Throughout the early centuries of the Church, the conversion journey remained centered around baptism. Although the act of baptizing occurred at a fixed point in time (normally on Easter), ones baptism included an extended period of teaching and being mentored beforehand (i.e. catechesis) and often afterward (i.e. mystagogy). One's baptismal preparation normally spanned a fairly long period of time -- up to a full year.
This process of catechesis is commonly referred to as the catechumenate.
As the catechumenate developed and took shape over the first five centuries, there are a number of distinguishing characteristics that stand out in their commonality:
To varying degrees, the role of the “sponsor” was important.
- A screening interview became common prior to admission into the catechumenate in order to assure sincerity.
- An emphasis on the “Two Ways” during pre-baptismal instruction.
- A preference for baptizing in natural or “living” water sources, with exceptions allowed.
- Immersion as the preferred mode, with allowances made for pouring.
- Baptism is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Baptisms are primarily held on Easter/Easter Eve.
- Lent is reserved for final catechesis and preparation for baptism.
- Repeated exorcisms, signing with the cross, and laying on of hands were common for catechumens.
- Catechumens were expected to purify their lives and engage in good deeds within the community.
- An affirmation of faith and renunciation of the devil occurred at the time of baptism.
- Partaking of the Eucharist is reserved for baptized believers only.
- Though sometimes quite brief, after-baptism mystagogy occurred.