Sacraments of Initiation
Part 3 The Rite for Adults and Children

Chapter i33 The Period of The Catechumenate

Preliminary Questions



Seven Types of Conversion

Who Is A Convert?

The Catechumenate

Liturgy and Catechesis

A Lectionary Based Catechesis

The Rite of Election

The Rite of Sending to Election

National Statutes for the Catechumenate

To Think About

Preliminary Questions


Are you a convert? Have you every experienced conversion? Can you describe your conversion? Have you been born again in the Spirit?

Have you every listened as a Born Again Christian explained the experience? Have you read of the conversion experience of any of the Saints? Why is it that Catholics never talk much about their conversion experience? Does the conversion experience coincide with its sacramental expression?

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Aidan Kavanagh. "Christian Initiation: Tactics and Strategy," Made, pp 1-6.

James B. Dunning. "Conversion: Being Born Again and Again and Again," Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1988. [Father Dunning is president of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. In this Update I think Dunning explains well the difference between the Catholic and fundamental/pentecostal meanings of "Conversion".]

A bibliography on Current Research on Religious Conversion, compiled by Lewis R. Rambo, can be found in Religious Studies Review 8:2 (April 1982) pp 146 - 159.

Walter E. Conn. (ed) Conversion: Perspectives on Personal and Social Transformation. Alba House: New York, 1978.

USCC NCCB. The National Statutes for the Catechumenate. See: The Rites, pp 341-356.

Marinelli, Anthony. The Word Made Flesh, Paulist Press, 1993. [Overview of the Catholic Faith. Recommended by Sr. Mary Emma Jochum, REE, St. Pauls Parish, Tell City, IN. June 1, 1994]

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Metanoia: (Greek) = turn around; Poenitemini (Latin) repentance, do penance, convert.

Sarx: Greek: flesh. Metaphor for egocentricity, the un-redeemed part of a person.

Pneuma: Greek: Spirit.

Conversion: The ongoing response of our whole person turning in faith in the amazing grace of God's love, our response of love in prayer and moral action, celebrating that love in a myriad of liturgies, and witnessing to that love and justice in our world. (James Dunning. "Conversion" Catholic Update CU 0488.) [The Holy Spirit in the Eastern ichnography has no painted icons, only living icons = Christians.]

Penance: The "comprehensive dynamic that involves the whole church, as well as the individual believer, in building up and ennobling corporate existence in Christ. it has to do with continual growth within the body of the church. It deals typically with ongoing conversion and moral transformation." (Mannion, "Penance and Reconciliation," Worship 60 (March 1986) p 109.)

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Seven Types of Conversion

(This table is taken from a presentation by Jim Dunning at a meeting of the National Organization for Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy, Nashville TN, May 1981. The divisions are from Lonergan.)

1. Affective -- Feelings
    From: Blockage of feelings
    To: Acceptance of feelings; ability to use feelings; integration

2. Intellectual -- Knowledge
    From: Knowledge as facts
    To: Knowledge as meaning

3. Moral -- Criteria for Choices
    From: Satisfaction or laws are the criteria for choices
    To: Internalized values are the criteria for choices

4. Religions -- Life
    From: Life as a series of problems
    To: Life is mystery and gift

5. Theistic -- God
    From: God is a force
    To: God is a person who has entered into a loving relation with me

6. Christian -- Jesus Christ
    From: The historical Jesus
    To: The risen Christ is the embodiment of God's love for me

7. Ecclesial -- Church
    From: Church is a "they" -- institution
    To: Church is a "we" -- community

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Who Is A Convert?

Convert: The "National Statutes for the Catechumenate" approved by the NCCB on November 11, 1986 state: The term "convert" should be reserved strictly for those converted from unbelief to Christian belief and never used of those baptized Christians who are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. (National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 2.)

The shift in vocabulary is both cause of and expression of a shift in ecclesiology.

"Outside the Church there is no Salvation."

Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium 8: This [the sole] Church [of Christ], constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists [subsistit] in the Catholic Church. (Flannery, p 357.)

See: RCIA Part II Chapter 5: "Rite of Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church." What should we call these people we used to call "converts?"

In relation to the sacraments of initiation: The inner reality is conversion, that is: the total self-acceptance of and self-giving to the root metaphor that the Paschal Victory of Jesus Christ is the center of reality. Conversion is from the Latin, con versio, turning around; from the Greek: Metanoia, to turn around. [Note: metanoia is often translated in Latin by poenitemini, to do penance, repent.]

The second gospel presents the first words of Jesus as a summary of the whole work in four key words: "Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God: 'This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the gospel.' (Mark 1:14-15)" 1) This is the good news (euaggelio, euaggelion), namely: 1) This is the time (kairos); 2) the reign of God (basileia tou theou) is at hand; 3) convert, reform your lives, do penance (metanoeite); and 4) believe (pisteuete) the Good News (euaggelio, euaggelion).

Conversion is the first and central action of accepting the kingdom. The systematic discussion of conversion we will leave to the systematic professors; scriptural record of the meaning of conversion and the history of conversion we will leave to the scripture and history department. Other dimensions of the conversion process are treated in catechesis, and in pastoral care. Here, we will consider the rites which accompany, express, celebrate and heal the conversion process.

Conversion is a traumatic process. It involves real death, real hurt, real loss: trauma. Recall the conversion stories of St. Paul, St. Augustine, or St. Francis of Assisi. This trauma needs therapy. The Christian sacraments of initiation are "initiation therapy" in the words of Aidan Kavanagh: "From precatechumenate and catechumenate through the sacraments of initiation and postbaptismal catechesis, Christian initiation as a whole ecclesial structure exists to protect the Church and to protect the individual undergoing such a trauma from the Church's insensitivity to the crisis. Further, it exists in order to bring both the Church and the converting individual into a mutually profitable relationship as a result of the trauma having occurred. this mutually profitable relationship is, on a sustained basis, what I conceive communion to be. Establishing such communion is the ultimate purpose of the whole initiatory process." ( Aidan Kavanagh, "Christian Initiation: Tactics and Strategy", Made, Not Born, p 3.)

Catholic Conversion:   Pentecostals often leap into conversion; Catholics usually crawl.  Pentecostals are often born again; Catholics are born again, and again, and again, and again.

Conversion as Journey:  Conversion usually comes about in the context of a life situation: Marriage, accident, etc)  Journey to a different place, not accustomed to it, leave some things behind.  "A major biblical metaphor for conversion is 'the Way' or 'to walk.' Conversion's walk, however, always occurs within the context of a specific Christian community whose praxis may have little to do with its theological theory." (Regis Duffy.)

Timing:  The pastoral art lies in "timing": causing the symbolic celebration to be concomitant with the lived reality.  Imperfect Timing. The inner and outer experience do not always go together. The water bath and the conversion do not always occur at the same time. Similarly we hope that your ordination comes at the time when you are internally experiencing your call to lead the people of God. Sometimes ordination comes after the fact, sometimes before. Sometime compromises are made because of a class situation e.g. ordination is in June for the class whether that is the time you are ready or not; the same as you will be dealing with classes in initiation, and they will be initiated at the Vigil whether ready or not!

The Conversion Process
    A. Orientation
    B. Disorientation
    C. Re-orientation

 A. Rest
    B. Crisis
    C. Peace

 A. Having
    B. Letting Go [...not to be grasped at]
    C. Not having / possessing something else

A. Present
    B. Change
    C. New

A. in the form of God / equality with God
    B. not grasping / let go / emptied / human likeness / death / cross
    C. exalted / name / LORD

Orientation, Disorientation, Rest:
    caterpillar / chrysalis / butterfly
    Francis: cave experience / leper
    the chrysalis: Lent, darkness, quiet: no programs
    Architecture: constricted / openness; medieval streets to cathedral; entrance, lobby to church, etc.

Orientation and Disorientation in Baptismal Symbols
        bare feet
        face west
        renunciation of Satan
        under the water

        rising from the water
        embracing / kiss of peace / acceptance
        eating and drinking

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The Catechumenate

The components of the Catechumenate:

1.  Instruction (inner) / Catechesis
2.  Conversion (inner) / Spiritual direction
3.  Celebration (outer) / Liturgical Rites
4.  Response Expression (outer) / Ministry, Apostolate

Instruction (inner) / Catechesis Instructional Elements -- e.g. Believing in Jesus: A Popular Overview of the Catholic Faith, by Leonard Foley, O.F.M., St Anthony Messenger Press, 1985. The Appendix A (page 185-190) explains how the book can be integrated with the RCIA program. Question: What to you think a person would need to know before entering the Order of the Faithful?

Conversion (inner) / Spiritual direction. Prayer. Christological prayer to trinitarian prayer.

Celebration (outer) / Liturgical Rites. Gradual experience of liturgical prayer.

Expression (outer) / Ministry. Apostolic Service. E.g. help at a soup kitchen.

Not merely information:

Think of your seminary or ministry formation program: it is not merely instructional, but a formation program.

Think of the San Andreas Fault example.
Diagram: easiest and quickest: facts, attitudes, behavior, group behavior

The Order of Catechumens -- purpose
        conversion therapy
        introduction into Catholic life and faith

Time frame
        NO SET TIME in the official rite
        Many parishes - Mid-November or the beginning of Advent
        A separate event, or Advent coming, waiting, brought together with the catechumen's waiting for  
        But is it too much (the weight of symbolism) for one Sunday's liturgy to bear?

Rites During the Catechumenate

        lex orandi

        Et cum spiritu tuo -- only Holy Orders

        non-catechumens / already baptized

Blessing for Catechists -- Chapter 4 of the Book of Blessings contains blessings for catechists, for catechetical or prayer meeting, and for catechumens. The Order for the Blessing of Those Appointed as Catechists is intended for those who are to undertake the role and ministry of catechist on either the diocesan or the parochial level. It may be celebrated during Mass or at a celebration of the Word of God and may be used by either a priest or a deacon. The blessing is appropriately celebrated on Catechetical Sunday. Some dioceses may wish to use this blessing exclusively for those persons who have been certified as catechists by the diocese. Two forms are provided for the prayer of blessing; the second formulary is proper to the United States. (BCL Newsletter, XXVI (August 1990) p 30.)

Blessing for Catechumens --The Blessing for a Catechetical or Prayer Meeting is especially appropriate for meetings that are planned for the purpose of catechesis or communal prayer, e.g. with catechumens. The blessing is not used when the celebration of the Eucharist precedes the meeting [e.g. a meeting on Sunday during the Liturgy of the Eucharist after the catechumens have been dismissed following the homily]. The order of blessing usually comes at the end of the meeting, and it may be given by a priest, a deacon, or a lay person who uses the rites and prayers designated for a lay minister.

The Blessing of Catechumens are taken from Part 1 of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. These nine prayers of blessing may be given by a priest, a deacon, or a qualified catechist appointed by the bishop. These blessings are usually used at the end of a celebration of the Word of God, although they may also be given at the end of a meeting for catechesis. In particular circumstances they may be given to catechumens outside those usual times. (BCL Newsletter, XXVI (August 1990) p 30.)

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Liturgy and Catechesis

What is the relationship between liturgy and catechesis?

Final purpose of liturgy is to worship God: "Good Liturgy?" Final purpose of liturgy to Worship God! Vat II: "the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty," and then adds "it likewise contains abundant instruction..." and "Because they are signs, they also instruct" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #33 and #59) "Formal" purpose of liturgy - to effect in community: an intensified experience of God's life to them in love; to express together their lives to God, and experience; empowerment - "for the life of the world" (Schmemann) [Thomas H. Groome. Boston College.]

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A Lectionary Based Catechesis

Should the catechesis during the Catechumenate be based on the Lectionary?

How can this be accomplished?

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The Rite of Election

Vocabulary: enrollment; ephpheta; exorcisms; transition, rites of; register; oil of catechumens; catechesis; catechumenate; catechumen.

Structure and Elements

Enrollment of Names

Where's the Church?





    Western Catholicism

    Western Christianity

    West and East

    all Christians

    everyone everywhere

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The Rite of Sending to Election

Positive aspects of this rite...

Negative aspects of this rite...

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National Statutes for the Catechumenate

These National Statutes for the Catechumenate (which are printed in The Rites, pp xx - xx) were approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 11, 1986.  Listed here are several important but often neglected norms.  (The list based on that used by Dr. Maxwell Johnson, professor at Notre Dame University, in his course on Christian Initiation.)

2. The term "catechumen" should be strictly reserved for the unbaptized who have been admitted into the order of catechumens; the term "convert" should be reserved strictly for those converted from unbelief to Christian belief and never used of those baptized Christians who are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

6. The period of catechumenate....should extend for at least one year of formation, instruction, and probation....

24. After the immediate mystagogy or postbaptismal catechesis during the Easter season, the program for the neophytes should extend until the anniversary of Christian initiation, with at least monthly assemblies of the neophytes for their deeper Christian formation and incorporation into the full life of the Christian community.

30. Those who have already been baptized in another Church or ecclesial community should not be treated as catechumens or so designated....

33. It is preferable that reception into full communion not take place at the Easter Vigil lest there be any confusion of such baptized Christians with the candidates for baptism, possible misunderstanding of or even reflection upon the sacrament of baptism celebrated in another Church or ecclesial community, or any perceived triumphalism in the liturgical welcome into Catholic eucharistic community.

34. [If reception into full communion takes place at the Easter Vigil]: A clear distinction should be maintained during the celebration between candidates for sacramental initiation and candidates for reception into full communion, and ecumenical sensitivities should be carefully respected.

35. The "Rite of Reception into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church" respects the traditional sequence of confirmation before eucharist. When the bishop, whose office it is to receive adult Christians [ = catechetical age of 7 up] into full communion of the Catholic Church...entrusts the celebration of the rite to a presbyter, the priest receives from the law itself (canon 883.2) the faculty to confirm the candidate for reception and is obliged to use it....; he may not be prohibited from exercising the faculty. The confirmation of such candidates for reception should not be deferred, nor should they be admitted to the eucharist until they are confirmed.

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To Think About

"Faith takes time. Conversion is a multidimensional, life-altering evolution in worldview that implicates knowledge, experience, other people, self-reflection, humility, mystery and grace. And that is just the start. For most, conversion occurs in stages and depends upon the presence of certain conditions, certain habits of mind and heart, which enable a person to accept, and to live out, a transformed, divinized life. (Matt Emerson, "Preambles for Faith" America, May 13, 2013, p. 15.)

The Rites of Initiation are conversion therapy. "Christian initiation as a whole ecclesial structure exists to protect the Church and to protect the individual undergoing such a trauma from the Church's insensitivity to the crisis." (Kavanagh, Made, p 3.) The Rites of Initiation are meant to protect against the trauma of conversion. Therefore we begin the study of these rites by looking at the conversion they are meant to accompany.

The changes at the tip of the pistol are the hardest to see but they are the most important.

"The burning issues are not always the real issues; the burning questions are seldom the important questions." (Favorite saying of Rev. Pierre-Marie Gy, director of the Institut Superieur de Liturgie, Paris.)

Did you learn anything new about conversion from what you have read and heard? How has this chapter altered your attitude toward ecumenism? What do theologians mean when they say "Outside the Church there is no salvation?"

The radical discovery of ourselves as Church is possible only in terms of Jesus dead and rising. Where this passage from death to life is continuously available to us is in the conversion of people actually passing from death to life in him, and by him, and through him among his faithful people. Christian initiation is this passage. It is we ourselves keeping faith, and we ourselves keeping faith is where this world is born anew in life everlasting.

Who does not know initiation does not know the Church. Who does not know the Church does not know the Lord. And who knows neither the Church nor the Lord does not know the world as God meant it to be from before always. (Kavanagh, Made, pp 5-6.)

How can we bring the rites of initiation more into harmony with the experience of conversion so that the conversion journey can be supported and protected and celebrated by the rites?

Define: conversion, sarx, pneuma, metanoia, penance, reconciliation

Discuss: "Catholics crawl into conversion; Catholics are born again and again."

Discuss: "The Rites of initiation are conversion therapy."

Can there be conversion without mission?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 05/15/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at