Tag Archives: Mystagogia

One Stop RCIA

4th Century Baptismal Font, courtesy of Vangelis Valtos

4th Century Baptismal Font, courtesy of Vangelis Valtos

Over the two years (yes, two years!) I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written a number of posts on the RCIA. I still think this is one of the processes in the Church that is barely understood in many, many parishes. ACM resources are fantastic in emphasising that RCIA is not just a doctrinal process, but also a liturgical and pastoral one. I think they are the best resources we have to help priests and catechists create a life-transforming RCIA process in the parish. However, you need a huge amount of patience and dedication to read and understand the principles and methodology behind them, and I think you need more than this, too: great RCIA leaders will have a round-the-clock passion for helping souls convert to Christ.

In the three and a half years I worked in the parish coordinating RCIA, I was blessed with the opportunity and support to get to grips with a true vision for RCIA. We already had an excellent doctrinal process. But our vision was to create a process that had liturgical gateways marking stages of conversion; that had pastoral flexibility in allowing people the time they needed in each phase; that had a large team of committed sponsors dedicated to help the conversion process.

Here, I have pulled together in one post all the posts on RCIA I wrote over that time. They may be helpful either practically, for those trying to implement a true vision of RCIA in their parish, or theoretically, to help you grasp the vision.

A couple of disclaimers: Firstly, not all the posts are systematic; some are reflections which may not be exhaustive, but hopefully give some ideas. Secondly, they are not chronological. Sometimes I have written about the period of enquiry with one particular group of people, but what I have written for a later period (e.g. the Rite of Election) is with another group. Probably about five different groups of people passed through this process (which shows you need different starting points through the year).

What I hope you get from these few posts is that RCIA is messy! We can make very nice, neat structures (and it’s important what we do is ordered towards an end and is systematic) but at the end of the day, people are messy and RCIA needs to be flexible. Isn’t that what Pope Francis said recently?! “Make a mess!”

  1. An overview of the structure of RCIA
  2. Top Ten RCIA Traps!
  3. From the very first moment: Meeting the enquirer the first time they make contact
  4. Enquiry sessions – a year-round period of evangelisation
  5. Proclaiming the Kerygma
  6. Motives for Conversion
  7. The pastoral role of the Sponsor 
  8. Starting out…
  9. Liturgical Steps and Discernment Interviews: Rite of Acceptance
  10. Slow Evangelisation…
  11. Catechesis of the Catechumenate
  12. Telling the whole Story
  13. Catechumenate and Natural Family Planning
  14. Life in Christ: One and Two
  15. Contraception, Cohabitation, and the Catechumenate
  16. The Challenge of Conversion
  17. The Rite of Election: “I have chosen you”
  18. Period of Purification and Enlightenment: Preparing Candidates
  19. Preparing Adults for Confession
  20. The Triduum
  21. Period of Mystagogia
  22. Easter Catechesis
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Easter Catechesis


This is my first night at home since getting back from holidays. You would think that the post-Easter parish would be somewhat calmer, but you know what? It’s not really the way it works out…

Over the last two to three years, we have developed our RCIA process in a way that is closer to the mind of the Church. We gradually moved away from the September to Easter model (hands up those still on that model!) and into a year-round model. If we really understand that Baptism calls to holiness, then we need to give good formation from the first precatechumenate session a person attends, right through to their first year as a new Catholic, and beyond.

I admit it: it’s exhausting and a bit messy and you need a small army of catechists and sponsors, but it’s totally worth it. We have definitely seen the difference in the ‘quality’ of the conversions. What does it mean right now? Right now, we have three different RCIA strands: the neophytes and newly received who are in their period of Mystagogy; those still in the Catechumenate who were not yet ready to be baptised or received at Easter; those who are coming to the end of the Precatechumenate and ready to begin their year-long Catechumenate. Sound like a lot of juggling? It is. Thankfully, we have a lot of catechists to call on to take on various sessions.

I have a great love of the period of Mystagogy. This feels like the ‘easiest’ period of the RCIA because it is as though the catechesis is an overflow of the joy from the Easter Vigil. It is like we’re riding a big wave from the mysteries of the Triduum. Last night, we had a lovely supper for all the neophytes: it was full of joy and laughter as we remembered together all the events – joyful, difficult, moving, humorous and otherwise – of the Easter mysteries. What an undeserved privilege to journey with these wonderful women.


Mystagogia

I said I would write a bit more about our period of Mystagogy in the parish. I recently heard a statistic that, on average, 70% of the people who are received into the Church at Easter in a particular diocese (I won’t say which one, but I imagine they are all more or less the same) LAPSE!! Working all the time with people are preparing for the sacraments of initiation, this struck me as so SAD… These people must have been committed enough to go through a period of preparation (I’m aware that in some parishes it is shorter and less thorough than in others), there must have been some original conviction or experience that spurred them to make contact with their parish in the first place. So what happens?!?

This is clearly a complex area, and it would be fascinating if there were some research done, so that parishes can increase their chances of RCIA “Success”!

However, I would suggest that one small contributing factor to people persevering in their new Faith could be, firstly, the period of Mystagogy, and secondly, ongoing formation following on from this.

The period of Mystagogy runs from Easter to Pentecost (hence the image above of the powerful moment of Pentecost). In the early Church, it was a time when the bishop would explain to the neophytes (new Catholics) the meaning of the mysteries or sacraments into which they had just been initiated. These mysteries were considered so sacred that they were not revealed to the recipients until they had been initiated.

On Monday we had our first session of Mystagogia in the parish with the new Catholics. There was a real sense of joy – this group has been meeting together weekly for almost a year and a half so there’s now a great sense of community among the neophytes, sponsors and catechists. One of the purposes of the Mystagogia is to lead the new Catholics to reflect deeply on their experiences of the Easter Vigil, their reception of the sacraments, and their ‘new life’ as a Catholic. Another element we are focussing on in these few weeks are the essential elements which will sustain their new Catholic life from now on. Each week, they are discussing a different element with their Sponsor: e.g. formation – how will I continue my formation and learning of the Faith? prayer – what ‘plan of life’ will I commit to including daily prayer, confession, spiritual direction? and service and apostolate – how can I offer my talents in service to the Church and how can I engage in the apostolate?

It sounds like a lot… But I think this is another example of how the RCIA is a microcosm of our Catholic life. We have to make concrete, practical and realistic goals and decisions for ourselves in these areas to help us stay faithful and ensure that we continue to grow and move forward in our spiritual life.

Maybe – just maybe – if we help new Catholics make practical decisions in these areas, and if they have faithful and loving Sponsors to encourage them and help keep them on track, there would be fewer new Catholics so tragically lapsing after receiving the sacraments of their salvation?