||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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Remember to follow the directives of the Rite of Christian Initiation of
offering Neophytes special seating in the midst of the assembly at the
Neophyte Masses of Easter time
inviting Neophytes to wear their white baptismal robes throughout the Easter
inviting Neophytes to give testimony, witnessing to their conversion journey
in the midst of the parish assembly
asking Neophytes to participate in the General Intercessions and
Presentation of the Gifts
using the Easter Season Cycle A readings at Masses where Neophytes are
present and preaching the homily with them in mind
inviting the local Bishop to visit with the Neophytes during their first
year as fully initiated Catholics
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 email@example.com.
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