In centuries past, the Church would not celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism without first taking the candidate through something called the Catechumenal Process. This process of prayer and formation could last anywhere from between a year and three years, but the goal was to prepare a candidate not only for the celebration of baptism, but for the new life of the baptized among the community of the faithful. The theologian Tertullian (2nd Century) wrote that Christians are not born—they’re made. And the Catechumenal Process is the foundation for that making.
Christ Church Cathedral has recovering this process for the congregation. The process begins when prospective catechumens are asked, “What do you seek?” and they answer, “Life in Christ,” and continues with various prayers and ceremonies throughout Lent, culminating in the sacrament of Holy Baptism, and the reception of Holy Communion at the Great Vigil of Easter.
The word catechumen comes from a Greek word that means to sound in the ear—and refers specifically to the Word of God sounding in the ear. It suggests the deep hearing of God’s will. One who hears God’s Word and decides to respond is a catechumen. A catechumen is on the way to baptism. They have heard and responded, but are undergoing formation—called catechesis—in order to be prepared to be baptized and live the life that is given in and flows from baptism, which is Christ’s own life come to life in the baptized. Written documents designed to help in this instruction are called catechisms.
Simply put, the Catechumenal Process is a process of making new and deeply committed Christians that begins with evangelism, continues into inquiry and a commitment to formation and conversion, deepens in Lent, culminates in Holy Baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter (in most cases, and certainly historically), and then opens out into formation related to the sacraments and mission, which we call mystagogy.
Concurrently those seeking the Laying on of Hands by the bishop in the sacrament of Confirmation, or Reception from another church or Reaffirmation of Faith, are also engaged in a process with their own liturgical highlights. Traditionally, this begins as an enrollment at the liturgy on Ash Wednesday, includes a meaningful place in the liturgy on Maundy Thursday, and finally concludes with the Laying of Hands by the bishop on Pentecost.
The center of these processes is of course the new life in Christ that comes with baptism, but it begins long before baptism and continues after baptism. It’s a process that continues throughout our new life in Christ.