Sunday, July 22, 2012

Korean Catechumenate

Apostasy of a Christian during the times of persecution was always a traumatic event. A columnist of the Catholic Times discusses how catechumens were treated in those early days of the Church and what was done to accept new members into the church community.

One of the early written directions dealing with the catechumenate was "The Apostolic Tradition" by Hippolytus, who emphasized the importance of motivating the candidate and providing guidelines for living a proper life thereafter. When their occupation was not in harmony with the Christian life, they were told to leave it. They continued in the catechumenate for three years, but it was the quality of their lives, which determined the person's suitability for baptism and not their knowledge of the catechism. This, however, was not the policy of all the churches.

During the difficult days of persecution in Korea, there were few priests and the forming of a catechumenate was difficult. Those who applied had to give up their superstitious ways and follow the ten commandments and the Christian way of life. After meeting with a priest to discuss the matter, they were considered candidates, and after a period of 40 days could be baptized.

This was considered too short a time, and in 1932, the Directory for the Korean Church was published and the period of preparation was set at six months. This has continued to the present time but in recent years, there are many who feel it should be a year to understand the love of Christ and to have a feel for the Christian way of life.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), after Vatican II, is used by some parishes in forming a catechumenate. We have the three  steps; the three scrutinies during Lent, the baptism at the Easter Vigil, and the period of deepening of the Christian's spirituality after baptism--called the Mystagogy:  a  wonderful way to get the whole community to be involved in the reception of new Christians. However, when the numbers are large, it is no easy task to follow the RCIA steps.

Priests and lay people in the parishes work together zealously to form the new Christians. But despite their efforts, within three years after baptism many fall away from the community. To guard against this, it would be helpful, the columnist suggests, to have programs after baptism, and to urge the whole community to take more interest in the newly baptized. In our modern society, there are many who are divorced and have remarried; it is necessary to make the effort to regularize these marriages when the partners prepare for baptism. Those who come to Catholicism from Protestantism also would be better served if those who are entrusted to teach them had a basic understanding of Protestantism, to point out more easily the differences between the two religions. The work of formation is a difficult one but in today's culture extremely important.

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