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Reception into the Catechumenate

 

Baptism begins in the narthex at the entrance to the nave because this rite is the entrance into the Church. This first act of Baptism is an act of protection. The priest places his right hand on the child’s head and says, “I lay my hand upon Your servant who has been found worthy to flee unto Your Holy Name and to take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.” The hand of the priest is like the Hand of Christ which protects. The child flees from the world which has turned away from God into the hand of God.

These initial rites were once part of enrollment, which took place at the beginning of Lent. The bishop made the sign of the cross three times on the catechumen’s face and inscribed his name in the Book of Life, signifying that Christ takes possession of this person. Today this rite is preserved in this first prayer, “Inscribe him/her in Your Book of Life, and unite him/her to the flock of Your inheritance.” It is interesting to note that St. Paul refers to the Book of Life at the Church in Philippi. Phil. 4:3. And of course the Book of Life is also featured prominently in the Revelation of the Apostle John. Rev. 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 20:15, and 21:27.

The Exorcisms

Three Exorcisms immediately follow the “Reception into the Catechumenate.” In these prayers the Catechumen specifically renounces Satan. If the Catechumen cannot speak for himself, the sponsor speaks for him. The choice to pursue God makes the rejection of evil possible. “The Lord puts you under ban, O Satan.” The idea of Satan may seem like a farce in our culture and the Church may not be able to neatly define a doctrine of Satan that makes sense to the modern mind. However, it should be understood that it is impossible to rationally define the irrational. It may be intellectually satisfying to explain evil as the absence of good, but for the Church, Satan is first and foremost a liar, and evil is the presence of something dark, irrational, and very real even if it is not understood or entirely defined. Therefore the first affirmation of the baptismal rite is that evil exists in the world, a reality which simply cannot be denied. We know of evil’s existence through our experience in the world. It is ultimately an experience of the fall. By this rite the Church teaches us that it is not our place to explain evil but to recognize it and turn away from it. This is why, in the exorcisms, there is no attempt to explain or have discourse with the evil one. We simply face west, the place of the setting sun, the place of darkness, and renounce him. To reject Satan is to reject a worldview based on pride, falsehood, and self affirmation. This is our first act of true freedom, the first free act of liberation from enslavement to sin and evil in the world.

Rejection of Evil

The priest gently breathes upon the Catechumen’s mouth, brow, and breast in the form of a cross.

Priest: “Expel from him/her every evil and unclean spirit which hides and make its lair in his/her heart,”

Then the catechumen turns west.

Priest: “Do you renounce Satan, and all his works and all his angels, and all his service and all his pride?”
Catechumen: “I do renounce him.”
Priest: “Have you renounced Satan?”
Catechumen: “I do renounce him.”
Priest: “Then Breathe and spit upon him.”

 

 

 

 

Allegiance to Christ

This rite reorients the catechumen towards the altar, the Church, the Kingdom of God, like the garden of paradise where we were originally formed and where we were meant to live. Gen. 2:8.

Now the catechumen faces east, the place of the rising sun, the symbol of light.

Priest: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?”
Catechumen: “I do unite myself to Christ.”
Priest: “Have you united yourself to Christ?”
Catechumen: “I have united myself to Christ.”
Priest: “Do you believe in Him?”
Catechumen: “I believe in Him as King and God.”

 

 

 

Unite means adherence, attachment, the exact opposite of renunciation. Here the Church requires acceptance of Christ as King and God because it is not enough to simply believe in Him as God. As the Holy Apostle James declares, “Even the demons believe and shudder.” James 2:19. Therefore this is a promise to serve Christ as Lord of our whole self in unconditional obedience.

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Last Updated June 2006