I can’t help but smile as I read—and teach—that Lent is like a 40-day retreat, a time of reflection, quiet, prayer, and fasting. Sometimes it seems that even the spirit of “fasting and feasting” takes a back seat to the activities of initiation ministries during Lent. The invitation to silence and reflection is welcome but there are all these things that need to be done including everything behind the scenes too. I say to myself “Others might retreat and pray. I need to be busy about many things!” Oh, to be able to be a “Mary!”
Perhaps it is my penchant for planning ahead, but it seems that Lent seems a very good time to think about the Easter Season, the details for that period called Mystagogy. Being involved in Christian initiation ministries keeps our lenten focus on the process and rites of this Period of Purification and Enlightenment, the Triduum, Holy Saturday morning, and the upcoming Easter Vigil.
Life after initiation
But there is life after initiation. In fact, the rest of life. Regular gatherings of the neophytes continue. Godparents, family, and friends continue their relationships. Friendships developed throughout the formation process continue as well. But there is more.
Looking ahead, we remember and plan: At the Vigil and on Easter morning, we celebrate with all those who are now clothed in their white garments, fresh from the waters of baptism. We’ve renewed our own baptismal promises and been blessed again with the waters of baptism. Special prayers are said. The Paschal Candle is lighted for all of us.
Throughout the formation process with our participants, we’ve worked intentionally to have many parish members and the parish as a whole involved and aware of those who are in process of becoming Catholic. Parish members take on a special role in the post-baptismal time of mystagogy, greeting the neophytes before and after Mass, attentive to their questions, and helping them get through any awkwardness and unfamiliarity.
As the neophytes walk the new path of becoming full members in these weeks of the Ester season, I think of the disciples on their way home to Emmaus, filled with questions and wondering what comes next. We hear that gospel later in the day on Easter for a purpose—it reminds us that there is a need for a community to help these new members along their way.
They may wear their white garments each time they join the community for Mass, now able to stay for the entire celebration and they hear the special intercessions for them in the Prayers of the Faithful. And there may be prayers and actions, processions and gestures that are new to them as participants. Even though they heard of these during their formation, it is different when you are actually participating.
Connected to the community
Helping others understand is a great way to deepen our own understanding of the meaning behind all we do, say and hear at each liturgy. The community members greet them before and after Mass, godparents and family members accompany and sit near them during Mass and other devotions, and, as I’ve often seen, help them understand our “Catholic calisthenics” for the Liturgy of the Eucharist which is going to be relatively new to the neophytes.
Some the delightful connections are made when we recognize one another in the supermarket or the mall or a restaurant and extend a greeting. A simple thing, but it makes a big difference. It means something!
Including the neophytes and their families in parish activities during the summer and months beyond is as important as continuing to include them in the apostolic activities and witness that have been part of their formation. After a year or so, parish members would continue inviting the neophytes to consider different ways of being involved in parish life. So the spiral movement of grace continues as these “experienced” neophytes now welcome others, perhaps new inquirers or they may re-energize other parish members. Disciples become apostles in the New Testament times and today.
The Introduction to The Rite of Christian Initiation emphasizes again and again the role of the entire community in the entire process, and it is here during this Easter season that we can encourage our fellow parishioners to “welcome [the neophytes] with open arms in charity and help them feel more at home in the community of the baptized” (RCIA 9).
How are you sharing how much more there is beyond initiation? How are you connecting them to the community after the Easter Vigil? Share your thoughts in the comments below.