When Two or Three are Gathered: Liturgical Catechesis

Diana Klein highlights the key stages of our faith journey, the big moments in our lives and Church communities. And how Scripture enriches these unique Catechetical pathways.

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We celebrate in liturgy what we do in catechesis

Christ is not a distant memory; he is a real presence in our lives today. Jesus promised us that he would be with us “when two or three gather” in his name (Matthew 18:20) – indeed, he said he would be with us “always, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:20). We are aware of his presence in many ways at many times; but, there are significant occasions such as baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages, and funerals where we are acutely aware of his presence. These are occasions where we meet and listen to the God who speaks to us in the Scriptures.

Adult baptism

Jesus told us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:19-20). 

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a series of rituals and preparation that lead adults (and people from the age of 14) to baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. In the first stage of the RCIA, enquirers encounter and welcome Christ into their lives. When they are ready to proceed, they celebrate their first rite, asking to become catechumens. 

In one parish I know, the priest and the catechists asked the enquirers to meet at the main door of the church before Mass began, equipped with a baseball bat. The Mass began as normal and continued up to the “Amen” following the Collect. At this point, the enquirers banged on the church door with the bat and the priest asked the server (who had been primed and given a handheld microphone) to go to the door and to report back. The altar server did this and said, “There are some people here who want to join the Church.” The priest asked them what they were asking for. Some said they wanted to become a Catholic and others said they wanted to know more about Jesus – reminiscent of when the disciples asked Jesus where he lived and Jesus replied “Come and see” (John 1:39).

The new catechumens remain in the church and share in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, which includes intercessions for them. The new catechumens are now expected to take part in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass each Sunday; in some cases, they are dismissed from the assembly before the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins. They then go to a place where they continue to reflect on the word of God they have heard, and to share their insights into how it affects their lives (RCIA 83.2).  Hearing God speak to them in the Scriptures is an absolutely essential part of the catechumens’ preparation for baptism.

Infant baptism

The Rite of Infant Baptism is the rite used for infants and children up to seven years of age. Their baptisms sometimes take place in a cold, dark church on a Sunday afternoon with no music and nobody present from the members of the parish community where they are being baptised. In wrestling with this dilemma, a number of different solutions have been proposed. One is to have baptisms during Sunday Mass. When this happens, the baptism will take place after the reading of the gospel and the homily and after the whole community profess their faith. 

The deacon or priest can link the gospel with what he wants to say to the parents about their child’s baptism. In this complicated world of ours, faith in the life of a child is fragile and needs protecting. As St Paul says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7) and parents must look after their children’s Christian development with the same earnestness and love as they will bring to their physical and intellectual wellbeing. 

First Communion

Nearly all preparatory programmes are based on Scripture, on what happens in the Mass and the different ways that Jesus is really present.  They include:

  • The Gathering – Jesus said that “where two or three are gathered, I am present” (Matthew 18:20). 
  • The Liturgy of the Word – Scripture is one of the main ways that God speaks to us.
  • The Liturgy of the Eucharist – The Eucharistic Prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving; it is the “centre and summit of the entire celebration” of the Mass (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 78).
  • The Communion Rite – where Jesus is truly present in the bread and wine which have been transformed into his body and blood and we receive him because he told us to “do this in memory of him” (Luke 22:19).
  • The Concluding Rite – At the end of the Mass, we bring the good news to others; Jesus told us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). 

Confirmation

Young people in their thousands are confirmed by the bishop each year. The Introduction to the Rite tells us that confirmation strengthens and confirms what happens in baptism and this is why the renewal of baptismal promises takes place preceding the reception of the sacrament of confirmation.

In some parishes, the ‘confirmandi’ carry their baptismal candles in procession at the beginning of their confirmation Mass. Alternatively, some light their baptismal candle from the paschal candle prior to renewing their baptismal promises. At their baptism, they were told that they had been “enlightened by Christ”.  If they were baptised as infants, they would have been too small to understand it then; but, at their Confirmation they can hear Jesus saying to them, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Marriage

An important part of the preparation will include the planning for the liturgy of the wedding. The couple may need help to choose appropriate music and readings. The celebration of self-giving and personal relationship is now expressed in modern liturgies – and the readings should be chosen accordingly. When we are planning the liturgy with the couple, we have an ideal opportunity to express our belief that the love, concern and self-giving that each has for the other expresses Christ’s love for each of them.

For this reason, a popular choice of Scripture at weddings includes the quote from the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, which includes an important reminder to the couple that if we do not have love, we are nothing and finishes by saying, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

Funerals

At least one thing every family in the whole world shares is funerals: they will find themselves at some time having to organise a funeral for one they love dearly. It will never be easy, no matter what the circumstances, and it is very important to help the families prepare the funeral rites, select appropriate readings, prepare intercessions and decide on how the bereaved should participate in the funeral rites. They may also need to consider any specific wishes of the deceased that they expressed before their death.

At this stressful time, the family may need help to choose appropriate music and Bible readings. The liturgy serves an important function for the survivors and the choice of Scripture readings is a very personal one.  Some find the reading from John very consoling: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Catholics believe in the next life. We believe that, to live in heaven is “to be with Christ.” The elect live “in Christ” but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name – as we read in Revelation, a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17). The Catechism tells us that “for life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom” (CCC1025). Believing that, by his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us – and that gives great comfort at the time of the death of someone we love.

In conclusion, Scripture shapes our catechesis as one Church, one body, one family in God – that from the early Israelites to the newest Apostles in Acts we are invited to gather, to be community in Christ’s name, to celebrate and share the Gospel with the whole world. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

Diana Klein is a writer and an editor specialising in pastoral theology and catechetics. This article is an adaptation of her chapter on catechetics in How to survive working in a Catholic Parish, Redemptorist Publications, 2016.