Those are some excellent questions. I am a graduate student in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Obviously, I speak for neither CUA nor the Catholic Church; but, I have spent quite some time studying the various issues and subjects involved in the question(s) you ask. Although I am a graduate student of theology, I cannot offer an “expert” opinion. But, allow me to toss my two cents into the mix.
I praise your desire to accompany your friend along her road into the Catholic Church. Both theologically and psychologically speaking, entrance into the Church isn’t something someone can accomplish on his or her own. This is one of the reason’s the Church involves sponsors in the process of initiation into the Church. The faith needs to be handed on and received. In the early Church, the relationship between the Christian community – and, in particular, a person’s sponsor for baptism and confirmation – and the individual seeking initiation into the Church was much richer and more personal and involved than that relationship tends to be today. So, I think your insights and instincts in this regard are quite well placed.
Now, just how should someone accompany another on his or her journey into the Church? Everyone’s journey is both personal and communal. Our celebration of Lent began in the early Church as a means to accompany catechumens on their path into the Church. The Church understood that each one of the catechumens would have to keep the Great Fast of Lent for him or herself, but the Church also understood that the fast is easier to maintain if one does not have to do it alone or in isolation from others. Thus, Lent became an important means of accompanying catechumens on their final steps into the Church and encouraging them as they prepared to enter the Christian family. Even still, the Church – both then as well as now – understood that perhaps the best way to accompany someone on their journey into the Church was to pray diligently for them. And, the greatest prayer a Catholic can offer is that of the sacrifice of the Holy Mass.
As the fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. So, I would encourage you to take with great seriousness the power of that prayer. As I am sure you know, baptized Catholics are obliged under canon law to attend weekly Sunday Mass as well as Mass on Holy Days of Obligation. Of course, well catechized Catholics understand that it is much more a privileged opportunity to be able to attend Mass rather than a burdensome obligation, but that is a different topic. Thus, I would encourage you to be sure to fulfill your Sunday obligation and to strive to do so with joy. (Even if you do decide to participate in the catecheses for the catechumens, you should still fulfill your Sunday obligation. In effect, you might attend an earlier Mass and then attend Mass and the catechesis with your friend later.)
Now, you ask about the fittingness of your participation in the catechumen’s catechesis. On the one hand, you could benefit from the catechesis yourself. Although I am a graduate student in theology, I always jump at the opportunity to attend talks and presentations at my parish. Those things are always great re-freshers; and, very often, there is something to be learned. I am sure your friend would appreciate your show of support as well. Yet, from a different perspective, your attendance and participation might be misunderstood. Allow me to explain.
As a baptized – and, I presume, confirmed – Catholic, you have already received and been initiated into the mysteries of faith that are just now being explained and unfolded to your friend. Your friend is undergoing a very beautiful stage in the process of initiation. During the catecheses, your friend is receiving an understanding of the faith. The faith is being handed on to her. You may know that our English verb “to hand on” is related to the Latin verb “tradere,” which is related to our English word “tradition.” In other words, through these catecheses she is receiving the tradition of faith, which reaches its high point and zenith in the sacraments and liturgy of the Church. For you, that tradition continues to be handed on, but in a different manner. At Sunday Mass, you quite literally receive the fullness of tradition in the Eucharist. Thus, your attendance at Mass – where you can pray for your friend – is very important.
Moreover, since you are a baptized (and, again, I presume confirmed) Catholic, you have received an indelible character, which will be impressed upon your friend when she enters the Church and receives the sacraments of initiation. In a real sense, then, you are very different from your friend. And, while your senses might tell you otherwise, the two of you would be undergoing very different experiences at the catechesis. And, it ought to be remembered that you are not merely hearing a presentation, but receiving a catechesis. Given your state of life in the Christian family, the catechesis is not proportioned to you in the way that it is proportioned to your friend. You have already received the mysteries of faith; your friend begins now at a different point in the Christian life.
I believe these are important points to keep in mind. And, if you do decide to attend the catecheses with your friend, you might do well to search for a way to explain them to her. In the absence of these considerations, the catecheses might come to be seen as a mere hurdle or something of little significance on the road to initiation into the Church. But, rather, the period of the catechumenate is a very important moment of prayer and spiritual discernment. I believe we should do whatever we can to keep this phase intact and to give it the dignity and respect that is due to it.
Finally, I would invite you to consider with a spiritual heart some of the images you could encounter if you decided to let your friend attend the catechesis alone. First of all, you mention that she might experience some anxiety. Yet, that experience of anxiety could be instructive. It could prompt her to realize her deeper desire to be united with you at Mass and in the family of the Church. The experience might even lead her to think about the incompleteness of a life lived outside of the Church. Of course, I do not mean to suggest that you would manipulate this experience so as to use it against your friend; rather, I am simply suggesting a spiritual outlook that could accompany what you think might result from your friend’s attending the catechesis alone.