Mystagogia: Nurturing Neophytces

by Joyce Stolberg

The Elect have gone through the waters of Baptism; they have been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit; they have been invited to the table of the Eucharist for the first time. They are now neophytes, or new Catholics. We spend the time frame from Easter to Pentecost nurturing this new growth. Mystagogia offers both a time for reflection and opportunity for presenting a broad range of continuing education topics.

This period begins with intense reflection upon the mysteries that have just been experienced. Allow time for reflection and feedback. The main pedagogical objectives for this period include further incorporation into the community, practicing some practical aspects of social justice, and reviewing any points of interest on which further discussion is requested by neophytes. In our process, we also try to engage speakers who are leading various parish ministries. Oh, yes, if this appears to be a recruitment drive, it is! Without getting them over committed, we try to involve neophytes in parish life, social service, and ministry as soon as possible. Have them actually register as members of the parish if any of them have not yet done so. Ask the neophytes themselves if there are any issues or topics about which they desire more information. Last year, some in our group requested more information on the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible; this led to a deeper discussion of biblical languages, time frames, types of literature, and the establishment of the Bible's canon.

Continue gathering the neophytes and sponsors in your reserved seating area from now through Pentecost: these Sunday Masses are called "Masses of the Neophytes." They can be seen together and further welcomed as new members of the community. (Right of Christian Initiation of Adults #237, 238) The candidates have made their first confession prior to their being received into the Church; however, the newly baptized have not done so. Mystagogia offers a good time frame for reviewing the steps to making a good confession and encouraging the neophytes to do so for the first time. Of course, Reconciliation is not obligatory because all sins had been washed away through Baptism. Yet the confessing of minor sins and faults can be an occasion of tremendous grace. In this case, we strongly encourage them to make a devotional confession in order to experience the sacrament and develop a comfort level with it while they still have the support of the RCIA process.

Because Easter came so late this year, you may experience some difficulty carrying the mystagogia process completely through to Pentecost. It has been my experience (this may not be true for all parts of the country) that, following graduations in May, people want to begin vacations, and it becomes more difficult to maintain attendance. Plan a final celebration as close to Pentecost as possible, but in a timely fashion, to wrap up your process; this may be accompanied by a special Mass, local custom permitting. (Right of Christian Initiation of Adults #239).

Neophytes should be nurtured in a special way during their first year of Catholic life. Planning a monthly meeting during the following year will provide continuing support and will enable you to present enriching materials for which there simply wasn't time during the essential RCIA process. Several things I have tried to do at this time include offering more explanation and experience of traditional Catholic devotions, discussing current events from the viewpoint of Catholic teaching, exploring more deeply the Documents of Vatican II, and presenting the spirituality of some of our great Catholic writers. These can be very informal meetings, conducted in a discussion style. Of course, your team is busy working with new inquirers, particularly those who have had no prior Christian experience or catechesis. Perhaps you can plan one summer event, such as a picnic, to which both your new inquirers and your neophytes can be invited, and offer them the opportunity to get acquainted and socialize with one another.

Finally, always remember that an essential mark of the Catholic Church is its universality; neophytes have entered the worldwide Church. June is often the month of transfers. Particularly if you live in a military or a college environment or a city which houses military or educational establishments, you may find your neophytes quickly transferring to parishes in other localities. As an RCIA leader, you can support their transition and encourage them to grow in the Catholic Faith wherever they may be. Rejoice that you as a leader have been offered the opportunity to build up and strengthen the local Church in areas of the world which you yourself may never visit. The blessing you give will come back to bless you when you least expect it!