Lent can be very much a time of being alone in the wilderness. We may discover that we rely on some worldly things more than we care to admit to cope with life. Yet giving them up helps us to see things that matter more starkly in the clean dry air of the desert. We can only ponder what Jesus was thinking about for forty days in the wilderness but after fasting for such a long time it is not surprising that he was very hungry and this exposed him to temptation.
Jesus normally warns us to avoid temptation. He asks us to pray ‘lead us not into temptation'(Matthew 6:13) and suggests that ‘if your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out’ (Matthew 5:29). But in Lent as we open ourselves up to God we also may expose ourselves to testing but, if we approach it in the right way, we do so in a safe environment. To help us to learn to swim better the instructor asks us to jump into the water but remains always on hand to save us if we get in trouble. Lent is, of course, a time to deepen our relationship with the Lord through learning humility through repentence (we discover we really aren’t as good as we think we are), and learning to trust in Him.
Lent may be a time of being alone with God – yet, paradoxically, being alone is a communal activity. We are alone with our brothers and sisters of our parish community. The wilderness is full of our friends! For the catechumens and candidates preparing for the Easter Vigil it is a period of Purification and Enlightenment. But then that is what Lent should be for all of us. This is why the RCIA process involves all the parish community. The catechumens and candidates can be a great blessing for us all, an encouragement and a challenge in our own Lenten journey, and a source of joy in the Lord.
The RCIA process offers a route by which people can prepare to be received into the Catholic Church which is inseparable from growing in personal faith. It also offers nothing less than a means of promoting renewal within a parish community. The more the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is implemented in full and the greater the opportunities it offers.
In our parish, as in many others that ‘do’ RCIA, we have never really carried it out in full, and what actually happens is somewhere between the ideal and what seems to be practical. This year we have gone increasingly lectionary-based, and carried out a combined Rite of Acceptance (of Catechumens) and Welcoming (of candidates already baptised) in Sunday Mass. We combined these because this year we have fewer participants than usual, just one Catechumen and two candidates. It is important to emphasise that catechumens and candidates are different yet just as important to see them as fellow travellers with us on their journey in faith. The Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming did not take up much of the Mass yet it proved very meaningful not only to both Catechumen and Candidates but provided a ‘before your very eyes’ experience of the work of the Holy Spirit. As Lent began the Rite of Election and Enrollment in the Cathedral a few weeks later gave added to the momentum. Two weeks later our catechumen took part in the First Scrutiny in Sunday Mass. The candidates came to support their catechumen brother and the scrutiny concluded with all three being presented with the Creed. Thus the people of the parish have their own experience of Lent deepened by being part of it. This year we are going to carry out the second and third scrutiny within the weekly RCIA meeting but next year we shall consider doing all three in Mass, particularly if we have more catechumens. Perhaps each scrutiny at a different Sunday Mass so that more of the community might become involved.
So far we have not gone as far as dismissal. It is quite possible that once we started the practice it might well become accepted much more readily than one might think. We considered introducing the idea towards the end of Lent this year as the first step in extending it to the whole period of the catechumenate. To do it this year might be to expect too much of our one catechumen but perhaps we shall have more next year and we can extend dismissal to the whole of Lent. In our parish we tend to have more candidates than catechumens and the candidates consist a mixture of those who have already been catechised as practicising member of a non-Catholic Christian Community and some who, though baptised as infants, have had little or no further catechesis. The Rite suggests that the latter might be dismissed but the catechised might not, with an element of choice. For this year at least, with only one Catechumen and two candidates , it seemed better to keep them together and encourage each other. Perhaps we shall have more catechumens next year, do all the scrutinies in Mass and start to introduce the dismissal principal.
The more the members of the parish become involved in the journey of the Catechumens and Candidates and the more they will share their joy at the Easter Vigil and the more the newcomers will be a blessing to the whole community. After the period of mystagogia and they descend from the mountain of transfiguration comes the challenge not only of integrating the new members of the body of Christ into the parish but in appreciating that they represent new life which has the potential to renew us all. Are we going to be content to let them merge into the inward-looking background or are they going to lead us in inviting strangers into our church to ‘come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did’? (John 4:29). Our new brothers and sisters of the Easter Vigil offer us the opportunity to see our parish community to grow not only in numbers but in spiritual depth and in the Joy of the Lord.
May we, along with our new brothers and sisters, all be Easter people!