BB writes: “I know from listening to Catholic Answers that the Centering prayer movement from the teaching of Father Thomas Keating is not in alignment with Catholic teaching. The same Parish wants us to look at their NeoCatechumenal Way. I am finding mixed info, both good and bad…Any input would be appreciated. They contacted me about my RCIA group and my Men’s Group.”
Confusion about the Neocatechumenal Way (aka “neocats”) abounds, and for good reason. Since its founding in 1963, the group has been cautioned by the Vatican for inserting various novel practices into its Masses such as lay preaching, standing during the Consecration, receiving Communion while sitting down, and passing the Precious Blood from person to person.
However, the movement in general has the full backing of the Church. Just last month, Pope Benedict XVI met with 7,000 members of the movement for an annual event in which families are sent to worldwide mission destinations. During the course of this meeting, the Vatican also approved the movement’s special “celebrations” or non-liturgical prayers within the movement’s catechesis. So while it does have its problems, the Vatican and leaders of the neocats appear to be working together to resolve their issues.
Who are the neocats?
The Neocatechumenal Way was founded in 1963 by a talented young Spanish painter named Kiko Arguello who had a conversion experience that led him from atheism to Christ. It happened while visiting with his parents at Christmas where he was drawn into the plight of the family cook who was living in squalor with her abusive husband. When Kiko visited her home in one of the shanty towns outside Madrid, he was horrified by the desolation of the slums. He claims to have heard what seemed to be a call from God telling him to leave everything and to stay with the family in their squalid shack.
Kiko answered the call, drawing his inspiration from St. Charles de Foucauld to live in silence at the feet of Christ crucified, and went to live in the shanty town. He took nothing with him but a Bible and a guitar. Naturally, the slum-dwellers were curious about who he was and when they discovered he was a Christian, they began to ask him questions about the Gospel. He began to teach them about Jesus. The group of people who gathered around him in 1963 became the first community of what was to become the Neocatehumenal Way, and the talks Kiko gave them about the faith became the first so-called “catechesis.”
One day, when the police came to their shanty town and began to tear it down,Kiko appealed to the Archbishop of Madrid, Mgr. Casimro Morcillo. The Archbishop came to see for himself what Kiko and a friend, Carmen Fernandez, were doing in the town. He was so impressed, he asked them to begin the same small-group catechesis in the parishes of Madrid. The Archbishop also gave them a letter of introduction to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, who subsequently asked them to bring their catechesis to Rome.
The movement spread rapidly from there, drawing its inspiration from the practices of the early Catholic Church by providing “post-baptismal” Christian formation in small, parish-based communities. Members put themselves at the service of the bishops as a form of catechesis within the parish where parishioners study for several years before reaching the point where they are ready for a renewal of their baptismal vows.
Many Popes have approved of Kiko’s work. In 1974, Pope Paul VI publicly hailed its members. He said: “Here we see post-conciliar fruits! … How great is the joy, how great is the hope, which you give us with your presence and with your activity!”
Pope John Paul II was an enthusiastic supporter of the Way and invited the movement to open a seminary in the diocese of Rome. They responded by opening Redemptoris Mater seminary and as of today, about half of the annual ordinations in Rome are from this seminary. The Way now has more than 70 seminaries worldwide.
Another component of their movement is missionary work which is intended to counter the secularization of societies. Called “families in mission,” it is comprised of families who go abroad and establish the presence of the Catholic Church in countries where it is either absent or in need of strengthening.
There are an estimated 20,000 communities and about one million members (excluding children) worldwide. The group has also seen 1,600 priests ordained from their seminaries.
Obviously, the Way is doing phenomenal work in the world, but it does appear to have its growing pains and the problem with the group’s liturgical practices really has to be dealt with. From what I have read, they not only contain the abuses I mentioned earlier in this blog, but neocats insist upon celebrating their Sunday mass on Saturday evenings apart from the parish community where they belong. Even worse, each group within the parish has its own Mass, which means if there are six groups in a parish, there are six Masses on Saturday evening. Since 2002, the statutes approved by the Holy See have obligated these Masses to be “open also to other members of the faithful” but many say this does not happen.
It’s not surprising that these liturgical practices would cause confusion among the faithful and bishops have indeed complained. Leo Jun Ikenaga, Archbishop of Osaka, Japan, issued a statement last year criticizing the group for causing chaos and division within parishes, saying “the net effect” of the NeoCatechumenal Way in Japan has been “negative.”
Whenever a movement is run by so many small groups, there is always the possibility that individuals can hijack the mission by turning their communities into little cults (which is another criticism from former neocats) and this may be the case with the Way.
Personally, I’m very turned off by these liturgical practices and until they get their act together, my advice would be to approach involvement with the NeoCatechumenal Way with reservation.