On the one hand it is true because Easter is the primary season for celebrating the Sacraments of Initiation – baptism, confirmation and communion. For adults seeking baptism all roads lead to the Easter Vigil.
The newly initiated adults are known as neophytes because they are new to Catholic life. They hold a place of honour throughout the Easter Season when the Catholic community gathers for Mass on Sunday. The community surrounds them as together, through our reflection on the Word of God and the Sacramental action, we deepen our understanding of the mystery of God’s love which invites us into the daily rhythm of dying and rising. Sustaining and developing the relationship between neophytes and the parish community is central to this post baptismal period of Mystagogia. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) describes it as
‘a time for the community and the neophytes to grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives through mediation on the Gospel, sharing in the eucharist , and doing the work of charity. To strengthen the neophytes as they begin to walk in newness of life, the community of the faithful, their godparents, and their parish priests should give them thoughtful and friendly help.’ (a. 234)
While Pentecost ends the Easter Season and the intense period of Post Baptismal Mystagogy, it does not end the special place the neophytes hold within the parish community. Ideally, the community continues to support them throughout the first twelve months of their Catholic life, a period which concludes with a celebration of the anniversary of their baptism. (RCIA a. 240)
Yes, new life abounds in many of our parishes! ‘Will it live?’ is an important question. To a large degree this depends on the community and our ongoing accompaniment of the neophytes.
It is not uncommon for some adults initiated into the Catholic community with such joy and commitment at Easter, to disappear after a few months. As we ponder why this is so, it is worth reflecting on how well the journey of their Initiation as seekers, catechumens, the elect and neophytes immersed them into the life of the community rather than keeping them isolated in a separate ‘classroom’ or a personal relationship with their sponsor. Christian faith is essentially relational. It is relationships that nurture life – relationships with God and each other – and sustain belonging.
Recently a member of one of our parish RCIA Teams had to remind the parish office that contrary to the notice that had been put in the parish bulletin, RCIA did not finish on Easter Sunday. Neither does RCIA conclude after Pentecost Sunday. RCIA runs all year and engages with seekers whenever they knock on the parish door.
Which brings us to the other hand. While there is a ‘high point’ for Christian Initiation in the liturgical calendar, Christian Initiation is our core business, 24/7, twelve months of every year.
The enduring and timeless quality of this core ministry in the church applies as much to the Sacraments of Initiation for Children as it does to the initiation of adults. In the children’s space we refer to the ‘Confirmation Season,’ currently marked by Fr Greg and some of the other clergy confirming children most nights of the week. In most parishes first communion follows. New life abounds! And for all the effort that goes into this ministry with families, the question, ‘Will it live?’ is even more relevant.
As with the RCIA, the answer is for the faith community to ponder. Having met with 90 families preparing for their children’s’ confirmation/first communion, one of the priests said in a recent meeting that the main issue for families is they are time poor. Time poor people prioritise.
What we invite people to, needs to offer them real food. I’m talking about the parents more than the children. A friend whose children are currently in the ‘Sacramental Program’ in their parish was talking to me the other day. They are at Mass every week with a number of other young families. They sit together. He said it’s like they’re not there. The liturgy, like the sacramental program, is more disengaging than engaging. How might we invite all the families, like my friend’s, to be part of the initiation process in future and to accompany other families who have less connection with the worshipping community?
In March 2020 Bishop Bill asked parishes to review the way they do Sacraments of Initiation for Children. It is only now that some parishes seem ready to engage in such reimagining. There are parish leaders who want change. Just last week one was in touch wanting something to inspire liturgy and initiation ministries. I have indicated previously there are two parishes wanting to engage in reimaging the ministry of Christian Initiation for Children. These are great signs of hope. The church has provided us with a great resource to guide our reimagining: the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults! We would do well to immerse ourselves in its vision and principles.
As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost let us pray for the gift of courage to change, for the grace of humility to engage in listening and dialogue, for commitment and openness to the Holy Spirit and to the yet unimagined possibilities that might emerge.
New life abounds. Will it live? To a large part that’s up to you and me. Together we can do this. I invite you to consider indicating your willingness to be involved in the ministry of Christian Initiation to your parish leader. If you would like to be involved in a larger diocesan conversation, please let me know.
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him. May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers. (Ephesians 1:17-19]
The Scripture quotation: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd and Doubleday and Company Ltd. All rights reserved.