initiation to the living faith of The Church, aimed at a serious conversion path for adults who ask for baptism, articulated in several steps, and not just being the work of catechists and priests, but of the whole community of the faithful. Committed to a training on the whole Christian life, the catechumens are introduced into the religious, liturgical, and charitable life of the People of God, thanks to catechesis and the sacred rites. The conciliar decision was ratified by the publication, in 1972, of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults: a liturgical and normative text, and at the same first time first instrument of pastoral intervention.
II. Ecclesial View
5. The changing "face" and "values" of societies the world over have greatly contributed to the growing consciousness of the Church regarding its identity: she is a humble handmaid, present in society as "leaven", while acknowledging the fact of being "far" from the heart of society. The Church has entered a new phase of dialogue with society, which has generated a greater awareness and concern for social problems. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, the awareness and sensitivity as a Church called to evangelise has grown. The Church presents again now the spirit of the catechumenate, and undertakes more decisive actions with regard to the proclamation of the Gospel.
6. The process of the catechumenate helps revive not only themore personal dimension of faith but also that of communion, and not only in the individual but also in the Christian community. The process of reacquisition of awareness and of re-discovery of the way of initiation in the Christian communities will take time, but it is very important not to rush because this process represents a vital aspect of the pastoral ministry of the Church. In fact, this importance is underlined by the most recent catechetical document of the Catholic Church, which states that the pedagogy of the catechumenate is the "model of all catechesis" (cf. General Directory for Catechesis 90). Through the process of Christian initiation our desire for God reawakens inasmuch as we become conscious that He is a personal God, He is present, He loves us, He has a plan for each one`s life. The desire for this plan of God guides the catechumen, and then the baptized, towards faith formation, that entails a lifelong conversion process, a process that grows in depth and offers more joy, healing and freedom along the way.
III. Christian initiation
7. Through the pedagogy of faith, in the catechumenate initiation process the individual progressively comes to recognize, make his / her own, and assert his / her identity within the live of communion of the Church. This identity continues to bear witness in today`s often disintegrated society.
The evolution of our society, the deepening of the witness of the Church Fathers, and the "signs of the times" influences the "rediscovery" of this initiation process. The Holy Spirit, constantly at work in the Church, helps us articulate this process of faith and comprehension of the Gospel, which is the foundation rock of our faith. Through this articulation, along the whole process of Christian initiation, Christians become, in time, rooted in the Gospel, and come to recognize it as "their house". They are stimulated all along by the evangelical values they have received, and feel encouraged by the promise of happiness. The process includes a preparatory phase of introduction, during which the heart of the one who is searching meets the heart of the Christian Message, but above all the person of Christ, revealer of the Father, as source and object of the Message itself, and ends up discovering that the evangelical Message is pertinent of his / her life. The person who is searching has the opportunity then to meet the Gospel Message in a living form: the community, which lives the Gospel and gives witness of its effectiveness. In this meeting, the person of Jesus Christ comes to light as the centre of our faith. Through him, the catechumen comes to understand, pursue and desire everything that God offers to the world through his Church. The role of the local community of faithful becomes vital in this process and in this pedagogy of faith. The initiation becomes in this way of introduction and a new way of living, perceiving, and judging entirely based on the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus for the live of men and women of every time and every place. At the same time, the implementation of the catechumenate commits the ecclesial community to a renewal of live and witness. It is a special opportunity to provide the pastoral ministry with a new missionary and evangelizing dimension, and it represents an area of fruitful and real collaboration between presbyters, deacons, the consecrated, married couples, and lay men and woman.
8. The catechumenal journey is a deep apprenticeship in the faith experience, which gives rise to a growing participation in the life of the Christian community. The fruits of this process for the individual are represented by the construction of a deep and personal relationship with God in prayer, tied to a relationship with brothers and sisters in the shared faith and at the service of the world, accepting the stewardship of all that God has entrusted to the human family.
9. At the level of communion, the catechumenate can become an ecclesial way, for a more intense ecumenical dialogue, and for an interreligious exchange full of respect and truth. The catechumenate has always been in the Church a pedagogy of faith that leeds to the person of Christ, who is the Way for all humanity. Leading to Christ, its leeds to Him who is the reason to be for each Christian confession; it is not by chance that experiences of collaboration towards the first announcement of the Gospel and catechumenal itineraries have been ongoing for years in some countries of Europe and America.
10. The catechumenate is a way of conversion and training in the ecclesial faith, addressed appropriately to adults who are preparing to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. Recuperating the capacity to implement the first announcement and the essential components of the catechumenate (catechesis, liturgy, patronage) helps the Christian community to welcome and accompany also the baptized in the discovery or rediscovery of Christianity. It is the case of the situation in which a young person or an adult, who has been baptized as an infant, has never truly known the Gospel. It is also the case of the itineraries proposed to youngsters who are gradually educated to the meeting with Christ and Christian fraternity.