Search This Site
  Home
  Browse New Titles
  Browse by Subject
  Browse by Title
  Author Index
  Title Index


  Ministry
   & Liturgy
  Visual Arts Awards

  FREE Ministry
  Resource
  Updates

  Online
  Subscription
  Login

  Software

  Request Print Catalog
  Print Order Form
  Reprint Permission
  Customer Service

  Authors & Writers
  Advertisers
  Bookstores
  Media

  News Releases

  Artists Directory
  Parish Resource
  Directory
  Classified Ads
  Links

  About the Company
  Employment
  Contact Us

  Discussion Forums

Six Steps to Effective Mystagogy

by Miriam Malone, SNJM

There is a Haitian proverb that says, "We see from where we stand."   Often those in the ministry of Christian initiation stand exhilarated, tired, gratified and relieved after the Easter Vigil.  And then they stand wondering how to successfully and effectively move through the final stage of the initiation process, the time of mystagogy.  For many, this final period of the initiation process continues to be a challenge at best, or worse, a period of frustration, disappointment and discouragement. Where do those newly initiated Catholics go?  Why don¹t they keep coming back?  Why don¹t they return to us for the last part of the process?

Effectively implementing the mystagogical period of Christian initiation will remain a challenge as long as we begin with the question, "What should we do for mystagogy?" What we need to is stand in the place of the fully initiated ­ at the end  of the formal process -  and facilitate the entire initiation process from that perspective. Mystagogy will be vibrant, effective and formative to the extent that each of the prior stages of initiation has been vibrant, effective and formative.

As in the implementation of the full Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, there is no easy answer, no magic formula, and no one recipe that will work for all situations, cultures, communities, team configurations and personalities.  There are, however, some steps or guidelines out of which an "effective mystagogy" will unfailingly emerge. 
 

Be ROOTED in the Rite

According to the mandate of the Church, the Christian initiation of adults is a magnificently unique process of adult formation responsive to the individuality of the person, the movement of the Spirit in that person’s life, and the particular community to which that person is called.  While no reference is made to a particular methodology, the process respects the experience of the adult learner and the sacred nature of an individual’s conversion experience. 

There is no reference to or recommendation for a particular program or publication; the "teaching material" is the conversion experience of the individual within the context of the life of the church. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults describes what is "effective" for each stage of initiation in simple, clear language:  #42 describes what is necessary before acceptance into the Order of Catechumens; #75 describes what constitutes a full catechumenal experience; #120 indicates what is expected before the Rite of Election. Mystagogy becomes a natural outgrowth of this ever-deepening experience of conversion in the context of community, Word and sacrament.  "Since the distinctive spirit and power of the period of postbaptismal catechesis or Mystagogy derive from the new, personal experience of the sacraments and of the community, its  main setting is the so-called Masses for Neophytes, that is, the Sunday  Masses of the Easter season."  (#247 RCIA) 
 

SHARE the Vision

This guideline might also read, "Watch your language."  Inquirers often come asking for baptism or for membership in the Catholic Church through a profession of faith and sharing at the Table of the Eucharist.   Ministers of initiation often respond, albeit in the context of a warm welcome, with a series of requirements for baptism or full initiation. The language of the dialog is one that reinforces the concept of  "getting" initiated, as if that were the end in itself.  It is a product-oriented dialog. Once the product is received, once the end is achieved, mystagogy is no longer relevant. No wonder they do not come back for more! Our language should constantly and consistently refer to the purpose of initiation being the life of full participation in the Church.  If we "practice" this new and ongoing way of life within our community of faith throughout the catechumenal journey, the support offered by the official period of Mystagogy will be both relevant and welcomed. 
 

SUPPORT the Growth

The elements of the catechumenal process are clearly delineated in #75 of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.  #75 ought to be in the minds, on the lips, and in the hearts of each person engaged in catechumenal ministry. Within the four facets of formation called for ­ suitable catechesis (founded in celebrations of the Word), familiarity with the Christian way of life (in the context of the community), liturgical participation and apostolic activity  - are a myriad dimensions for the full development of the person in the process of initiation. If the initial formation periods tend to challenge and reflect upon growth in these various aspects of the full Christian life, the ongoing formation supported by mystagogy will be experienced as natural and necessary.  A Neophyte who has known faithful support in his or her relationships in community, participation in liturgy, and active engagement in works of charity, will not give up that support once he or she has committed to full participation in the life and mission of the Church.
 
Mystagogy will be vibrant, effective and formative to the extent that each of the prior stages of initiation has been vibrant, effective and formative.

INTEGRATE the “Real” and “Spiritual”

The wisdom of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is that it recognizes the mysterious and powerful work of the Spirit in the lives of very real individuals. The rite acknowledges that the spiritual quest of the adult is part and parcel of real and everyday life.  This is evident in the many references to the individual’s journey of faith, to the relationships that are critical to the building of community, to the consequences of the conversion experience evidenced in daily life, and to the power of storytelling, witnessing and testimony among those who make  the paschal mystery the pattern of their own lives. 
In traditional classroom settings, and even in discussion or support groups, a separation between the spiritual life and "real life" can be mistakenly reinforced. In an integrated formational process the pattern of the Gospel and the Paschal Mystery inform and express the realities of an individual’s daily life. If this integration happens consistently, the follow-up period of mystagogy will flow naturally as a time and opportunity to reflect on the sacramental experience of life within the Church. "Out of this experience, which belongs to Christians and increases as it is lived, they (Neophytes) derive a new perception of the faith, of the Church, and of the world."  (#245 RCIA)
 
The rite acknowledges that the spiritual quest of the adult is part and parcel of real and everyday life.

FOCUS on the Mission

"We see from where we stand," and it is imperative that when working with catechumens and candidates we stand at the heart of the life of the church. We must stay standing not at the font; the font leads to the Table. We must stay standing not at the Table; the Table leads to Mission.  We must stand with our sisters and brothers in the midst of a world crying for liberation and justice and peace.  We must stand with them, join our voices with theirs, blend our energies with theirs, and commit ourselves to action that will bring the reign of God closer. We must invite catechumens and candidates to stand and act with us.  They need to see their initiation as a commitment to life-long participation in the mission of the church.  Mystagogy then naturally becomes " a time for the community and the Neophytes together to 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." (#244 RCIA)
 

EXPECT the Impossible

If a collective assumption among ministers of initiation is that the period of Mystagogy is the most difficult, a collective conversion point might be the expectation of the impossible.  Perhaps an attitude adjustment is appropriate, as well as a renewed enthusiasm for the work entrusted to "RCIA Teams" ­ indeed, to all the faithful.  Standing in a new place while considering the challenges of Mystagogy, one might see exciting possibilities inherent in "doing" Mystagogy throughout the entire process of initiation, as well as in "doing" the catechumenal process throughout the period of Mystagogy. Having experienced such a dynamic process, Neophytes will want to continue their formation actively and creatively in our midst; they couldn’t consider not doing so! This integrated approach yields valid rationale for expecting the impossible.  Ministers of initiation may even discover that entering fully into Mystagogy with the Neophytes becomes a life-giving source of ongoing conversion and commitment in their own lives. 
 

Practical Suggestions

What difference do the Neophytes make in your community?  What difference do the members of the community make to your Neophytes?  What have you set in place to ensure that the relationship between the newly initiated and the community at large is nurtured, strengthened, and contributive to the life and mission of the church?  Here are some practical suggestions:
  • Successful Mystagogy begins with the first interview with an inquirer. 
  • Include the concept of Mystagogy as an integral part of the process from the very beginning, avoiding any hint of Easter being the end or the goal.  Avoid any use of school or "graduation" vocabulary.
  • Include the formal period of Mystagogy in any written calendar of events for the entire process so that it is always seen in the context of the whole process.
  • Develop competency at breaking open the Word during the Catechumenate.  The richness of the experience will make the newly initiated eager to continue this during the six weeks of Easter and beyond, now with the sacramental experience and grace to further enlighten and to challenge them.  If you’ve been having "class," they’ll be glad it’s over! 
What difference do the members of the community make to your Neophytes? 
  • "Expect" Neophytes to gather the week after initiation to share stories and pictures of their Easter Vigil celebration and to share the Scriptures for the Sundays of Easter in light of their sacramental experiences.
  • Avoid the temptation to use the six weeks of Easter as a time for information and recruitment for parish service.  The appropriate time for guest speakers and sharing information about various ministries is during the initial stages of formation.
  • Affirm the primacy of the role of the assembly in liturgy and the place of the Neophytes in that assembly. Avoid having Neophytes serve in catechetical or liturgical ministries for at least a year, and avoid using them as RCIA sponsors or team members. Ministry flows from the experience of being a member of the assembly and then being called to ministry.  The newest Neophytes are not meant to be a new pool of parish volunteers!  Neophytes ought to be engaged in social and service ministries from the time of the Catechumenate, and gradually experience the connection between the celebration of Eucharist and the eucharistic lives they live through these ministries. This takes time and reflection on what it means to be a "regular Catholic in the pews." 
If you’ve been having "class," they’ll be glad it’s over!
  • Plan for monthly gatherings following the Pentecost celebration, and look forward to experiencing with the neophytes their first year of full membership in the church. Plan with them from the beginning to celebrate their first anniversary at the next Pentecost.
  • Encourage the Neophytes to take ownership of their gatherings, forming their own agenda based on their experiences. Lead them into deeper prayer and into greater participation in the parish community, primarily through worship and service.
  • Offer a special invitation to Neophytes to participate in various sacramental experiences throughout the year, and then to reflect on them together.  Possibilities include First Eucharist, communal Penance services, communal Anointing of the Sick, Confirmation of the youth, and infant Baptisms.
Encourage the Neophytes to take ownership of their gatherings, forming their own agenda based on their experiences.
  • Hold a special gathering each year for all Neophytes from the previous years. Consider having the gathering just prior to Lent or at Pentecost time.
  • Remember to follow the directives of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults by: 
  1. offering Neophytes special seating in the midst of the assembly at the Neophyte Masses of Easter time
  2. inviting Neophytes to wear their white baptismal robes throughout the Easter Season
  3. inviting Neophytes to give testimony, witnessing to their conversion journey in the midst of the parish assembly
  4. asking Neophytes to participate in the General Intercessions and  Presentation of the Gifts
  5. using the Easter Season Cycle A readings at Masses where Neophytes are  present and preaching the homily with them in mind
  6. inviting the local Bishop to visit with the Neophytes during their first year as fully initiated Catholics
ML

Miriam Malone is a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and a team member for the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. She was formerly Director of Christian Initiation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. She can be contacted at miriamalone@earthlink.net.


What do YOU Think?
Send an e-mail to ML Editor
or post an entry on the ML Current Issue Discussion Board. (All submissions become the property of RPI and may be edited for length.) 

| Top |




Search liturgy related sites

Home | Mission Statement | Employment Opportunities
Contact Us | What's New on This Site | Site Guide

Copyright © 1995-2009
Resource Publications | 160 E. Virginia St. #290 | San Jose, CA 95112
888-273-7782 (toll-free) | 408-286-8505 | 408-287-8748 (fax)
www.resourcepublications.com