Pope Francis’ recent document, Evangelii Gaudium — The Joy of the Gospel, is a response to last year’s Synod on New Evangelisation and is published as the parting gift of the Year of Faith. It has much to offer RCIA teams but at 224 pages and 288 paragraphs it is not a quick read. That said there is a Franciscan style or tone of voice which seems more to be addressing the whole Church rather than just bishops and experts — it may be a long read but it is not a difficult read.
I am going to highlight a couple of sections which have not yet grabbed the headlines. In addition to the style what I like about the document is that it grows out of pastoral reflection.
Kerygmatic and Mystagogical Catechesis (163-168)
Pope Francis starts by reminding us of the centrality of the proclamation of the kerygma. He expresses it as:
On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
It is the first proclamation not because it happens once to be later forgotten but because it is at the heart of what we do.
it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.
In RCIA we may think that this is what the period of Pre-Catechumenate is trying to achieve. To seek with the enquirer where they have experienced Christ by their side. We are reminded that it is something we ourselves need to hear again and again – we need to be evangelised — to encounter the good news in our lives. Only then can we be authentic witnesses.
He suggests that:
The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.
How might our catechesis in the Period of the Catechumenate reflect this?
The Holy Father also speaks about the place of Mystagogical catechesis:
This basically has to do with two things: a progressive experience of formation involving the entire community and a renewed appreciation of the liturgical signs of Christian initiation. … Catechesis is a proclamation of the word and is always centred on that word, yet it also demands a suitable environment and an attractive presentation, the use of eloquent symbols, insertion into a broader growth process and the integration of every dimension of the person within a communal journey of hearing and response.
What I don’t think this is saying with regard to RCIA is that integration into the community takes place during the Period of Mystagogia rather the whole community is object of catechesis and the challenge to RCIA teams is how to make connections throughout the periods and stages.
Mary, Mother of Evangelisation
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and Evangelii Gaudium like most Papal documents ends by reflecting on the role of Mary:
Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One, help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Filled with Christ’s presence,
you brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in the womb of his mother.
Brimming over with joy,
you sang of the great things done by God.
Standing at the foot of the cross
with unyielding faith,
you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.
Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,
that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
which triumphs over death.
Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty
may reach every man and woman.
Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.
Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
pray for us.