by: Tina Harding
“The goal and focus of the catechesis during the period of purification and enlightenment is different from that during the period of the catechumenate. During the period of the catechumenate, the focus of catechesis was immersion into the fullness of the Christian community as expressed in the Catholic Tradition – scripture, doctrine, worship, community and service. The period of purification and enlightenment presumes such immersion and the readiness to make the commitment of baptism.
NOW THE FOCUS IS AKIN TO A RETREAT!
The elect and candidates, firm in their resolve to embrace the gospel, experience a time set apart for deepened reflection on the gospel way of life, seeking the prayers of the community during these final days of preparation . . . . . This, then, is a time of prayer and reflection. This is not the time to cover materials that they may have forgotten during the catechumenate period. Rather, it is a time of focusing on God’s gifting presence, and how that presence uncovers and reveals attitudes and lifestyles that are contrary to relationship with God – namely, sin – as well as raising up those attitudes and gifts that deepen the relationship with God.” (Morris, Thomas, The RCIA, Transforming the Church, pp. 171-172, Paulist Press, 1997.)
The sessions during this third period of the RCIA process need to look and feel different. All that we have been doing with the catechumens and candidates is to get them to this point – the point at which the Archbishop declares them to be candidates for full initiation at the Rite of Election. So lenten catechesis is not about “catching up” on stuff that got missed in the Catechumenate. It is about preparing them in a prayerful way for a life of discipleship and joy.
The period of Purification and Enlightenment is steeped in rites: The Rite of Sending, The Rite of Election, The Three Scrutinies, The Presentation of the Creed, and The Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer. The three scrutiny rites, celebrated on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent for the Elect are rooted in rich stories from the Gospel of John: The Woman at the Well, The Man Born Blind, and The Raising of Lazarus. Taken together, these three stories illuminate the baptismal themes of water, light and new life as well as the catechetical themes of conversion and discipleship. If we re- main focused on the Rites and the prayerful nature of this period, we will have answered the challenge of the rite,
“to uncover then heal all that is weak, defective or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good.” (RCIA #141)
Suggestions for the sessions during the Period of Purification and Enlightenment
Structure the 40 days as a retreat.
The environment where you meet should no longer resemble a classroom. It is preferable that chairs are set in a circle. Have a table with appropriate symbols that reflect the readings and the rites to help create an environment of prayer and reflection. Use soft lighting, candles, music, plants and other appropriate symbols. See this period as an elongated dismissal.
Allow ample time for prayer and silence during each session. Mix up the opportunities for sharing by suggesting sharing in pairs, small groups and large groups.
Include reflection questions that challenge and encourage the Elect and candidates to think like “modern day disciples.”
Gather at the end of each session and create a prayerful ritual to close the time of prayer and sharing. These rituals will called forth from the Gospel readings for the scrutiny rites. Somehow incorporate water, light and new life into your prayer ritual. Invite the candidates to express what they are thirsting for. Where in life were they blind, but now see. How will they live their new life in Christ?
Invite Sponsors and Team members to offer prayers for the Elect and candidates at the end of each session.
Meet on an additional day during the week to prepare for the upcoming Scrutiny Rites and invite the parish community to attend and participate in creating the prayers for the Elect.
Include at least a day long retreat during this period that is away from the church setting. Ignatius House offers appropriate space for such a gathering, as do some Georgia State Parks that offer space for large and small gatherings.
Dismissal is appropriate and encouraged on both Holy Thursday and Good Friday as we join with the parish community in celebrating the Triduum, the three holiest days of the Church year.
Each period of the RCIA process is unique in its methodology. This is especially true to this period of purification and enlightenment. Now is the time to rely on the grace of the Holy Spirit to speak to the hearts of the Elect and candidates and “deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all.” (RCIA 141)