In the last twenty four hours I’ve worked my way through another chapter of Paul Turner’s book, When Other Christians Become Catholic, a chapter entitled “The English Translation in the United States” which, as its name suggests, takes a look at the development of English languages versions for the Rite of Reception into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church.
Here again we see evidence of Turner’s scholarship and insight, particularly when discussing the optional rites that were developed to mark the journey of the candidate for reception towards their reception into full communion. Modelled on similar ceremonies and rituals that mark the journey of the catechumenate they have the possibility, Turner argues, of clouding and confusing the difference between these two categories of people, particularly when the various ‘combined rites’ – which seek to ritually deal with the two distinct groups together in the same ceremony – are used. Although the language of the rituals does in fact mark the distinction, the language is subtle. The danger then exists that the wider community who witnesses these ‘combined rites’ does not see the distinction – to the detriment of candidates for reception who are seen to be so similar to catechumens as to hardly warrant the distinction.
The distinction is, however, is significant, and should be recognised as much as possible, and the mere “not wishing to leave the candidates out of a ceremony” should not be seen as sufficient reason for including them in a way that downplays their baptismal identity. In fact, every effort should be made to adhere to the proper treatment of both distinct groups in order that both groups can be seen in their proper way, and can be rejoiced over by the community for what they received – full sacramental initiation in the case of catechumens, and full communion in the case of candidates. To do anything less is, I would argue, to rob the community of sources of joy.
Turner again seems to sum up the situation in the very last paragraph of the chapter when he writes:
On the whole, the English translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a wonderful achievement of faithfulness and creativity. However, in the interest of offering baptized candidates more from the church’s store of liturgical worship, the RCIA eliminated many of the sharp distinctions between baptized candidates and catechumens (pg 84).
Perhaps it is time to make those distinctions clear again.
Editor’s Note: The optional rites that Turner speaks of are authorised for use in the United States of America by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. These same optional rites do not appear in the version of the RCIA that is authorised for use in Australian and New Zealand.
Paul Turner, When Other Christians Become Catholic (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007). ISBN: 978-0-8146-6216-8.