The catechumenate as we know it began to develop between 100 and 200 AD. The fully-structured process emerged between the third and fifth centuries. By the third century, the initiation process had become a three-year, highly-structured formation.
In 315, the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Large numbers of people began to convert to the Christian faith. The quality of catechesis and formation began to suffer. In the late fifth century, the practice of initiation began to be focused on infants. Confirmation and Eucharist began to be separated from baptism.
By the twelfth century, the practice of infant baptism was normative. The catechumenate had died out, but elements of it could still be seen in the formation of monks and nuns. By the sixteenth century, entire villages and communities were being baptized en-mass with little or no formation. By the twentieth century, the catechumenate was a distant memory. However, some French missionaries began to revive elements of the ancient formation process to counteract the negative effects of mass baptisms and elevate the quality of lived-discipleship.
At the Second Vatican Council, the bishops called for a restoration of the catechumenate. 1966 – the provisional ritual for catechumenate was distributed 1972 – the normative rite was promulgated in Latin ( Ordo initiationis christianae adultorum)
1974 – a provisional English translation was issued ( Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults ) 1986 – the U.S. Bishops' Conference approved present edition of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults with U.S. adaptations, national statutes, and a national plan of implementation 1988 – the U.S Bishops made the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults mandatory in the United States. Photo: “Baptism” by John Donaghy [Flickr]