Pentecost is upon us – the formal time of Mystagogy is complete, at least for those who were initiated at Easter and in at least some parishes things quieten down again in the catechumenal programme.
Lent and Easter sees extraordinary activity for our RCIA groups. The Rite of Election, Scrutinies, and the celebration of the sacraments at the Vigil, and then adapting ourselves to the distinctive form of catechesis that is Mystagogy and finally the gathering of new Catholics with their bishop. Now there’s a checklist and a half. Which of these things have we done? And which have we failed to do. What omissions were due to us, and which were due to others? What might we learn from how kept Lent and Easter with our catechumens and neophytes this year for what we might want to do next year?
In the parish where I serve our catechumenal programme used to really quieten after Pentecost. In fact it went into complete hibernation – with an expectation that it would start up again in the Autumn. This was the practice up until this year.
That things are different this year is not especially because we decided to do things differently, (and some might say ‘properly’). However change has been thrust upon us by those who have been coming along to our parish enquirers meetings this year.
Unusually (for us) those people have mostly been unbaptised people, and have been young parents with pre-school children. The number of pre-school children for whom our enquirers have responsibility presented us with an early challenge.
Our Enquirers group has traditionally met on a weekday evening. This year’s participants were happy with this so long as they could bring their babies and toddlers with them. The group leaders found this a challenge too far so after six weeks or so we switched to an afternoon meeting which was good for the parents and ok for our leadership team.
The next challenge was just how much formation the group needed at enquiry stage. It was quickly clear that they would not be ready for the sacraments at Easter this year, and that was quite a break with tradition in this parish, where we have for many years operated a curtailed and constrained Autumn to Easter programme. So we had no Easter baptisms or confirmations from this group and had a very much more extended enquiry stage, because the members were very clear they were not ready to make any commitment.
Interestingly enough we did have a number of confirmations this Easter – for a number of adults, already regular in their practice, independently approached the parish team wanting to receive the sacrament. Our enquirers not yet having become catechumens we found it better to establish a new group which met weekly during Lent to prepare for confirmation.
The experience of Lent/Easter was a powerful one for our Enquirers and has helped them all to come to the decision that they want to make the commitment to continue their exploration of faith in a more committed fashion. Which itself presented the team with an issue – what to do about welcoming into the catechumenate, and what form might that catechumenate take.
Over recent years we have not made much of the role of sponsor: the RCIA group itself has tended to take on that responsibility. But this year was to be different in this respect also. We’ve encouraged the enquirers to think about who they already know that in fact is exercising something of that role. And where those people are ready and able we have chosen them to be the sponsors.
The Rite of Entry into the Catechumenate is being celebrated on Trinity Sunday. The season of Easter has come to take on a particular initiatory flavour for our parish. This is not only because of the (usual) celebrations of adult initation at the Easter Vigil. In our diocese confirmations take place in the Easter season and this year all our parish first Holy Communions (about 100!) have taken place over the last 4 Sundays of the Easter season. But this year, when Easter has finished we gather the next Sunday to celebrate a rite which has us mark out work to be done in readiness for Easter 2010.
Our present expectation is that the group will be ready for baptism next Easter but as flexibility has been our keyword so far this year, who knows?
And as for catechumenal process, one good thing that has come from this group is that because of their various other commitments they are happy to try out Sunday dismissal catechesis. This will be something new for us all. So please keep us in your prayers!