For neophytes, and those candidates just received into full communion with the Catholic Church, this Second Sunday of Easter marks yet another turning point, as they enter the final period of christian initiation. While remembering the height of the Easter Vigil, it is quite easy to be brought sharply back to the realities of everyday life in the readings of the Second Sunday of Easter. This leads me to ponder four questions. What signs are going to be received in awe by our new catholics (Acts, 2.43)? How will their faith be nurtured? Are they going to have the resilience to continue the post baptismal period of mystagogy? What are the practical considerations for the RCIA team?
As ever I return to the rite: the neophytes, together with those received into full communion with the catholic church #244, #410 ( see #330 for children) now join with the whole community as they:
… grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives through meditation on the Gospel, sharing in the eucharist, and doing the works of charity.
The above assumes #75 will have been followed in a systematic way: providing appropriate catechesis over sufficient length of time, based on the liturgical year. The Word that was opened up in the period of Dismissal, is now able to be explored and built upon, particularly during the Easter Season when the sacraments of initiation have been encountered, experienced and made one’s own. In the following Sundays all the faithful can be reminded of their baptismal vows (sometimes overshadowed at the Easter Vigil when all thoughts have been with those being baptised). The community is ready for the sacramentals to be opened up anew, to be reminded of the importance of the symbols of our faith: oil, water, bread and wine. Yet one of the greatest ritual symbols is the assembly: this is the community the neophytes will have experienced through sponsors, godparents, catechists and the local church as they were introduced to the christian way of life. Now this relationship develops as they become one with the community, as all journey towards Pentecost, nurtured by liturgical catechesis, the ongoing RCIA sessions and all the people.
The community must never underestimate their role in the initiation process, but this can only occur where the whole church is aware how vital is the ‘the pastoral care of Christian initiation’ (GDC 91). Where RCIA is not part of integrated church practice this poses a delicate problem to be overcome. The Easter Season provides the opportunity for the whole community to walk the same easter path.
Another obstacle is if the catechumenate period envisaged by #75 did not take place. What can then occur is a frenzy to impose all the required catechesis in the mystagogy period. But we have missed the purpose of mystagogy if we cram it with ‘religious facts’ (see #244- 248), whether during the initial period which ends with Pentecost, or the extended mystagogy to the anniversary of initiation (adopting the USA system).
This is the time for the neophytes to create and make firm their ties with the community; to experience the liturgy as one of the faithful, and to become immersed in a process of formation that continues throughout one’s life. This is a time to renew the whole community as they see faith experienced as known, lived, celebrated and prayed (GDC 84)
- Forward planning to provide a new group for the newly initiated; to plan the initial period and extended period.
- Use the liturgy – involve the initiates, process the gospel, the offertory gifts, intercessions.
- Use the homily – remind the faithful of their baptismal vows: the rights, obligations and duties they bring; before Pentecost have the sprinkling rite, or invite the assembly to process and dip their hand in the baptismal font.
- Let the initiates continue to meet sponsors, godparents, the community; provide opportunities for questions to be asked, contexts explored.
- Have ongoing formation sessions for the whole community- open up the Easter Mystery, explore the symbols, look for the signs in daily life, bring the gospel alive through lectionary based catechesis, engage in prayer.
- Introduce them to parish groups, tasks, charities, web based resources, newspapers and journals.
- Ensure they attend – and the parish is represented – at the Pentecost Mass with the bishop (this should occur in all dioceses).
Have in mind that faith has to be known, celebrated lived and prayed (GDC 84) as you search for new ways to show what it means to be part of the body of Christ in today’s world, nourished by the Word and Eucharist.
All this demands forward thinking so the newly initiated don’t believe they’ve hit the jackpot and have nothing more to do. This is a new way of life for those who believe, and it will keep returning to new heights.
- # RCIA (1998, USA edition)
- GDC General Directory for Catechesis (1997)