Have you ever tried to learn to do something from a book?
How to knit a sweater or set up a computer can be learned from a book, but such things are better learned from someone who has mastered the skill.
More important things, such as how to treat others kindly, how to stand up for our beliefs and how to be hopeful in difficult times, are almost always learned from the example of others.
How do we learn to live a life of faith? There are many books on the subject, but none of them can teach how to live the faith as well as the people who are trying to live it.
When those who have been coming to the church to inquire about what we believe and how we live decide that they want to prepare to become Catholic, they enter the catechumenate.
The word catechumenate is used for the process of becoming a Catholic Christian; it also means a specific period within that process.
During the period of the catechumenate, catechumens (unbaptized people) and candidates (baptized people) prepare to join the Catholic church by learning and doing what Catholics learn and do.
The strongest feature of this period is catechesis. This means that the catechumens and candidates learn to believe and celebrate the mysteries of the faith by listening as the scriptures are proclaimed and preached and by participating as the church celebrates what it believes throughout the liturgical year.
They also learn the many other times and ways we pray. In addition, the church's moral teachings, traditions and disciplines are explained.
In many parishes, the primary time for catechesis is after the liturgy of the word on Sundays. As the rest of the assembly proceeds with the Mass, the catechumens and, usually, the candidates go to another room to prepare to take their place as full, participating members of the body of Christ.
The catechumens and candidates also learn the ways of Christians by getting to know us and seeing how we deal in faith with daily life. They participate in parish events. They also participate in our life of service to the church and to the world.
By spending time with us, the catechumens and candidates forge bonds of friendship, strengthening their ties with the church.
By our spending time with them, our faith is strengthened and renewed. They remind us that our faith is a living, growing reality, and that people are attracted to it today just as they were centuries ago by the teachings of Jesus and the life of his disciples.
Text by Victoria M. Tufano.