(Merely a personal appraisal of: The "Neo-catechumenate")
(by Mgr. Joseph C. Buckley - Vicar General & Judicial, Diocese of Clifton, England)
(written c. 1988, sent to the Bishops of England and Wales, and several in France)
There can be no doubt that the Church in Latin America is receiving new impetus and insights through the "basic communities" that are proliferating there. A "basic community" is defined (in the Medellin documents) as:
"a community, local or environmental, which corresponds to the reality of a homogeneous group and whose size allows for personal fraternal contact among its members".
Already in Europe, especially in certain regions near Madrid, experiments are being made in "run-down" parishes with much effect. Such "basic communities" are not at all the same kind of "community" envisaged by the NEOCATECHUMENATE which, in fact, resolutely denies any valid comparison with them..
There is a hankering after less formal liturgical worship, more freedom and personal expression and a more communitarian sense of belonging. No one could deny the validity of such aspirations which appear to be entirely consonant with the aims of the Council. In some cases this has given rise to "floating parishes" composed of people who have been recruited to form such a community without regard to the geographical nature of the institutional parishes to which they belong. Their inspiration is, as it should be, the evangelical precept of love (for friend and foe alike) which has to be expressed in the concrete reality of daily life.
While the aim is laudable and must be encouraged, the attendant dangers of this communitarian vision include antipathy to the institutional Church. Such antipathy is expressed in the attitude of "communal Catholics" to parish and diocese - regarding these as of use only when they serve the good of their community.
To quote Avery Dulles (THE RESILIENT CHURCH pp 14 sq).
"The more people prize their spontaneous, local community, the more likely they are to detach themselves from the parish, the diocese etc. The more value they.-set on creative liturgies and spontaneous prayer, the more impatient they will probably grow at the restrictions of Canon Law and rubrical prescriptions. The more they cherish the experience of life together, the less interested are they likely to become in maintaining communion with the Church Catholic of all ages and places... Not surprisingly, therefore, some of the more experimental forms of Christian community fell apart... Instead of being agents of reconciliation.. certain progressive communities became sources of discord and division."
Fr Dulles' conclusion cannot be gainsaid:
"...Unselfish love of God and neighbour, made known to us in the Scriptures and the perennial teaching of the Church.. gives to Catholic Christians their religious identity and mission. Granted this identity and mission, informal communities such as the family, the circle of friends, and the neighbourhood can be a tremendous support to Christian living"
The "community Catholics" sometimes appear as regarding themselves as the privileged "illuminati" and to operate on the principle that it is "quality not quantity" that counts, in the sense of demanding that the thrust of pastoral activity must be in the forming of an élite (for their own spiritual advancement rather than as apostles of their own environment) Such a tendency is particularly pronounced in the N-C communities..
The social teaching of the Church does not allow us to neglect any aspect of human conditions. The message of the Church, however, will always be one of hope - not in the fulfilment of the Kingdom in this world, but in the eschaton. This is no escape from reality. It is, in fact, because we regard our brothers and sisters as having an absolute future that we are obliged to attempt to build, in a world far from perfect, a society fit for the children of God.. It is an attempt that must endure to the end of time.
With all this in view - and more - the underlying principles of the Neo-Catechumenate need to be carefully scrutinised. This is a difficult procedure in view of the very closed and exclusive structure of the communities" which are formed by it. In particular, it is its underlying sacramental theology that calls for examination. It is not only in this country, but throughout Europe and beyond that these communities have been set up. Almost as wide is the confusion caused by their "baptismal ritual" in relation to the Church's own official catechumenate.
Although the members of this "movement" resist the appellation: "movement", it is not at all clear what other nomenclature to use in its regard. They would, at times, appear to wish it to be identified with the Church itself - indeed, they often refer to themselves in terms which are redolent of the earliest days of the Infant Church:
Some Christians could regard such a claim as arrogant and quite unacceptable. The experience of the Church over two millennia cannot be dismissed in so peremptory a manner; nor must the Church be identified with its nascent form and customs. The Catholic Church is, by definition the Church for all mankind and the Church for all times. Vatican II has made clear that the methods of evangelisation and expression of the truth must not be identified with any particular culture or period of time.
What is of significance is the way in which the members of the NEOCATECHUMENATE regard the "institutional" Church. In their eyes, it has allowed them to flounder, to seek comfort elsewhere, to feel abandoned and forgotten. They had not (in spite of parish, school, diocese etc... even family) really been evangelised. Their baptism had been perfunctory formalism and now they are finding THE WAY. What is more, they have discovered that the "institutional" Church has not provided them with the necessary "community" needed for promoting their own spiritual welfare and that of those in their immediate entourage.
AN ENQUIRY (AMSTERDAM 198O)
In 1980 the meeting in AMSTERDAM (May 2 - 5) of European Directors of Catechumenate raised the question of the NEOCATECHUMENATE and the confusion it was causing in many local Churches throughout the continent. This had arisen with regard to the ever-increasing urgency felt in the dioceses to promote the kind of service called for by the Fathers of the Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium: art. 64; Christus Dominus: art. 14; Ad Gentes: art. 14). The motion had been mooted of alerting local Churches and Ordinaries to the confusion arising between Catechumenate and "Neo-Catechumenate". Fearing lest such a motion might appear to be a kind of anti-Neo-catechumenate "crusade", each delegate from the countries of Europe undertook to distribute an article, drawing the attention of local Ordinaries to the considered apprehension of the members of European gathering.
The National Director of the official Catechumenate in France had been somewhat harassed by the enquiries which kept coming to his Centre ("Service National") asking for clarification concerning the N-C and especially with regard to its relationship with the official Catechumenate. In addressing his query to the European meeting of National Directors which took place in Amsterdam in 1980, he writes:
To begin with, I shall take an extract from a letter which a Sister involved in the N-C wrote, a few months ago to some friends:
"I continue to walk in the neo-catechumenal way. During the next fortnight we shall have the scrutiny of passing from the pre-catechumenate to the catechumenate and the rite of the salt. This means the sale of all our goods, infidelity to the Word that we heard four years ago:
- What do you ask of the Church of God? THE FAITH
- What does the Faith give you? LIFE EVERLASTING
- if you would have eternal life, go, sell all your goods and follow me.
This WAY corresponds to the catechumenate necessary for anyone asking for baptism; for us, it is also necessary because we received baptism without taking the serious steps leading to an adult christianity..."Reading this extract, I ask myself several questions:
- what Rite is used by the N-C?
- is this selling of all one's goods to follow Jesus Christ part of the baptismal character and is it a call to every Christian?
- what is the underlying sacramental theology of the Neo-Catechumenal approach, if one has to repeat all the stages (except baptism by water, of course) after baptism has been received as an infant, in a perfunctory manner?
This unapproved and unapprovable title appropriated by the N-C can cause doubtless an attempt at renewing the whole fabric of the Church but, for the moment, it has nothing to do with the official Catechumenate of the French Church.
I have also read an article by GIORGIO ZEVINI concerning experiments in the Christian Initiation of Adults in the N-C communities, published in CONCILIUM No. 142 (1979) of which the following are some extracts:
The Neo-Catechumenate began in Madrid in 1964 under the initiative of KIKO ARGÜELLO and, in 1968, reached Rome as a result of the preaching of a travelling team: the results were so positive, in spite of unavoidable difficulties, that the proclamation of the Kerygma brought the catechumenal experience not only to Italy, but from 1972 to Europe, the whole of America and other continents.
The N-C is a journey of faith and conversion lived within the actual structure of the parish, in communion with the bishop and the parish priest, aimed at giving life to the work of evangelisation and of an ongoing adult catechesis. It is lived out in small communities of 30 or 40 people ( of all ages, classes and leanings of a political, social or cultural nature ) which are united by the 'Good News' of the crucified and risen Saviour and which set out in community on a journey of faith. It is a post-baptismal journey of deep conversion, a journey divided into stages
The N-C is a long journey, involving six successive stages marking out the gradual growth of the faith: the proclamation of the Kerygma, the pre-catechumenate,. transition to the catechumenate, the catechumenate itself, election and renewal of the promises of baptism.
The pastoral method of the N-C appears to come entirely from the outside and regards as inefficacious and non-existent pastoral action already being undertaken: parish, catechetical renewal, Catholic Action for evangelisation.
What is the point of attempting to rediscover the aims and methods of the early Christian communities while refusing systematically whatever has been lived out since?
Where is the need to start from scratch in each one's personal history and to ignore one's past - both human and christian - in certain cases?
Is this just one step away from being "sectarian".. from cutting oneself off from all Church tradition?
If you have any accounts of co-operation between Catechumenate and N-C I should be glad to know of them.
National Director, Official Catechumenate of France
What follows is an important section of an article with specific reference to the neo-catechumenate. It records an interview which appeared in "KOSMOS + OEKUMENE" no. 4 (1978). It was composed in Dutch by R. WEVERBEGH and W. SLEDDENS who went to Madrid to make an on-the-spot enquiry into the meaning of the movement. The "interview" style has been kept:
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSÉ in MADRID
The NEOCATECHUMENATE groups have as founder and spiritual guide KIKO ARGÜELLO. During our stay in Madrid we were able to chat with José, one of the first followers of Kiko and a co-founder of the movement. José met Kiko after leading a disturbed gypsy life, living on what he could steal. He had been in prison and during this sombre period of his life he met Kiko who showed him THE WAY. Immediately "The Spirit" broke all barriers.
In an interview, José tells us of his life in a neo-catechumenate community. His experience is doubtless of limited importance but, as co-founder and filius praedilectus it could be an example of what the neo-catechumenal movement really stands for:
In the NEOCATECHUMENATE community, it is a matter of "baptism renewal". In order to accomplish this, the communities set up a rigid structure of catechumenal renewal in six stages. The movement has the aim of establishing itself in the whole Church and not only in Spain. Our interviewee spoke of groups in Japan, Africa, Paris,: East and West Germany, North and South America, Australia and Italy.
Like OPUS DEI, the NEOCATECHUMENATE movement has worldwide missionary perspectives. (There is more than a little suspicion that OPUS DEI has taken the NEOCATECHUMENATE under its wing.- JCB)
In Madrid, there are parishes with several groups. These groups have a regular routine of meetings involving two periods which go from the beginning of October to mid-December, and from mid-January to Easter. Their "charter" is recognised by Rome. This catechumenal period is punctuated by six stages, and it can take several years for an adherent to finish the course.
Each stage ends with a "scrutiny" - a rite which demands a scrupulous examination of the candidate's behaviour
Groups start through the initiative of a priest or of one of the movement's members. They gather people together, and begin by saying:
"You, too, have been touched by grace to know THE WAY".
The first meeting has for its theme the account of the blind man of Jericho and the paralytic of Siloé.
A second theme is to ask:
"Who am I? Who is God for ME?"
The third theme:
"GOD has seen man's sin and freed him from it".
Thus is learnt the sacrament of Penance.
The journey takes up the account of Exodus, Abraham, Adam & Eve.. I notice that these biblical accounts are understood by José in a fundamentalist manner which he applies literally.
"DOES THIS FORM A REAL COMMUNITY?"
"Not in the geographical sense". The forty members of the group live in different parts of Madrid. They form a "community of faith", meeting to celebrate the Word and the Eucharist. On a Wednesday evening they hold a meeting during which they read a psalm and search the Bible for the passages which refer to that text.
José recites psalms every morning with his wife (alternating verses). To do that, he gets up every morning at five o'clock. This is a compulsory program for all members of the community who have reached the fifth scrutiny.
Every Saturday, the "Kiko families" gather to celebrate the Eucharist. The celebration takes at least two hours. They are very active in a liturgical way - with their own chants, singing especially Kiko's melodies as he is a musician and his records are well known. (Kiko's melodies are the staple fare of the communities. - JCB). Every month there is a "convivencia". They retire to a large house far from the town and spend a week-end together in prayer and discussion. It is a time for reflection, for review of life, when each one is asked to relate the events of his life which have influenced his journey towards the final goal: the renewal of baptism.
"WHAT IS THEIR ATTITUDE TO THE PARISH?"
'They recognise the parish structure only insofar as it coincides with their program. The parishioners have no faith. Only those who have passed through the final scrutinies of the neo-catechumenate have any real faith. They accept responsibility in their parishes only insofar as these can, for example, help them in the catechesis of their children or for marriage preparation.
In Madrid, out of eighty groups, only two are active on the parish level. In fact, they acknowledge neither parish nor parish priest. Only bishops have the faith! Each time' .candidates are ready for a scrutiny, the bishop is invited for the celebration of that step and he is asked to give an instruction on THE WAY. Especially for admission into the groups and for handing. over the Bible, the bishop or his special delegate is invited in order to underline the importance of these rites. If the bishop is not available, a parish priest is invited. He does not preside but is a simple 'participant in the celebration.
"WHERE DO THEY FIT WITHIN THE CHURCH?"
They like to maintain constant contact with the Bishop. but he does not always give them the encouragement they desire. They have direct contact with Rome and are recognised because their "charter" has been accepted there.
They have no contact with the movement IGLESIA POPULAR or with charismatics. For members of the NEOCATECHUMENATE, charismatics forget that charisms are given by the Bishop; he alone is able to communicate the gifts of the Spirit. Moreover, the IGLESIA POPULAR is theologically in error because the Servant of Yahweh (Jesus) did not involve himself in the temporal affairs of the society of his time. The Church alone can judge whether one has the faith or not.
"WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN: TO HAVE THE FAITH?"
It means: "Love your enemy; and only the Spirit can help you to do that; otherwise the Spirit destroys you. The enemy is everywhere: in your family, your wife... in everything which is not under the sway of the. Spirit".
My interpreter told me that there is much spiritual violence in his groups. The rites and scrutinies set the members apart, isolating them from normal life and separating them from this "world of sin"...
They have a "spiritual and fundamentalist theory"; they restore comfort and security to those whose faith is threatened.
In fact, they are building a sectarian world, well protected by spiritual bulwarks and offering a life based on traditionalist values.
A THEOLOGICAL DISQUISITION ON:
NEOCATECHUMENAL COMMUNITIES by Fr Rocardo Diasquez (Professor of Ecclesiology in Salamanca) appeared in Teologia y Catequesis in 1984. An English (?) translation appeared in Peru in 1985 and was "amended in London in June 1986, for private circulation only".
Subtitled "A WAY OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION" it reaches 55 pages of A4 in length and, let it be admitted, is not the easiest or most entertaining of reading.
The author sets out what he describes as his "Theological Discernment" of the Neo-Catechumenate.
It is a WAY that is followed by concrete "communities" and is the result of "a surprising and gratuitous initiative by God". Such an assertion sets the tone for the complete "discernment" and is but the prelude to series upon series of self-authenticating claims that may appear to the uninitiated as somewhat exaggerated. The experience of KIKO and his gypsy disciples is likened to that of Peter in Acts 10:44-45 etc.. so "what had been given by God should be freely offered". The expansion of the "gift" has now reached 80 countries.
The goal is the rediscovery of baptism. Convinced that they "have. received a charism from God for the post-conciliar Church", being "at an advanced stage of acceptance by the Church" and "open to the signs through which God continues to indicate what is its definitive shape and ecclesial adoption", the initiators cannot admit of "any surrender under any pressure".
Lest it be seen as having any other interests, it endears itself through "the absolute absence of illegitimate interests (economic, political, social groups..)". In fact, what becomes more and more clear is what the NEOCATECHUMENATE is not. Nothing but a "serious response" from the Church is fitting for this as for "other great movements of reform in the Church". It deserves to spread "unconditionally, should be maintained carefully in its originality and zealously defended". None of your adaptation or flexibility, if you please! After all, it is THE WAY.
Its originality lies in its "synthesis of the totality" of Christianity. So what else could you possibly desire? It would appear, then, to regard itself as the Good News in a nutshell! Not just bits and pieces - but the whole works:
"There is an exactness in zeroing in on each Christian aspect which is also theologically impressive"
- impressive, no doubt, but scarcely apparent to anyone but the learned professor. The impressiveness of THE WAY is not like "some renewed rites" for all their biblical formation etc - initiatives "more planned than real". This WAY is really effective.
Lest anyone get away with anything but the real thing -
The solidity (sic) of the community arises from its major experiences (we are not told of the minor ones), which ONCE SHARED IN SUFFICIENTLY AND VITALLY BY THE MEMBERS, FORM AN UNBREAKABLE BOND .. a permanence which is really impressive.
Really, the impressiveness knows no bounds.. but is sufficient to hold communities together in perpetual and unbreakable bonds that would make the average Christian family look like a bunch of unclubables. The twice-weekly meetings (for the Word and for the Eucharist) are but a start. The monthly convivence (not French, but sounds well) which subjects the members to further scrutiny, prayer and resolve will help the adhesion of the group in their unbreakable bond.. And all this, "not to study, not to reflect in common, nor to agree on activities, nor to plan campaigns but to celebrate.."
And all this comes about because, at the outset and at the first stage of setting up a community, is proclaimed the KERYGMA: the resurrection "proclaimed in numerous ways".
There is one thing you can say about the NEOCATECHUMENATE: a word will not suffice when several can do the same thing. The proclamation, the "kerygmatic input" is the seed of all that follows. And who does the proclaiming?:
The catechists, IN THE NAME OF THE CHURCH, assure [the disciple of the Way] that this promise [of salvation] will be faithfully kept by God. This promise, once believed in, sets the person in motion.
Five more pages of turgid script will give the same message "in numerous ways". In this - and "in numerous ways", THE WAY joins the stream of the evangelical movements which are well known to us in this country.
Here you have "an authentic catechumenate" for. alas, "is not this name often abused these days?". This is "an initiation into faith" - regardless, apparently, of the individual's own faith-history. What really counts is not what has gone before but what lies ahead:
"Over a period of years the catechumens will discover the riches of baptism, hidden and barely touched. Through stages, steps and scrutinies they will make a descent, through conversion, into the waters of death from which a new man will emerge created by the Spirit of God."
In parentheses it may be noted that the National Director of the Official Catechumenate in France had complained that the very title "Neo-catechumenate" (unapproved and unapprovable) could cause confusion of a kind to do no service to the National Centre's work.
The descent must begin with SIN writ large. The community will help with this - acting "as a mirror". And so the dismantling begins. But not toot fast! Money, affections, ambitions - all this is the panoply of Satan and must be discarded. This takes time and it takes our author another six pages to explain why. But, for the disciple of THE WAY, there must not be too much revealed at once. As in the "mystery religions" the initiates only.. must know the who WAY and so, the ancient "disciplina arcani" is invoked. After all, as in the Messiah Himself,:
The whole history of salvation... is reproduced to some extent in the particular history God makes with each person.. By the power of God all the realities on which man idolatrously supports himself will be exorcised".
SIN... SIN... SIN.... Man and woman beset by sin...
Redeemed , of course, by the Cross which each has to bear: and which each is called upon to reveal. Again, the "unbreakable bond" can surely be forged even more strongly by the very intimate confidences that are shared with the group! But do not rely on hearsay:
It is a proven (sic) fact in the NEOCATECHUMENATE communities that within the process of faith and of conversion to baptism (sic) there is a vigorous recovery of the sacrament of conversion, of penance... In the NEOCATECHUMENATE Way it is clearly discovered that sin repays the sinner with death.. The forgiveness received frees the person to be able to communicate with others and to be able to share happily in the bread and in the feast" for, as at every other step, all of this has been "preceded by a theologically well-founded and very eloquent catechesis" given by those catechists who catechise "in the name of the Church".
From all this, one must conclude that, until the Neocatechumenate came along the Church had lost its way... or THE WAY. In point of fact, a series of negatives is used to express what the NEOCATECHUMENATE is:
The kerygmatic preaching... is NOT a cycle of talks Catechumenate Community is NOT a spontaneous group. NOT community'. NOT a Catholic association.. NOT a movement.. NOT an élite group within the parish . etc.
THEN WHAT IS IT?
"The Neo-Catechumenal Community is THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST BEING REALISED IN A PARTICULAR PLACE.... 'local Church can be the Bishop's Cathedral, the Parish presided over by the Parish Priest, and the smallest community presided over by a priest in communion with his Bishop"
In other words, it is just like any other ecclesial gathering but, in a very special way: "an instrument of God for the renewal of the Church here and now".
Much is made of the fact that "the catechists are sent by the Bishop and work in communion with the parish priest". The theory is fine, but practice shows that the Bishop (anxious not to "stifle the Spirit" or dampen enthusiasm) usually gives no more than a blessing or a permission to a group whose ability to catechise in an adequate manner has not been scrutinised. (If any "missio" is granted, it is the "national team" which does the commissioning..) As far as the parish priest is concerned, it is well known that groups are inter- or rather supra- (even extra- , if not praeter) parochial, being formed from "adepts" who are recruited from several parishes and encouraged to gather around a "parochus benevolus". It could well give bishops pause to think before "commissioning" the catechists. Our theologian insists that they are the Church sent to preach the good news. Moreover, the "itinerants" are known to regard with disdain those bishops and priests who are not willing to accept their services -literally shaking the dust from their sandals as they pass from one diocese to another, from one parish to another.
ELITISM: The members regard themselves as very ordinary people with very special needs. A common explanation for their dedication is their previous problem-laden history. There can be no doubt that they find in their community a support which was lacking in their parish. It is because they have found a closed group before whom they have delivered themselves of some of their life-secrets that they feel liberated only within that group. They form a "set-apart" It is not without significance that they find the need to rebut - or pre-empt - the half-facetious charge of being like the "Moonies". As Fr G. Reniers said in his letter enquiring about the communities:
"Could there, perhaps, be but one step from becoming 'sectarian', that is, cutting oneself off from all Church tradition?"
The "lex orandi, lex credendi' axiom is important in this context. There are many instances of catholics being asked not to remain for the Eucharist if they are not members of the "community", and of others being refused Communion if they did not conform to a particular mode of "peace-giving". Priests who do not belong to the specific community are refused the right to concelebrate at their celebrations. What is special to these communities is the observance of the Saturday Mass, celebrated exclusively for the members and in a manner which could not be said to resemble remotely the "parish Mass". Their. way of celebrating the Word-liturgy includes admonitions (preparatory instructions on the content of - the Scriptural passage prepared by groups) and "echoes" of members who wish to express, for the benefit of the others the insights received through the readings.
In some parishes the Sunday Masses for the people will be left to a locum while the parish priest goes to the monthly get-together - the convivencia (though, for some reason, the spurious French "convivence" is in vogue) - with "his" community. It is stressed that the "presbyter learns to discover his place in a community eminently active. He is in a way of conversion and faith along with the others, and for the others he represents Christ as Head and Pastor". Some priests doubtless feel the need for such support and no one would wish to deprive them of it. But, one could object, the priestly ministry must never be seen as oriented to a small group of enthusiasts. In fact, certain priests in Spain are complaining that the "communities" regard them as their personal chaplains, laying claim to a very special and constant care - to the exclusion of the rest of the parish. In our own country it is particularly noticeable that where the N-C communities are set up, many "ordinary" parishioners are seeking refuge in neighbouring parishes in order to avoid what they fear is the "technique" of recruitment for these communities and an excessive concentration on them. It is a matter of observation that the "community" parishes show little interest in diocesan affairs - apart from their concern to have the bishop at their "rites de passage". It is observable that the priestly ministry in "N-C parishes" is limited rather than extended by devotion to these communities.
Whatever the inherent value of their aims, the communities are not helping the parish to become the communion of faith, love and worship which it should be. Although in certain countries the bishops have forbidden these separate celebrations, they still remain part of their system. Why, one may ask, can they not celebrate "group Masses" at any other time but on a Saturday evening? The "theological" answer is in the paper by the Salamanca professor:
In all the communities the Word is celebrated once a week; on Saturday nights they meet to celebrate the Eucharist as the entrance to Sunday, the day of rest.
Nothing here about celebrating with one's fellow parishioners or of "animating" the parish liturgy.
A "community" wedding is another occasion for "taking over". A recent wedding (which took two-and-a-half hours) was completely organised by the community. The parish priest of the bride would not allow a special "altar-table" to be erected in his church and so she decided to be married in the parish church of her community where the parish priest of the "community parish" welcomed this kind of thing. The girl's mother complained that she was not allowed to have any part in the preparations for the wedding and her father remarked that his daughter had been taken over by the local "Moonies"!
Of even greater significance is the method of celebrating Easter. The communities have their own Vigil Mass - after the parish has already celebrated the Mystery. That their fellow parishioners are not expected to associate themselves with the prolonged (six or more hours) Vigil and followed by an agapé in a local restaurant, is not thought of as in any way élitist but simply their own privileged celebration arising from their commitment and deeper understanding of the liturgy. Most parishioners just want a "quickie" (they will tell you) and so they must be catered for. Most priests do not know how to celebrate as they should. That their own celebration could scarcely be one in which a parish as such could take part is beyond doubt: after all, there would not be the opportunity for all the "echoes" and other demonstrations of communal participation if more than the forty or fifty attempted to take part... and where would you find place for the agape? In all, it is remarked how much energy is spent exclusively on the community liturgy - and how little on the parish liturgy.
It is a pity that some of these "communities" appear not to have witnessed a wholesale parish celebration of the Vigil in which several hundreds are involved. Such celebrations take place each year in parishes where, prepared with care and devoted enthusiasm, the Vigil begins at eleven o'clock and spans the midnight hour until "today becomes tomorrow morning". Without gimmickry or even "eloquent catechesis" - just a carefully planned and instructed celebration - it is easy afterwards to share in a simple repast in the parish hall.
Wherever the N-C communities exist, there is the unedifying spectacle of priests anticipating the Great Vigil in the parish church (cutting out some of the readings and making sure that it is all over well before midnight) 'and then setting about the all-night session with "their" community. The community-members are instructed to observe the whole time from the Good Friday evening to after the Vigil (Sunday morning) as a strict fast. Of course, they will tell you, the parishioners are welcome to join in with the "real Vigil" and witness baptism through immersion (another of the specialities of the movement). Thus, the impression is given to the parish that the first Vigil (begun at an hour which allows the priest to escape to the real thing) is for the "ordinary catholic" and, that being got out of the way, the community is the chosen group for an authentic celebration. There will be the usual denial of exclusivism:
The Neocatechumenal Way does not ask for an isolated celebration for its members; it insists only that the celebration take place with all the richness of readings and signs provided for in the Church's ritual..
So says our theologian. The truth is that the N-C prepares and follows through with its own ritual in the sure knowledge that the "average" catholic will not feel able to "break in" on the all-night celebration.
N-C priests will travel many miles (after celebrating the Easter Mystery in their own parish) to take part in the second "community" celebration. I referred to the "lex orandi" - it is the classical definition of schism to set up altar against altar! There is a noticeable lack of liturgical leadership in the parish as such... the communities appear not to regard their "privileges" as imposing upon them the duty of "animating" the ordinary parish worship. On the contrary, parishioners notice how much energy and time is spent on the select few compared with the parish. Such élitism and exclusivism just "cannot be right" (the remark of an English Seminary Rector). There can hardly be a better way of' dividing a parish than by having a series of Great Vigils in one parish. The Church knows only one adequate way of celebrating Easter: the Vigil which should be unique and catholic - for all.
Besides being an exclusive and élitist group of enthusiasts, the community is also ECLECTIC. It is recruited without care for the established structures of pastoral and missionary care. Enquire deeply enough and you will learn that "ecclesiastical poaching" is rife. The priest or leader will encourage the members of the group to gather around his parish and even uproot themselves in order to perpetuate the community in his area. Thus, yet another form of clericalism is born.
Of course, it is graciously conceded that
Those who have renewed the promises of baptism have reached the end of the catechumenate but not perfection. After a long and serious road it can be understood what a transcendental step it is to have been 'illuminated' by baptism. (cf. Eph. 5:14; Heb. 6:4 etc)
With the renewal of the baptismal promises the catechists have completed their task in the parish to which they were called. They present to the bishop the christians who have been gestated in the faith of the Church during the catechumenate. Here the mission of the Neocatechumenal Way ends. It is therefore a charism with a very precise mission and duration.
One of the communities established in a Roman parish bears this testimony to the discovery made through THE WAY:
Our blindness and the need to ask for faith; our idols, which did not save us, rather they enslaved us; God as the Only One; the need for prayer; the kerygma as life for the world; the relationship with God as Father and forgiving one's enemies as the guarantee that the Spirit lives in us; the Servant of Yahweh as the only truth which goes beyond all logic and human expectation....
One wonders what on earth they learnt at mother's knee. at school, in their parish. (The Church in Italy must have something to say about the evangelisation of its people.) One wonders, too, why our author should feel the need to insist that
"adjustments and expansions should be performed by the initiators of the charism and eventually by the legitimate heirs (?). It is an uncalled for manipulation, with the risk of losing the nature of the charism, to impose force on it from outside (?)"
Besides being an exclusive and elitist group of enthusiasts, the community is also ECLECTIC. It is recruited without much concern for the established structures of pastoral and missionary care. Enquire deeply enough and you will learn that "ecclesiastical poaching" is rife. The priest or leader will encourage the members of the group to gather around his parish and even uproot themselves in order to perpetuate the community in his area. Recruitment will depend especially on the priest who has knowledge (experience) of other parishes or locations where he has exercised his ministry. What is more, the movement has its own special kind of "hierarchy": catechists, "responsibles", clerical directors, itinerants etc. The catechists are trained strictly to repeat the lessons they have learnt and sometimes give the impression of "regurgitating" before adequate digestion has been allowed to take place! (Words like "ontological", "existential", "moralism" are part of the currency used in speaking- to unlettered folk in a down-town parish.)
The "national team" of propagandists will travel anywhere to set up their groups. The team is supported by the local communities. There is, in the words of a couple of priests who have experience of them, an attempt to set up "a church within the Church" and, despite protests to the contrary, the N-C spawns its own form of clericalism.
It is evidently a movement of ENTHUSIASM.. in the classical sense of the term. Some of our parishes are feeling acutely uneasy with it. Despite the undoubted good intentions and protestations of these groupings (and they are particularly well endowed with a facility for pre-empting criticism), a feeling of "them and us" is being generated. Parishes, families, communities of Religious and friendships are sometimes being split in the name of THE WAY. A local parish is referred to as consisting of the "hugged and the non-hugged". Former adherents will say what sense of guilt and compulsion they were made to feel: "No excuse for missing the meeting.. Can there ever be a reason for refusing God. anything?" was the kind of pressure this person endured. An eminent psychiatrist has expressed to me his grave concern for the harm being done by such groups. An eminent psychiatrist has pointed to me some acute dangers in the movement.
I am reminded of Knox's passage in his great work entitled ENTHUSIASM
"[Enthusiasm is] a recurrent situation in Church history, where an excess of charity threatens unity. You have a clique, an élite of Christian men and (more importantly) women, who are trying to live a less worldly life than their neighbours; to be more attentive to the guidance (directly felt, they would tell you) of the Holy Spirit. More and more, by a kind of fatality, you see them draw apart from their co-religionists, a hive ready to swarm. The pattern is always repeating itself, not in outline only but in detail. Almost always the enthusiastic movement is denounced as an innovation. yet claims to be preserving, or to be restoring the primitive discipline of the Church. Almost always the opposition is twofold: good Christian people who do not relish an. eccentric spirituality find themselves in unwelcome alliance with worldlings who do not relish any spirituality at all. For that is the real character of the enthusiast: he expects more evident results from the grace of God than we others. He sees what effects religion can have... in transforming a man's whole life and outlook; those exceptional cases (so we are content to think them) are for him the average standard of religious achievement.... He has before his eyes a picture of the early Church... and nothing else will serve him as a model. Extenuate, accommodate, interpret, and he will part company with you".
There is too a passage from John Dalrymple's LONGEST JOURNEY p.63:
All enthusiasms contain within themselves a hidden egoism.... Initially religious enthusiasm is full of swollen egoism. The injured spouse who takes up spirituality when rejected by the other partner is a case in point. He or she has some way to go before the spiritual enthusiasm is purified of the baser motives of wounded vanity and revenge.... To be aware of this danger is an important point in the Christian spiritual life. It should urge us to transfer our enthusiasm as quickly as possible away from the various 'ladders' which lead to heaven directly to God Himself. Incidentally, the more this happens, the easier we will be to live with.
That certain people find it difficult to live with the N-C is fairly obvious. They feel they are being merely tolerated as an appendage to the "real thing" and excluded from the riches which the Church has to offer. There is obviously no substitute for the real thing... but the only WAY is Christ Himself.
One priest found it too difficult to go along with the N-C Way;
When I was appointed to the parish I went there with a completely open mind even though I had heard of the N-C, and I was prepared to listen, to share and to be part of it. When I went there I found that the Presbytery situation was, to say the least appalling. The two lay-preachers, one with a wife and child and expecting another, had more or less taken over the whole procedure. It was open house and these people had to be fed. in the Presbytery every day and dine with the priests, which was not exactly my kettle of fish. Not only that; throughput the day they came and went and were quite demanding in attention to themselves from the two housekeepers. They had taken over the house completely. All other activities in the parish were neglected.. Fr C. though tiny in stature, was something of a brain-washer and most persistent in following the N-C conception... He is still doing this and is persistent in ringing up priests who had given second thoughts to the idea. He is quite regularly on the telephone... The idea of this community within a parish seems to work extremely well in missionary territories such as South America...
The course I attended there for a new community was composed of twenty people... I knew most of the people attending, and of the twenty it is not unfair to say that there was only one normal person - a teacher in the local school. The rest were, or had been, on drugs or alcohol, were divorced or anti-social in some other way; but there were nineteen people all looking for comfort and company for their social needs.
Such a description of the community could lead one to think of the kind of company which the Lord Himself seemed to favour... And the priest was obviously impressed with at least one feature:
One very excellent feature of the whole programme.. was that the community met every Wednesday evening when they rehearsed the Liturgy, especially the reading of the Word for the following weekend...
but the "overall impression.. was that such a community in an English city parish was completely divisive and destructive" especially in the sphere of the liturgy. The priest in question found himself spending most of his time trying to "placate the white people" and attempting to persuade them to attend the "normal Mass on Sunday" - there was only one such Mass. Each of the three "communities" had its own separate Mass on the Saturday evening "to the exclusion of anyone else" and all "community Masses are celebrated in the Sacristy - now called Our Lady's Chapel".
The same priest followed the "course" up to and including the first act of initiation:
The talks by these lay-preachers went on for a couple of hours each evening to which one had to give one's full attention, and on the last evening one was expected to bring note-book and pencil to answer many questions. This was not at all acceptable to many who refused to Co-operate. At the end of the lectures that evening we had to proceed into the church and there for three hours we went through lectures, prayers and eventually Absolution and Mass. I am afraid that by this time I had become quite cynical about the whole idea. While I was at Mass, at about 11:30 p.m. - and here were these twenty people being indoctrinated - I heard a disturbance at the back of the church... two alcoholics had come in from the cold and were urinating at the back of the church... My interest in the N-C was exhausted... the function was futile, divisive and useless..."
A priest (ex-Anglican. parish-priest in London's East End) was a "fully-fledged" Neo-catechumen for more than four years. He told me with what a sense of relief he had come to the conclusion that the movement was a form of spiritual enslavement. He came to see that its exclusiveness and esoteric liturgy was un-catholic with its theology superficial and suspect. Since rejecting the movement's hold on him, he had become "liberated" and was determined to see that, as far as he was concerned, it would have no place in pastoral activity or planning. His experience had taught him the need to beware of the "panacea" approach which is fostered by the N-C. He had been impressed by Cardinal Hume's remarks at a N-C meeting in Westminster which warned them against this attitude. He pleaded with me to discourage involvement with the movement. The claim of the N-C to "gestate" the faith of the adherents was dismissed by him in a picturesque manner: such a "gestation", he said, was only "ectopic"! Other parishes in the same area with similar experience had now abandoned the method.
The exclusiveness and rigidity of these groups are an echo of the ponderings from Salamanca. The attitude is simply: Here is THE. WAY and, if you are too blind to see it, this merely goes to show that you have not received the Spirit. From start to finish the article (like the movement itself) sets out to be self-authenticating. That is a characteristically protestant attitude and one which imbues the whole approach of the N-C with regard to the enthusiasts as well as to the Bible. Criticism and questioning are seen as the persecution of the righteous and yet another sign of authenticity! Reason has little place in their deliberations - the emotions are paramount.
That there is a rich harvest for the Church in her own approach to catechumenate and "washing the feet of the world" is beyond doubt. Parishes could do well to look to the N-C for the lessons it gives on caring for the underprivileged and "unchurched". But the temptation to become sectarian is one which the Church has always had to face and resist. Enthusiasm for a rigid system, a closing-in on the select few, a fundamentalist searching of Scripture for the clues to the whole of life, a reliance on a kind of Buchmanite (Oxford Group) openness of self-criticism and support from a closed circle of "problem-oriented" men and women who are looking for support and solace in their own vulnerability, a separate and separatist liturgy - all this may very well be a way of bringing some nearer to God. But the Neocatechumenate is not the Church; it is not THE WAY; it is not the Good News.... and there are many attendant dangers in the arrogance of its claims. There is an impression given that the movement breeds spiritual arrogance and an attitude of moral superiority. They have nothing to learn except from one another. Their "good works" must be principally and, almost exclusively, reserved to their own members... it is the impression that the movement cuts them off from the rest of the world and of the Church.
Adherents of the movement could, of course, ask who is going to look after the drug addicts, the divorcees and the alcoholics - whether urinating or not! The fact that there are such people in the world and in the Church is no reason for condemning a movement that cares for them. On the other hand, if exception has to be taken, it is to the methods used to deal with the problems and to the liturgical expression of the communal attitude to these. The Church is not composed of problem-orientated communities and people with acute personal and social problems need not only the support of their fellow-sufferers but also and especially the compassionate and practical concern of the "normal" Christian who must be made aware of his duty to care for his suffering brother and sister.
It is so often thought that the liturgy should express the attitude of the community that too little is made of the liturgy as creative of the required communal attitude. The very isolation of the N-C communities makes them not only less capable of dealing with the problems of their own members, but they deprive themselves and the larger community of much talent that should be at the service of the whole neighbourhood. The danger of polarisation in the Church is an ever-present reality. What is more, their "panacea" approach to the evils of society can be dangerous. Their attitude of eschewing the expertise of such people as doctors and psychiatrists can be dangerous in the extreme. One parish priest has told me of the effect that a "convivence" had had on one of his parishioners who was already emotionally. and mentally disturbed: it led her to the brink of suicide... and the parish priest was left to clear up the mess.
Moreover, the reaction to the N-C is rarely on the rational level. Its protagonists (and, let it be freely acknowledged, its antagonists) approach the whole matter on such an emotional level that "quiet calm deliberation" is almost impossible. Try to get a simple, thoughtful, critical view of the matter and you will find temperatures rising, with debate devoid of light and so high a degree of heat generated that the truth is obfuscated and you are left with nothing but unsubstantiated assertions and, once again, a rejection of views which are alleged to be due to sheer prejudice..
Throughout its history, the Church has had to resist the urge to build something better than itself: a Church within the Church - not just the "ecclesia semper reformanda".
One constantly hears or reads the words "divisive" and "exclusive" to describe the movement. That is certainly the verdict of priests in this country and elsewhere who have been given the responsibility of implementing the call for a genuine catechumenate. A Bishop of a large French diocese writes to me:
One day I received two members of the movement who had come to France (from Italy) to proclaim the good news: one an Italian who spoke a little French, the other a Spaniard who spoke none at all (not a good preparation for a 'direct apostolate'). They met a few priests of the town and then returned to their 'sender'. The priests were upset and so, apparently, were the preachers.." The experience is repeated in many dioceses.
THE N-C AND THE RCIA
Already there is considerable confusion between the RCIA and the N-C. That it has "something to do with the 'N-C' is vigorously denied by the author (Brian McEvoy) of the booklet: ON BECOMING A CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN.
Such confusion arises from "an unfortunate mistake". The RCIA is a way of inviting a parish to take a fresh look at itself as a welcoming community of people where the talents of the various members are pooled in the building of a kingdom".
Unlike the N-C, the RCIA presumes that the parishioners as such will be "reflecting upon the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Christ along with those who are preparing to join the Church". There is no suggestion of setting up a special élite and then closing ranks. The openness of the approach is what guarantees its authenticity and health.
What is more, the official catechumenate is entirely flexible and adaptable with no attempt to "stream-line" a system which must, in order to do its work, present a truly "catholic" face to all sincere enquirers. Although the RCIA has its own vocabulary, it is rarely (and wisely so) used. Like all the official documents of the Church, the terms which it uses are mostly of a kind that need transposing into the modern idiom. The document itself stresses the need. Moreover, the small groups of committed Christians who act as sponsors and catechists are always seen as acting in the name of the parish. The catechist, in particular, has the responsible role of guiding and instructing according to the mind of the Church, while the whole parish must be regarded as the seed-bed of advance towards the goal of baptismal commitment. It is the priest, however, who is responsible for adapting and celebrating the rites prescribed. Obviously, the parish has to be made aware of what is happening and seriously involved in the whole process. Great stress will have to be made on making the parish truly hospitable and welcoming.
As the author remarks (chap. 5 of ON BECOMING A CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN):
The parish as a body discovers what it means to be a community on pilgrimage. Parishioners with special talents are chosen and put to good use in the various ministries. If, in the early stages, there is little sense of community in the parish then the introduction of the RCIA gradually builds up community.
The RCIA method is not confined to the initiation of adults. Children, too, and perhaps especially, are seen as catechumens until they have received all the initiation sacraments (including Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist).
While catechesis may be suited to children and those preparing for baptism, the young adults and the "lapsed" may very well be in the position of requiring a pre-catechumenate or evangelisation. It is the task of the pastor, together with his lay collaborators, to set up the means and methods best suited to the actual situation for implementing the wishes of the Church and so extending her mission.
MY CONCLUSION - a purely personal one - is that, while there is much to admire in the system evolved in the Neo-catechumenate, it is nonetheless a rival to the official catechumenate and, as such, must be treated (or resisted!) with the greatest caution. Its exclusiveness and divisiveness is not in the tradition of catholic apostolic action and should not be encouraged as a viable pastoral method in diocese or parish. This is not, in anyway, to take from the evident pastoral zeal of priests involved in the movement, nor from the admiration one must have for the generous dedication of its adherents, but (and this is the point at issue) the "una sancta catholica" is not served all that well when groups are set up "over against" the local Church which is the embodiment of Christ's will for his Church. While the parish is by no means the ideal structure for modern urban society, it has the means of developing through the post-conciliar view of ministry into a viable method of enlisting the lay ministries for apostolic action and of galvanising lay commitment for the universal mission of the Church. It still remains for the clergy to use their God-given charisms to "call, form and sustain" the apostles of today's world. Any other vision will betray the world so loved of the Father and traduce the avowed will of its Saviour for his Church
The adherents of the movement will quote the fact that the Pope has many such groups in his diocese and, not too long ago, received many hundreds of priests in Rome who are involved in such groups. This may be so - and there is no way of knowing either how deeply they are involved or even whether they adhere to the rigid structures which the N-C imposes. Let the Pope, then, have the last word in my own summing-up:
"The parish retains its primordial place in the structure of the local Church.... it remains the natural place where the Church is visible, around the sanctuary... Parishes are not closed gatherings... but places of open communion. One of the most valuable characteristics of the parish... is the diversity of those who meet there... The diversity of generations, the activity of the many teams, groups and even particular communities pose not an obstacle to the dynamism of the parish as a whole, but rather enrich it, provided there is a real coming together in the Sunday Eucharist.
To constitute a real sign of unity in the fragmented world of today is a condition for credible witness and for the possibility of transmitting the faith.. A community cannot fulfil its mission as Church except on the condition that its members collaborate in all openness."
POSTSCRIPT by the well-known Parish Priest, JOCK DALRYMPLE:
The problem of the parish community, both in its life and in its worship, is to maintain the balance between setting the highest ideals before its members with enthusiasm, and tolerating with love the mediocrity and mess of most of our lives... We have to have a real openness to all men and women who make up the community, listening with love and humility and no patronising 'tolerance'...
Like St Benedict's Abbot, we have to lead in such a way that
'the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak nothing at which to take alarm'.
It is frankly not possible out of one's own strength to walk the narrow way between arrogant enthusiasm which turns the timid away from Christ and tolerant mediocrity which inspires no one... So one is impelled to pray...
THE FOLLOWING ARE QUOTATIONS FROM FIVE DIFFERENT DIOCESAN BISHOPS - (including one Archbishop) who responded to my article on the NEO-CATECHUMENATE:
Note: Although certain auxiliary bishops are known to favour the Neo-Catechumenate, I have not received a single letter supporting it from any diocesan bishop.