I wonder how many people give any thought to how the initiation of new Catholics will impact on their community.
At Eurocat 2014 this was the controversial question raised: whether the community is open to being changed by the new catholics, or whether it remains a closed entity, and if the latter does it then result in the new catholic feeling they don’t have a place in that community and leaving.
- consider the early fall out of neophytes who do not return to the church of their baptism.
There was a lot of discussion about what is the profile of the community: what are we initiating them into? Is it a living, active discipleship focused on mission, or a cosy club type of community.
- are these questions that we ask?
At Eurocrat we benefitted by sharing and hearing of the catechumenate as experienced in both east and west Europe. We heard of Malta where until this point there has been no need for the RCIA, as a 95% catholic country, but with the introduction of the right to divorce just 3 years ago, more changes are anticipated and there is a growing need to introduce the RCIA model to that country.
In Moldavia, the situation is different. Many people were baptised as babies but had no formation under a communist regime, and now wish to complete their initiation. For others a mystagogical catechesis is called for.
There is a contrast in the former GDR, where the young are questioning whether they can trust the catechumenate, because it is an old process.
In Germany they have a variety of experiences.
A thriving popular group was from a parish in the industrial west of Germany. In 2000 the inner city church was reordered moving the altar forward into the front and creating an immersion font in the space . Visible at all times, it is shallow enough for young children to be baptised in it. Adults kneel for their baptism. The font is seen as a focus point symbolic of the community which focuses on Easter, always working towards Easter.
They employ a lay pastoral advisor and when somebody wants to know more about becoming a catholic the process very much fits around the individual enquirer. It meets all year round. First there are personal talks one to one, and then 2 or 3 people who are of similar life experience are invited to meet and they form a group. The groups meet every 2 or 3 weeks. Meetings with the Sponsor run in parallel. The individuals may join in other parish groups. There is no real separation of the enquirer and the congregation, so an example of living the faith.
About 2 weeks before the Easter Vigil all the groups get together. Adults and children involve themselves in activities such as designing their own confirmation stole or baptismal tabards, and helping to prepare the church for the Easter Vigil.
The Easter Vigil starts in the dark at 4.30 in the morning so that at the end of the celebration there is full daylight.
Something symbolic and practical was the placing of the baptismal candles , which were decorated and quite large, on a frame beneath the paschal candle and then collected at the end of mass. We were told how the whole celebration was seen by the entire community as the focus point of the liturgical year and how the new Catholics would wear their stole at the next year’s Easter vigil, or at significant events, like a wedding .
By making the community an Easter people they had renewed the parish.
Videos of Baptism and the Font can be found on the parish’s website.