One of the major temptations of being a leader in the RCIA process is to overlook the significance and power of the Period of Purification and Enlightenment. It is such a busy time in the process—organizing the scrutinies, working on all of the planning for the Easter Vigil, and just working through the exhaustion that comes after journeying through a long process. But it is important for us to remember that this period is one that is filled with great grace and great opportunity for the elect to grow significantly in their relationship with Christ.
A Major Catechetical Shift
One big challenge that faces us in this period is the catechetical aspect. When we do a closer examination of what the Church calls for in this period, we find that not only does Purification and Enlightenment bring about a major catechetical shift from the kind of catechesis presented in the catechumenate, but that catechesis also plays a pivotal role in bringing the elect and candidates into a much deeper knowledge of and more intense relationship with Christ.
Our first clue of this catechetical shift is in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults itself, which tells us that Purification and Enlightenment is “a period of more intense spiritual preparation, consisting more in interior reflection than in catechetical instruction to purify the minds and hearts of the elect as they search their consciences and do penance” (139). We see here that the complete and systematic catechetical instruction that we had been doing in the catechumenate should have already been completed by the time of the Rite of Election. Now, catechesis shifts in its focus: to purify the minds and hearts of the elect and facilitate a time of penance and purification, in other words, to help them come to a real understanding of their sinfulness and their need for ongoing conversion and repentance.
However, this is only half of the picture of the kind of catechesis we should be doing in this period. The Rite continues, “This period is intended as well to enlighten the minds and hearts of the elect with a deeper knowledge of Christ the Savior.” Now we have the complete picture of what the Church is asking us to do in our catechesis in this period. On the one hand, the elect are called to intense purification—to come to grips with their sin and their desperate need of salvation and grace. On the other hand, their minds need to be enlightened with a deep and personal knowledge of and intimacy with Christ who is their Savior.