(Preparation for Adult Baptism)
The Catechumenate is a period of preparation in which a Catechumen, defined here as a person capable of making mature faith decisions of faith and commitment for themself and desiring to be a Christian, undergoes training and formation in the Christian Faith within the Christian community. There is no specified length of time this period may last since readiness for baptism is determined by the catechumen in conjunction with Sponsors, Catechist (Teacher) and the clergy. This period typically, but not always, lasts between three months to a year.
In the Episcopal Tradition, Catechumens are often baptized on the Great Vigil of Easter, usually held on the Saturday night before the Sunday morning Easter Service. It has been St. Peter's recent tradition to baptize Catechumens on Pentecost Sunday (50 days after Easter Sunday), a common practice in old days of the British Isles from whence our Christian tradition comes.
There are three stages of the Catechumenate.
STAGE 1: Inquiry. During this time catechumens are instructed to examine their own motivations that they may freely choose Christ of their own accord. Preconceived notions of Christianity are also called into question. Inquirer’s classes are encouraged and group and individual meetings with the Catechist and clergy are encouraged.
STAGE 2: Catechumenate. Each person wishing to be baptized is presented by at least two sponsors to the congregation in a liturgical rite held at a Sunday Eucharist. This rite usually includes signing of the cross upon the forehead by the priest, a commitment from the parish community to pray for and encourage the catechumen in love, grace, and mercy, and the catechumen’s commitment to the following:
1) Regular attendance at Sunday Eucharists with their sponsors. (Heb. 10:24-25)
2) Attendance at regularly scheduled meetings (at least twice a month) with sponsors and teachers. The topics of discussion will include the most recent Scripture readings and other Biblical readings as well as the catechumen’s experience of the Christian Faith as they are living it. (Acts 2:42)
3) Daily recitation of the Daily Office, meaning praying Morning and Evening Prayer. (1 Thess. 5:17)
4) Practice of the Christian Way of Life with the understanding that earnest striving and faithfulness are our goals, not perfection. (Matt. 22:36-40; 1 John 1:5-10)
It is during this second stage that the Catechumen, accompanied by sponsors, the catechist, and others, will experience and digest a significant portion of the Christian faith. Typically, this reflection occurs by reflecting upon the worship and Scripture lessons of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. The format for this period of learning is to experience first and then to reflect and discuss.
STAGE 3: Candidacy for Baptism. This stage includes a series of liturgical acts that are designed to complete the preparation of the Catechumen for Holy Baptism. They are as important for the candidate as they are for the community and take place at the Sunday morning liturgy. Typically, the following are observed:
1) Ash Wednesday
2) Enrollment of Catechumens for Baptism on the first Sunday of Lent.
3) The Presentation of the Creed on the Third Sunday of Lent (or Easter 2)
4) The Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer on the Fifth Sunday of Lent (or Easter 4)
5) Vigil before Baptism (observed the evening immediately before the day or night of baptism)
6) Baptism at The Easter Vigil or at the Feast of Pentecost
7) The Sunday Following Baptism (Easter Sunday, Easter 2, or Trinity Sunday)
THE BAPTISMAL LIFE: Holy Baptism, like marriage, is not a certificate program. Completion of the process does not mean one is finished, just as getting married does not mean the marriage is completed and over. Rather, in both Baptism and marriage, the sacrament signifies the beginning of a new relationship.
Therefore, it is expected that the newly Baptized will continue in that new relationship to God and to their neighbor, “devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). And also that they will remember in prayer and action the poor and the neglected, the orphans and the widows, the oppressed and forgotten, just as Christ has remembered us.
And so, “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25)
* This information is based on the Catechumenate pattern set forth in The Book of Occasional Services, 2003 by Church Pension Fund, copyright 2004 and used by permission.