Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
The lowest order of Christians in the primitive church. They had some title to the common name of Christians, being a degree above pagans and heretics, though not consummated by baptism. They were admitted to the state of catechumens by the imposition of hands, and the sign of the cross. The children of believing parents were admitted catechumens as soon as ever they were capable of instruction; but at what age those of heathen parents might be admitted is no so clear. As to the time of their continuance in this state, there were no general rules fixed about it; but the practice varied according to the difference of times and places, and the readiness and proficiency of the catechumens themselves. There were four orders or degrees of catechumens. The first were those instructed privately without the church, and kept at a distance, for some time, from the privilege of entering the church, to make them the more eager and desirous of it. The next degree were the audientes, so called from their being admitted to hear sermons and the Scriptures read in the church, but were not allowed to partake of the prayers.
The third sort of catechumens were the genu flectentes, so called because they received imposition of hands kneeling. The fourth order was the competentes et electi; denoting the immediate candidates for baptism, or such as were appointed to be baptized the next approaching festival; before which, strict examination was made into their proficiency, under the several stages of catechetical exercises. After examination, they were exercised for twenty days together, and were obliged to fasting and confession. Some days before baptism they went veiled; and it was customary to touch their ears, saying, Ephatha, 1:e. Be opened; as also to anoint their eyes with clay: both ceremonies being in imitation of our Savour's practice, and intended to signify to the catechumens their condition both before and after their admission into the Christian church.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Catechumens'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/c/catechumens.html. 1802.