Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 64

Vatican website translation:

64. The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and to be taken into use at the discretion of the local ordinary. By this means the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of suitable instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.

Latin text:

64. Instauretur catechumenatus adultorum pluribus gradibus distinctus, de iudicio Ordinarii loci in usum deducendus; quo fiat ut tempus catechumenatus, aptae institutioni destinatum, sacris ritibus successivis temporibus celebrandis, sanctificari possit.

Slavishly literal translation:

64. The catechumenate of adults, marked by multiple steps, is to be restored and be brought into use according to the judgment of the Ordinary of the place; by which may it occur that the time of the catechumenate, designed for appropriate instruction, could be made holy by celebrating sacred rites through successive times.

Having given permission for an expanded use of the vernacular in the celebration of the sacraments and the sacramentals, the Council Fathers now continue their practical decrees by beginning a consideration of the sacraments of initiation. First they call for the restoration of the adult catechumenate, a structure of initiation characteristic of the early centuries of the Church’s existence. This was not a purely antiquarian request. Since the 1940s missioners in Africa had been experimenting with adapting elements of ancient catechumenal rites to the cultural situations in which they found themselves working in lieu of “convert classes.” After World War II, those preparing adults who had never been baptized as infants for Christian initiation in de-Christianized parts of Europe also sought something more than instruction conjoined to the bare rite of baptism. Art. 64 opened these pastoral initiatives for the use of the entire church. Article 14 of the later conciliar document on the missionary activity of the Church, Ad Gentes, will treat the catechumenate in greater depth: “The catechumenate means not simply a presentation of teaching and precepts, but a formation in the whole of the Christian life and a sufficiently prolonged period of training.”

The choice of whether or not to implement the catechumenate is left to the diocesan Ordinary. Helpful in this regard will be the Code of Canon Law and the eventually promulgated Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (more or less adapted to culture in comparison with the editio typica by different bishops’ conferences). A set of National Statutes on the Catechumenate, proposed by the United States bishops and given recognitio by the Holy See in 1988, are especially helpful in regulating the catechumenate in the United States.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss their own experiences with the adult catechumenate, how it has affected worship in their own communities, what issues may have arisen, and what further adaptations they might propose. It might be of special interest to discuss the pastoral issues arising from communities using both OF and EF versions of adult initiation.


  1. This could be a very timely discussion, given that a review of the US National Statutes on the Catechumenate is the subject of the next FDLC meeting in 2014.

  2. My sources tell me that the name of the Book will be changed from the Rite CIA to the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults, thus creating havoc with our use of the acronym RCIA to OCIA. I wonder though if there is the same enthusiasm for the RCIA in parishes as there was in the 1980’s and 90’s when the North American Catechumenate was so active. And I wonder how many parishes do all the ceremonies, from the “Welcome” through the Mystogogia?

    We continue to use the appropriate model in our parish, although we used the Appendix’s combined rites for Catechumens and Candidates and always make clear the distinctions between the two. Our current director has also done a marvelous job of having an on-going Inquiry group year round.

    The biggest concern that I have and I have heard other have is the number of those who go through the RCIA who drop out of the Church after 6 months or a year, sometimes sooner. I wonder how prevalent a problem this is?

    1. @Fr. Allan. McDonald – comment #2:
      The Forum went through some spasms with attempting to wean people off the acronym in the 90’s. To little effect. It matters little what the book is called. Parishioners don’t read ritual books.

      For advanced parishes like Fr Allan’s, I wonder how many regularly celebrate blessings of catechumens, how many conduct a year-round catechumenate for the uncatechized persons, and not just for the team, and how many model good Word celebrations in gatherings outside of Mass, including with music. There’s always room for growth.

      I’m a skeptic on the use of combined rites. My parish initiates the elect at the Vigil. Reception into Full Communion happens when the person is ready, any time, year-round. If they’re ready at the end of Lent, we confirm on the 2nd or 3rd Sunday of Easter.

      Fr Allan’s final concern may point out one or both of two possible weaknesses: poorly formed sponsors and godparents or the failure of the pastor and catechumenate team to discern carefully just where newcomers are and how they’re doing.

      Of all the liturgies, the catechumenate rites as a whole defy the STBDTR model.

  3. Does anyone know if the Ordo Baptismi adultorum per gradus Catechumenatus dispositus, which is found in the 1964 ritual, was ever used? Was this an initial response to SC 64, or was this something that predated it?

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #4:
      Yes, it predated it, and was used only briefly. The rubrics indicate it was an option, so it was never used across the board. It was the immediate precursor to the RCIA, and was found to be a little too complicated, with seven stages, and more emphasis upon exorcism than was ultimately judged helpful for modern contexts. Yet it was the first formal attempt to create a modern rite of this kind. The impulse for restoring the catechumenate was felt for quite some time before Vatican II, and in the 1950s a considerable body of experience and work on this front was being done by missionaries, and in catechumenate centers in France which were oriented toward meeting the formation needs of adults in dechristianized environments.

      Those communities that use the Extraordinary Form have this ritual available to them, but I have never heard of a community that used it.

  4. I recall reading somewhere that in the US prior to the Council the common practice for the baptism of adults was to use the rite for the baptism of children rather than the considerably more elaborate rite of adult baptism.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #6:
      Well, there was only one rite, the one used most often for children. But a convoluted history meant that this rite was, in effect, a telescoped rite originally for adult catechumens though they had long ceased to exist. The priest addressed the “adult” (ie, the infant), and the godparents answered in the infant’s stead.

      I believe the first time the Church ever had a rite for infant baptism is after Vatican II. Before that we only did adult baptisms, and in emergency or exceptional circumstances – which was pretty much always, that adult rite was used on infants.


  5. My copy of the 1964 Collectio Rituum has a very lengthy rite of baptism for adults (basically the same as the rite in stages, but all crammed together) in which the candidate makes his or her own responses, and a distinct (and much shorter) Ordo Baptismi Parvulorum, in which the sponsor answers for the candidate — though the candidate is addressed by name in the questions — and the rubrics refer to the one being baptized as an “infant.”

    I am wondering if this was an innovation in the 1964 ritual or whether there had always been the longer adult rite, which was just never used.

  6. In a private communication, someone pointed me to the following from the Old Catholic Encyclopedia:

    In the baptism of adults, all the essential ceremonies are the same as for infants. There are, however, some impressive additions. The priest wears the cope over his other vestments, and he should be attended by a number of clerics or at least by two. While the catechumen waits outside the church door, the priest recites some prayers at the altar. Then he proceeds to the place where the candidate is, and asks him the questions and performs the exorcisms almost as prescribed in the ritual for infants. Before administering the blessed salt, however, he requires the catechumen to make an explicit renunciation of the form of error to which he had formerly adhered, and he is then signed with the cross on the brow, ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, breast, and between the shoulders. Afterwards, the candidate, on bended knees, recites three several times the Lord’s Prayer, and a cross is made on his forehead, first by the godfather and then by the priest. After this, taking him by the hand, the priest leads him into the church, where he adores prostrate and then rising he recites the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The other ceremonies are practically the same as for infants. It is to be noted that owing to the difficulty of carrying out with proper splendor the ritual for baptizing adults, the bishops of the United States obtained permission from the Holy See to make use of the ceremonial of infant baptism instead. This general dispensation lasted until 1857, when the ordinary law of the Church went into force. Some American dioceses, however, obtained individual permissions to continue the use of the ritual for infants when administering adult baptism.

    What’s in the 1964 ritual is more complex even than this, containing three lengthy exorcism (what we now call Scrutinies). My correspondent informs me that this was promulgated in 1962. But even prior to this there seems to have been some differences between infant and adult baptisms.

  7. My parish, St Thomas in Providence, was one of the parishes to implement the pilot program for RCIA in our diocese. We have been teaching the classes and performing the rites in the OF for 30+ years. There has been varying degrees of impact on parish life, most of it directly proportional to the importance the pastor attaches to it.
    The classes are and were always done with great care and preparation.But when the rites were perfuntorily performed, the response from the assembly was minimal – more of an intrusion on “the real reason we are here”.
    When the rites were done with enthusiasm and full symbolism, the assembly entered into them with enthusiasm to support the catechumens/elect and candidates.
    In our small class this year, we have 3 to be baptized and 3 additional to be confirmed.

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