What is your RCIA team’s goal for the catechumenate? If a Martian were to land in a random parish on Easter Monday, he might draw a false conclusion based on what he observes during the Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy.
Baptism forgives sins
In a given parish, the Martian might conclude that the purpose of the RCIA is to prepare seekers for the sacrament of penance. He draws this conclusion because the RCIA team required the neophytes to go to confession during the Easter season, just after their initiation.
Because the Martian read the RCIA during his long voyage to Earth, he finds this quite odd. He knows, for example, that the neophytes would have celebrated three scrutinies during Lent, which are penitential rites. And he knows that they have just been baptized and that “baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 977; this is a well-read Martian).
Catholics have to move out into the streets
Another Martian, landing in another parish, concludes the purpose of the RCIA is prepare the neophytes to enter parish-centered ministries. She thinks this because the Easter season seems to be a procession of ministry heads coming to make their case about why the neophytes should consider becoming a lector or a communion minister or a choir member.
This Martian had been watching some video clips of Pope Francis during her flight. She heard the pope telling Catholics they have to move out into the streets and not stay closed up behind the walls of the church. So she was confused about why the RCIA team she encountered was telling the neophytes to stay inside the church as an expression of their baptism.
Do your RCIA neophytes feel like parishioners?
Yet another Martian concluded that RCIA team in the parish he landed in took the “go out into the streets” admonition a little too seriously. That’s because all the neophytes in that parish wanted to stay “in the RCIA.” They didn’t know anyone in the parish and didn’t feel comfortable outside their small RCIA group. But the team was adamant. They told the neophytes that they couldn’t come back to RCIA anymore because they were now parishioners. The neophytes didn’t feel like parishioners, however, so they just stopped coming back to the parish.
RCIA trains seekers to live the Christian life
A fourth Martian landed at your parish. She found that you have taken seriously what the RCIA says in paragraph 75: “The catechumenate is an extended period during which the [catechumens] are given suitable pastoral formation and guidance aimed at training them in the Christian life.”
The Martian asked you to explain “suitable” and “Christian life.” You simply pointed to what the neophytes were doing as a result of the catechumenate you and your team facilitated. The Martian saw your neophytes engaged in the “practice of an evangelical way of life.” She saw the neophytes living “the life of faith, worship, and charity belonging to the people of God” (RCIA 76).
You explained to the Martian that your goal — since the day you met each neophyte as an inquirer years ago — had been to provide a catechumenate that “enlightens faith, directs the heart toward God, fosters participation in the liturgy, inspires apostolic activity, and nurtures a life completely in accord with the spirit of Christ” (RCIA 78).
If that truly has been your goal throughout the catechumenate, the period of mystagogy will reflect that. You — and any Martian visitors — will see not only the neophytes but also the parish community growing together in living out the paschal mystery. They will all do this in four ways — the ways you trained the catechumens to have “sufficient” skills in “the Christian life”:
1. Together with the community, the neophytes
2. Meditate on the Gospel,
3. Share in the Eucharist, and
4. Do works of charity (see RCIA 244)
Is this really your goal for the catechumenate? If so, how would a Martian visitor, just from observing your neophytes, know that is so? If not, what steps can you take to move closer to this goal?
Photo by tertia van rensburg | Unsplash