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Dismissing Catechumens  
Jerry Galipeau, DMin  

"Our parish does not dismiss catechumens during the Triduum. It would be unfair to ask the parish initiation minister who leads the dismissal session to miss the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday; the General Intercessions, Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion on Good Friday; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist during the Easter Vigil."

"Why would we dismiss catechumens during the most important rites of the entire liturgical year? Shouldn't they be present for the whole of the liturgy of the Triduum?"

These sentiments are often expressed throughout the United States and Canada with respect to the issue of the dismissal of catechumens during the Triduum. As the implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults continues, the issue of the dismissal during the Triduum eventually will need to be addressed in every parish.

The Church's Texts
Our current Sacramentary (Roman Missal) is silent on the issue of the dismissal of catechumens during the Triduum. Those involved with the implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults lament the fact that neither the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal nor the new Missale Romanum mentions the dismissal of catechumens at all. It has been a challenge for us to convince our pastors and parishioners of the value of the dismissal of catechumens that is mandated by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Consistency throughout the Church's official liturgical books would have been of great assistance as we continue to work toward the full implementation of the Rite. At present, the only official guidance we have with this issue is found in RCIA, #75.3: ". . . at Mass they [catechumens] may also take part with the faithful in the liturgy of the word, thus better preparing themselves for their eventual participation in the liturgy of the eucharist. Ordinarily, however, when they are present in the assembly of the faithful they should be kindly dismissed before the liturgy of the eucharist begins (unless their dismissal would present practical or pastoral problems). For they must await their baptism, which will join them to God's priestly people and empower them to participate in Christ's new worship." Catechumens are dismissed because they cannot yet "lift up their hearts" to pray the eucharistic prayer. They are not yet a part of the Body of Christ. They have not yet been baptized into the priestly office of Christ and therefore cannot join their voices with the baptized, who unite their hearts in prayer with the celebrant, who voices this priestly prayer to the Father.

The Dismissal
Mass is obviously celebrated at Holy Thursday's Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper and at the Easter Vigil. Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday. Holy Communion is distributed, but there is no Mass, no eucharistic prayer, no Liturgy of the Eucharist. One can draw the conclusion that the dismissal of the elect and catechumens takes place before the Liturgy of the Eucharist on both Holy Thursday and at the Easter Vigil. On Holy Thursday, the dismissal could take place following the washing of the feet and before the General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful). At the Easter Vigil, the dismissal could take place following the celebration of Confirmation. (Obviously, the catechumens being dismissed at the Vigil are those who are not being baptized that night but are awaiting Baptism at the celebration of the Vigil during the following year[s] when they are deemed ready.) It makes little sense to have the catechumens present for the renewal of baptismal promises, which follows Confirmation, since they are not yet baptized. This follows the same principle employed at the Service of Light at the Vigil. It is not appropriate that catechumens hold lighted candles because they have not yet been entrusted with the Paschal light in Baptism. Some dioceses mandate that the catechumens be dismissed before the General Intercessions at Good Friday's Celebration of the Lord's Passion. One assumes that the reason for this is that the diocesan leaders feel that the catechumens, not yet the faithful, should not take part in these prayers of the faithful.

Even though there is widespread disparity in the policy and liturgical practice of dioceses and parishes in the United States and Canada regarding the dismissal of catechumens during the Triduum, the question concerning who should lead these sessions—if they take place—remains. The place of the fully initiated Catholic during the Triduum is at the Triduum itself. It does not make sense that a Catholic should miss any part of the Triduum liturgy for any reason. What is a parish to do?

Some parishes have addressed this challenge by approaching the dismissal in a different way during the Triduum. Instead of having one of the usual dismissal leaders facilitate the session, one of the catechumens is trained to do so. By this time during the course of the faith journey—a journey that includes weekly dismissal sessions—it should be clear that at least one of the catechumens should be able to facilitate a simple dismissal session. Patterns of reflecting on the scripture, the liturgical texts, and rituals have evolved over the course of the catechumens' period of Christian formation in the catechumenate. They eventually begin to be shaped by these patterns developed within the dismissal session. It is hoped that this way of reflecting has become a part of the way they reflect on the many events of their lives, both liturgical and non-liturgical. Providing catechumens who exhibit the potential to lead a dismissal session with a list of questions to facilitate that session is a sound idea. A little coaxing, coaching, and confidence-building may be in order as well. Some parishes follow this plan for Holy Thursday's Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, the Celebration of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. The initiation ministers develop a list of reflection questions tailored to the celebrations of each day. One of the catechumens could be invited and trained to lead all three sessions, or the tasks may be divided among the catechumens. If there are catechumens present during the Mass of Easter Sunday, they should be dismissed in the usual fashion and one of the usual facilitators should lead the dismissal session. This facilitator could then return to a later Mass to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

If the parish has only one catechumen, perhaps that person could be provided with a list of reflection questions to ponder following the dismissals during the Triduum. The catechumen could be encouraged to use a journal to write those personal reflections. Initiation ministers should prepare a place for prayer and reflection for that catechumen. Meeting with the catechumen after the liturgy to help unpack those reflections will surely deepen the experience.

Beyond the Dismissal
On Holy Thursday evening, following the Liturgy of the Eucharist, an initiation minister may then join the catechumens, who have been reflecting on the words and actions of the liturgy, and invite them to the chapel where the Eucharist has been placed in repose. It is best to provide preparatory catechesis about why the Church places the Eucharist in repose during the remaining night hours of Holy Thursday. If there is a parish group traveling from parish to parish to pray at those parishes' places of repose, why not invite the catechumens along? This is one of those Catholic practices that the catechumens could be trained to do at this point in their formation. This could provide fodder for future sessions focusing on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

If a parish dismisses the catechumens on Good Friday, perhaps they could be invited back into the church to experience the "emptiness" unique to that liturgical time. If the cross has remained in the church, perhaps the parish initiation ministers could facilitate a veneration of it for the catechumens, linking this gesture to the fact that they were signed with the cross when they became catechumens. On Holy Saturday, the catechumens should definitely be invited to the reception for the newly baptized following the celebration of the Eucharist.

Ongoing Discussion
Dioceses and parishes are still slowly implementing the vision and practice of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The crucial role that the rite of the dismissal plays in the formation of catechumens is slowly being realized in more and more dioceses and parishes. The dismissal during the Triduum can present some thorny issues, but it is important to enter into a discussion about this issue with the pastor, those leading the parish's initiation ministry, and those who prepare the liturgies of the Triduum. The importance of extending pastoral care to the catechumens during this sacred time should be the foundation of this discussion. Their place is at the table of the Word, where they are nourished and fed on the living Word of God. The dismissal sessions during the Triduum offer pastoral care and provide opportunities for Christian formation during this annual celebration of the Paschal Mystery. The dismissal sessions can serve to deepen their relationship with the Lord, who claims them as his own through his Passion, death, and Resurrection.

Jerry Galipeau, DMin,
is worship resources editor at World Library Publications. An author, composer, and recording artist, he travels throughout the United States and Canada giving presentations on Christian initiation, liturgical spirituality, evangelization, and ritual music.
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