As the Cardinals prepare to go into Conclave it is worth spending a moment highlighting some of the Pope Emeritus’s thoughts on Initiation.

Most significant is the document he wrote following the Synod on the Eucharist – Sacramentum Caritatis. The first section of the document – The Eucharist, a mystery to be believed – looks at the relationship between the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, beginning with initiation (17–19).  Pope Benedict reminds is that:

The Holy Eucharist… brings initiation to completion and represents the centre and goal of all sacramental life. [17]

He offers the challenge of how do we make the Eucharist the goal of initiation. At the most simple this can apply to Easter Vigil – how is the reception of Communion the point to which the whole celebration is leading. It is also reminds us that integration in the community and its celebration of Sunday Mass must be one of or aims.

In the same paragraph Pope Benedict suggests a criteria for examine the effectiveness of our approach to initiation:

…the faithful can be helped to mature through the formation received in our our communities and to give their lives an authentic eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times. [18]

Are we helping people understand and articulate the hope which is within them? – God at work in their lives.

The other important passage in the document for those interested in initiation is the couple of pages on Mystagogical Catechesis [64]. I think it is a substantial passage in part in recognition that it is a form of catechesis which is neglected or misunderstood . It’s staring point is experience and experience of the Church, particularly in its Sunday liturgy.

By its nature, the liturgy can be pedagogically effective in helping the faithful to enter more deeply into the mystery being celebrated. That is why, in the Church’s most ancient tradition, the process of Christian formation always had an experiential character. WHile not neglecting a systematic understanding of the content of the faith, it centred on a vital and convincing encounter with Christ, as proclaimed by authentic witnesses. It is first and foremost the witness who introduces others to the mysteries.[64]

To be a member of an RCIA team is first of all to be an authentic witness to Christ. He goes on to describe 3 elements of mystagogical catechesis:

  1. understanding and interpreting the liturgy through the Paschal Mystery – or to reduce it to a simple question – what does it tell us/ reveal about Christ?
  2. present the meaning of the signs – the goal of which is not just greater knowledge but deeper participation
  3. explore the significance of what we celebrate for how we should live.

I would suggest that often in his homilies Pope Benedict attempted this.

Sacramentum Caritatis is arranged in three sections: the Eucharist, a mystery to be believed, celebrated, lived. You may recognise a link here with the structure of the Catechism. This idea that faith is not just a set of things to be believed but what is celebrated in the liturgy, where we both express and deepen our faith, and that it has an ethical dimension that shapes how we live our lives as authentic witnesses can be found in Pope Benedict’s writings on the Year of Faith. Two passages from Porta Fidei may help illustrate this.

Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples.[7]

Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support, because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love.[14]

I would stress this is not to downplay the importance of an understanding of what we believe but to highlight that if we concentrate primarily on that we neglect the vision of Pope Benedict.

In the RCIA the period of the Catechumenate is the time to present the faith. As paragraph 75 makes clear, and I would suggest is reinforced in the writings of Pope Benedict that faith is not just a matter of knowing what the Church teaches but is matched by growing participation in prayer and the liturgy, through gradual integration into the life of the Church experienced at the local level and in the witness offered by how we live. This is not a faith which is compartmentalised but integrated. a faith believed, lived, celebrated and prayed.

The alert  will recognise a link with this year’s Network Conference. At the Conference we will be exploring these four different dynamics of faith are all vital parts of what we explore in the Catechumenate but also how they relate to one another.