All white on the night

Something I have learnt through experience is never ask a group a question that you do not know how to answer yourself. This is not about being omniscience but being prepared first to draw on one’s own experience before expecting others to do likewise.

As we look beyond the Triduum to the Easter Season and see 6-7 weeks of mystagogy we need to remind ourselves the celebration of the Triduum is the starting point. Perhaps we need to first note down our experience of the liturgies of the three days. I am a great one for jotting down the practical details: what went well, what needs to be attended to next time, what could be better. This is all very useful when we come to prepare the following year’s liturgies. But here I am more thinking of a journal. Reflections and impressions over three days. Even if you are busy as a liturgical minister in some form your need to participate. Participation is the first condition of mystagogy.

On Holy Thursday

  • What were your expectations before hand?
  • Was there a word or a phrase in the readings that stayed with you?
  • Which symbols caught your attention?
  • How did you feel at the end?

On Good Friday

  • What words would you use to describe the liturgy?
  • During the intercessions for whom did you pray?
  • What did feel like to kiss the cross?

At the Easter Vigil

  • What did you see as you gathered around the fire?
  • How many times did images of water come in the readings?
  • How would you depict the liturgy of baptism?

These questions are only starters. After you have got down your impressions take the opportunity to come back to them, to reflect on them. Ask why did you think or feel that, what can learn about what we celebrate, about Christ.

These reflections will enable us to help others to reflect. In the end though it will be the neophytes who lead us deeper into the mysteries. This paradox is at the heart of the Easter gospel.

When I prepare the liturgy booklet the one thing I am likely to forget is the reading that changes each year — the gospel at the Easter Vigil. One of the element that is common to gospel in all three years is that the resurrection is announced by someone in white garments. In Matthew ‘His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow’. It is not too fanciful make a connection with those who will rise up from the waters and put on a white garment, white as snow perhaps. In the waters of baptism they will die and rise with Christ, they are the sign that Christ is risen in our midst. From them over the coming weeks we will learn what it all means.

Martin F

17/03/08

It can’t be Holy Week next week?!

And if it is – how on earth did we get here?

There are advantages to an early Lent – for many people this year, Lent will almost be over before they really get to grips with the fact that it started – far too soon after Christmas. Only two weeks now and we can get back to the chocolate – the alcohol – the things we have denied ourselves and life can get back to normal! But for our Elect and Candidates, two weeks time brings them to one of the most important events in their lives. There will be a certain amount of making their new status as a Catholic Christian part of normal life but just at present, we hope they are living with a heightened awareness of the call to which they are responding – looking back on the Rite of Election with joy and ahead to the Easter Vigil with eager anticipation (albeit tinged with a bit of 
anxiety).

This last week of Lent might be a good time to offer them the opportunity to look back on how they got to this point.

This week’s blog could be used as a guided reflection inspired by the Year A Gospels – as part of an RCIA session or individually over a coffee – or both!

Brew up – settle back – and relive the journey to this last week of Lent… it really IS Holy Week next week – how on earth did we get here!

It started somewhere… Jesus’ public ministry started with his baptism in the Jordan – spend a few moments building up the scene in your mind’s eye. Jesus emerging from a crowd … John’s reluctance … Jesus’ immersion in the river and the dove coming upon him… and the words from God: This is my beloved Son – listen to him.  When have I felt that love of God for me – sensing that I am God’s beloved son – beloved daughter?

Almost immediately, Jesus is sent into the wilderness – to be tempted – challenged? Where have my wildernesses been? … When have I faced challenges which have helped me to find God and God’s will for me?

And Jesus took three close friends to the top of a mountain and became transfigured – their friend but not their friend… divinity shining from him – majestic divinity in the air all around them … and that voice again: My Son – the Beloved – listen to him. What words of Jesus have spoken most powerfully to me over the last few months?

It hasn’t always been plain sailing – there have been times of weariness and uncertainty – when I’ve needed time and the faith of others to recharge my batteries. When have I come to the “well” – come to listen to Jesus and to other people – and found myself refreshed? When have people come to the “well” – and I have found myself like the Samaritan Woman – engaging in conversation and listening and helping myself and my companions to go deeper into the mystery of God? When have I taken my experience of encountering Jesus back to others?

….

And the Gospel of last week – the story of the person born blind … whose soul saw things hidden from the sight of others … who stuck to his story no matter what pressure he was put under ….  When have I had a sudden insight – a kind of dawning understanding of something that had been hidden from me before? Have there been things during my RCIA sessions that have been like a bolt from the blue – or shaft of lightning? When have others not seen the truth as I have… and how did I feel?

….

And what of Martha or Mary in the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus? When have I been like Martha – heading down the road to meet Jesus … and telling him like it is: If you had been here this wouldn’t have happened. Where were you when ……..(name something that stretched your faith)? Or, when like Mary – overcome with sorrow and just unable to make the first move – but sensing the Lord somewhere out there … And how do I feel when I recall the shortest verse in Scripture: Jesus wept. Jesus’ own grief coming through … his own tears shed with those of Martha and Mary… his own tears shed with my own – his tears for my sorrow … His compassion which does not deny sadness but shares it – and seeks to transform it. When have I sensed the healing love of my Lord?

And here we are – months – years – into our Journey of Faith … And along the way – the company of Jesus – whether we recognised him at the time or not …

Next week, we will accompany him on the last fateful journey from the entry into Jerusalem – from euphoria to agony … from praise to condemnation … from hope to despair … from death to resurrection …

And I will respond to his invitation – for the first time as I enter the waters of baptism and die with him and rise to new life … or the fiftieth … I will respond to the invitation to be part of this story – of a death that changed the world because it did not end there …

It really IS Holy Week next week! How did I get here? And more importantly – where is the Lord leading me from here – from the waters of Baptism to….? from anointing and gifting with the Spirit to …? to the Lord’s Table … and from there…?

Kathryn T

09/03/08

Unbind him and set him free

If you ever find yourself in Oxford make your way to the chapel of New College. There you will find a truly remarkable statue of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein. It is in white marble. As you look you will see the bands of death being stretched round the body of Lazarus almost to breaking point. He is being dragged reluctantly from the grave. This reluctance to come forth from the place of safety and death is further emphasised by the fact that his head is turned backwards as he is being pulled back to life. That beautiful piece of sculpture offers a profound insight into the story of Lazarus found in John’s Gospel:- Resistance to true freedom.

To get inside the story we need to identify our own resistance to removing the stone covering the cave where the body lay buried along with our resistance to believing the word of Jesus that endlessly gives life.

Having taken the stone away listen to the word spoken in a loud voice “Lazarus come out”. A loud voice reaching down into the very depths of all that is life taking: That echoes through the ages and that cannot be resisted. The command “Unbind him and let him go” reflect the word spoken to Moses from the Burning Bush:- “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt” – the house of slavery.

These images form the basis of the Third Scrutiny as the Elect prepare themselves within their parish communities for the Easter Vigil. In fact for both the individual and the community the questions raised are demanding indeed and reach into the psyche of both:

  • What am I reluctant to reveal about myself or my community?
  • What in my life am I reluctant to change?
  • What do I or we want to keep hidden away?
  • What do I or we need to do to set others free?
  • What word or command of Jesus do I most resist?
  • What word or command of Jesus echoes deep within me?
  • From what do I or my community need to be unbound and set free?

The prayer prayed over the Elect and on behalf of the community has much to offer to these reflections. The prayer is geared towards those who are preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil but can easily be adapted for those already one with us through baptism or for the community as a whole. The lines or words in italics are offered as a possible adaptation.

“Father of life and God not of the dead but of the living,

you sent your Son to proclaim life,

to snatch us from the realm of death,

and to lead us to the resurrection.

Free these elect (us)

from the death-dealing power of the spirit of evil,

so that they (we) may witness

to their (our) new life in the risen Christ,

for he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

(Then with hands outstretched)

Lord Jesus,

by raising Lazarus from the dead

you showed that you came that we might have life

and have it more abundantly.

Free (us) from the grasp of death

those who await your life-giving sacraments

(as we celebrate your life-giving sacraments)

and deliver them from the spirit of corruption.

(and continue to deliver us from the spirit of corruption)

Through your Spirit, who gives life,

fill them (us) with faith, hope and charity,

that they (we) may live with you always

in the glory of your resurrection

for you are Lord for ever and ever. Amen”

A thought!

“Sickness struggles to own the world. I want you to live.

Live, do you hear me? Half-living is a safe hell.

The house I build is for souls who would be well.”

‘The house I build’ by Brendan Kennelly

Ken O

03/03/08

Taking God’s love seriously

Yesterday in our parish Sunday Mass many will have experienced the first scrutiny – and allowed that gospel encounter of the woman with Jesus at the well to interpret our own lives and inner longings.  As we walk with Christ, our way, our truth, our life, along the lenten pathway towards Easter, we too meet the people he meets –  through wilderness, up and down mountains, thirsty woman, blind man, dead man, welcoming crowd, angry mob – we too enter into that sense of being ‘handed over’, and having to trust God that this is the right path.   And the scrutinies are moments of  self-searching, repentance, enlightenment.  They are described in RCIA 141 as having a spiritual purpose – to uncover and heal all that is weak, and to bring out and strengthen all that is good and strong.  Their aim is to ‘complete’ conversion and deepen our resolve to hold on to Christ.  Their focus is towards salvation and the resulting new life and freedom that brings.   As individuals and community, in reflecting on the experience of the scrutinies, may we become more and more consciously aware of being filled with Christ –  living water, light of the world, resurrection and life.  We are not diminished by the experience.. we are set free.

So, what was the experience like for you?  In what ways are you ‘thirsty’?    What does the encounter tell you about Christ?

Caroline D

25/02/08

The road that leads to the glory of Easter

Reflection on the liturgy can be seen as the third stage of liturgical catechesis:

  • Preparation to participate in the liturgy
  • Participation in the liturgy
  • Reflection on our participation in the liturgy.

It can be a key catechetical moment but like all such moments we do not ask others that which we have not asked of ourselves. So before we can ask the elect to reflect on their experience we must first reflect for ourselves. This is not to provide a stock of right answers but so we know what it means to answer the question.This week’s posting is a reflection on celebrating the Rite of Election by network members. Reflecting on what we do is a key part of the guidelines of the Network and so it seems appropriate to offer this space. What follows is not the story of one Rite of Election but a snapshot from around the country which will grow over the coming week. 


I am always struck by that moment when Catechumens and Godparents and then Candidates and Sponsors stand up. In part because at these moments you see the people the liturgy is about. They are not isolated people but nor do they have the solidarity of standing in a large group. The answers of Godparents and Sponsors this year to those questions which go to the heart of the Rite were clear and certain. And then the sign of friendship and support seems to have a warmth and depth that speaks of a journey walked together.


The numbers of people is what makes the most stirring impression. Assuming that people are truly meaning what the Rite would have them mean – or even that they are attempting this – it is amazing and encouraging and challenging to see so many people coming to make a public profession of ‘new’ faith.

In the case of this diocese it is sad that the response to the numbers has been to abandon a principal symbolic action (the calling out or their names and the signing of their names by the elect) and to obscure the significance of the presentation of their names by combining it with the welcome of candidates for reception/completion of initiation and obscuring the presentation of (both sets of) names with a handshake with auxiliary bishops. The gesture of welcome is a genuine one, and well received by the elect and candidates, but it lacks the personal punch and commitment of the symbol of the declaration and handing over of the name


When I saw primroses flowering in the woods on Saturday, I thought of the wonder of creation and how these tiny flowers were being propelled into our world much earlier than usual. But don’t we always have primroses in Lent and isn’t creation just adapting and keeping in time, so all the concerns about it being an early Rite of Election this year melted into the sunlight.

Creation cropped up again when proclaimed in the Scriptures, a story that reflects a disastrous choice, and so I turned to the Rite and saw just how many choices have to be made, that enable the Godparents, Catechists, Sponsors, clergy, local community and the catechumens to be able to affirm that these in our midst are ready to go forward and become the ‘elect’.

It’s worth having a renewed look at the rite: being able to remember ‘the lengthy period of formation … of minds and hearts’#118, the ‘conversion in mind and action and to have developed a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching as well as a spirit of faith and charity’ #120, for that will need to sustain the elect during the period of purification and enlightenment.

They also have the experience of having shared the rite with their fellow catechumens, and candidates from throughout the diocese in a ceremony whose symbolism tells of the worldwide Church. I thought what a wonderful liturgical gesture: to have the elect (and candidates) walk down the side aisles of the cathedral, and when called, walk forward towards the Bishop, who in turn walked to greet each one. So there was a continual flow of movement as the Bishop greeted first on the right and then crossed to the other side; the person then turned and walked up the central aisle with their Godparent (Sponsor), through the womb (or heart) of the church. Whether by design or accident, it was rich in symbolism. Congratulations also to our Bishop who individually greeted around 37 catechumens and 130 candidates.

And finally I return to primroses: for as I saw the radiance on some of the faces of those presented to the Bishop, I fleetingly thought of the primroses radiant in the Lenten sunshine.


At St Barnabas’ Cathedral in Nottingham, Bishop Malcolm welcomed the 125 candidates and catechumens who gathered for election. Our theme this year was ‘Give as a gift – receive as a gift’, based on Matthew 10:8. The sight of the candidates, catechumens and their sponsors processing into the cathedral behind the Book of the Elect was an awesome sight and profoundly moving. In advance, candidates and catechumens had been sent a scroll and invited to write down a passage from scripture which had touched them in some way. These were gathered in as they entered the Cathedral and after signing the Book of the Elect they were invited to take away a scroll as a gift. The word of God alive and active and a gift received and shared. We’re only aware of one person who received their own scroll back!

In his homily, Bishop Malcolm spoke of the temptations around us, highlighting the temptation to individualism and the commitment of the candidates and catechumens to life as community. He spoke of the way faith was shared and spread in this part of the world, referring to St Bede and reminding us that our faith is received as a gift and is a gift to be given and shared. Each of the elect received a prayer card with the prayer the Diocese of Nottingham is using to focus on how we hand on our faith, and the front of the card showed an image of The English Cross, a cross carved from a dead tree by local artist, Rev Jean Lamb.


At the Rite of Election this year one young woman arrived on her own to be presented to the Bishop as a candidate. She was very nervous and did not have her request for admission form with her. We were able to provide her with a new form and she was befriended by a member of another parish who sat with her and accompanied her to meet the Bishop. How she had been sent forth from her parish on her own I do not know but thank God for the kind stranger who is now a friend. Both women were very moved by the experience and saw God very much at work in their meeting and participation in the Rite of Election.

11/02/08

Praying with Paint For Purification & Enlightenment?

One of the biggest challenges I found when working with my parish RCIA group was how to effectively shift the emphasis of the weekly session from the kind of intense catechetical activity of the catechumenate to the more reflective period of ‘intense spiritual preparation’ that this firmly time bound stage demands. In reality, the pressure builds at this time because of all the practical details in preparing for and reflecting afterwards on the Rite of Election and then preparing for and reflecting afterwards on the Scrutinies and then preparing for the Presentations and the Preparation Rites and …! If we’re not careful, the practicalities of so much to be dealt with in such a relatively short period can actually deflect our focus. As JD Crichton in his commentary on these period states:

“Lent has often been called a spiritual retreat and it is to this that both the elect and the local community are called during this period. For this reason it is to be marked by ‘interior reflection’ rather than ‘catechetical instruction’.”

[i]

So how, in an ordinary parish context might we attempt a slowing down and give space for the Spirit to both purify and enlighten. Well one way that we discovered not only worked but was really appreciated by all who shared the journey was a ‘Praying with Paint’ session during the first or second week of Lent.

It requires some advance organisation to ensure that there is sufficient space for all to be able to ‘paint’ and that there are sufficient supplies of poster paint or crayons or watercolours (the parish toddler group or primary school can often be most helpful if approached in good time). Otherwise it’s just a question of creating a reflective atmosphere with quiet music playing and perhaps dimmed lighting (but not too dimmed so that people can’t see their own creations). Obviously the basic principles of adult formation apply and people are free not to take part, but in over ten years of offering this I only ever encountered one person who chose not to participate. So:

  • Stress the reflective nature of the task, reassuring all those who had bad experiences of art at school that it’s not about creating works of art but rather allowing the Spirit of God to move within us in response to the gospel in a different way from those we may otherwise have experienced.
  • Proclaim the gospel and allow a period of silence
  • Proclaim it again but with a different voice
  • Invite people to respond using the materials provided, as they feel appropriate.
  • Quiet, reflective music will help and as people finish there should be no pressure to show the paintings, although most people will happily want to do so.
  • There should however be a time to come together and say a word or two about how the experience was received and an opportunity to end with shared prayer, perhaps hearing the gospel one more time

In this Year of Matthew (Cycle A) the story of the Transfiguration  affords a wonderful opportunity for a creative reflection. Happy painting!

Veronica M

04/02/08


[i]Rite of Christian Initiation of AdultsThe final Texts with CommentariesThe Columba Press 1986

Why do we think Evangelisation starts at the Church door?

So how do you recruit? It may not be the right term, but if we put as much energy into recruiting as the National Trust do, just think of the numbers we may be initiating into the Church.

Two things got me going on this, one was a comment  about the likelihood of a Rite of Acceptance, that ‘we may have someone who has just joined the RCIA. They’ve been to the first session’. The second was when I was literally standing at the front door to the parish office and was told ‘that we might have a couple of ‘nibblers’, who’d made an approach. It was probably standing at the outside door to the parish office that did it, but I suddenly thought, how we were failing prospective Christians by waiting for them to approach our church. Both the above comments recorded the expectation that enquirers make their first approach to the church, and while in some respects that is correct, we seem to have forgotten there is an even earlier stage. What might it take before we get into the mindset of being open to evangelisation away from the church door.  

The first thing is to note that evangelisation is not taking every opportunity to ‘preach God’ to the unconverted. It is not proselytising and it’s not moralising. I think of it as being open to the Holy Spirit working in others and using me as its instrument. I couldn’t stand on a street corner and proclaim the Good News of God, but I’ve come to see how in subtle ways I can open other people’s hearts to the joy and hope that Jesus brings.   Here is one example. 

Somebody I know (but not a close friend), who has had their share of worries in their personal and family life, sent me a text  one Sunday morning asking when I went to church if  I would ask my God to keep a special eye on someone for them. It came right out of the blue from someone who had previously told me they couldn’t find God in their lives because of all the troubles they’d endured. I was delighted to be able to text back and say ‘of course’.

I got another text the next week, asking if I would please send the same words to God. I must have been a bit slow, because it needed this text to make me think that I should be doing something other than praying, as I’d been asked. Eventually, I sent a text with a little story about a close (non baptised) friend of mine, who at a time when she was experiencing some family problems, had told me how she liked to call into churches, any church, and look for a statue of a beautiful lady, with a serene face, who she would talk to, and how it used to make her feel calm, and at ease.  After my text there was silence for a while, and then I got a text back that mentioned about looking for a very easy book about God.  I thought of all the books I’ve got and realised that a story version of the Gospel was the best book to start with. I got an email address and sent a few ideas. 

Now I don’t know what will happen with this person’s journey, but I do believe that similar opportunities happen to us all in our daily lives, and that this is when evangelisation takes place. It is a way that the whole parish can get involved in subtle ways in the first period of the RCIA, after all:

‘the precatechumenate is of great importance… It is a time of evangelisation: faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ who he has sent for the salvation of all. Thus those who are not yet Christians, their hearts opened by the Holy Spirit, may believe and be freely converted to the Lord….’ (# 36).

Being honest, I know in my parish that the message has not yet got through that it is the whole Church, (RCIA General introduction 7), all the baptised, who have a part to play in the very first period of the RCIA (# 8). Until the ‘entire community’ understand that their individual and collective role as Christians is to ‘proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God’ (EN 14) then new Christians will only enter our church when they manage to arrive at the church or parish house door.

Until RCIA ceases to be the domain of the few who make up or are affiliated to the RCIA team, the whole dimension of ‘witness’ will go undetected and undervalued.

I’ll end with a suggestion. As our fully initiated Catholics emerge at the Easter Vigil, how might we benefit from their experience? Has anybody analysed and assessed how the last ten years of enquirers got onto the RCIA? How many of our PPC’s have anyone with responsibility for evangelisation? What strategies can we introduce for reaching out to the unchurched?

How do we use our liturgy to express Catholic identity? Is it accessible to those who are not (or not yet) Catholics? Is it inculturated? Is it faithful to Catholic tradition?*

Sue P

21/1/08

Will there be fewer people at the Rite of Election this year?

I received an email newsletter just before Christmas which, with an apologetic tone, reminded me that it was only 5 and 1/2 weeks until the beginning of Lent. Easter is almost as early as it can be this year — it can only fall on 22 March before that and that won’t happen in our lifetimes (2285 if you really want to know!). An early Easter means an early Lent and the First Sunday, the normal date for the Rite of Election, will be on 10 February. Hence my question. Or at least the origin of my question. What’s behind is a question about whether the discernment which is proper before the Rite of Election might say we need a bit longer before we can answer the questions asked of us at the Rite with integrity.

  • Have they faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the Church?
  • Have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence?
  • Have they shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer?

Before looking at what the Rite says about being prepared for the Rite of Election and the length of the catechumenate a story.

Last autumn I was in Tours, France and I took the opportunity of visiting the shrine of my patron saint — St Martin. The shrine is a 19th Century basilica and in the crypt is the tomb of St Martin (died 397). Nearby is a museum which tells the history of both the Basilica and of St Martin himself through fragments and art works. One of the most famous incidents in his life happened when he was 17 and a soldier in the Roman army at Amiens. On a cold winter’s night he met a beggar and though he had little he shared is cloak with him. That night he had a vision of Christ in the guise of the beggar. He heard Christ say to the surrounding angels:

Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.

Though I was familiar with the story and some of the many images associated with it I had not come across the last line before and it served as a reminder both that one time to be a Catechumen was a distinct stage in a person’s life and that God is working during this period. The Life of St Martin, written quite soon after Martin died, says that he became a Catechumen when he was 10 and shortly after his vision he sought to be baptised at the age of 18.

Looking at the Rite

In the introduction to the Rite of Election it states:

Before the rite of election is celebrated, the catechumens are expected to have undergone a conversion in mind and in action and to have developed a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching as well as a spirit of faith and charity.

RCIA 107

And the length of the catechumenate…

The time spent in the catechumenate should be long enough — several years if necessary — for the conversion and faith of the catechumens to become strong. By their formation in the entire Christian life and a sufficiently prolonged probation the catechumens are properly initiated into the mysteries of salvation and the practise of an evangelical way of life. By means of sacred rites celebrated at successive times they are led into the life of faith, worship, and charity belonging to the people of God.

RCIA 76

And why not?

The phrase ‘several years if necessary’ is probably one of those we pass over thinking, if at all, that it applies elsewhere. The challenge is how to faithfully respond the request that the catechumens made at the Rite of Acceptance and to recognise that it takes time.

It is perhaps worth articulating some of the reasons that we find this challenge difficult:

  • we see discernment as, at best, a one-way process by the catechumens not as a shared responsibility which is integral to the Rite
  • Seeing the process of Initiation as a single timetable for a whole group — for whom is such a timetable designed?
  • A year seems a long time to wait for next Easter. Our language can also seem negative: initiation can be delayed or put off.
  • All this pre-supposes a team and a process that can cope with people at different stages over the year.
  • There is also a need to make clear differences between the different periods particularly in terms of catechesis. The period of purification and enlightenment is not the time for a final catch-up on matters of doctrine but a time of spiritual preparation for Easter.

This would not be the time to suddenly decide that your Catechumens will not be going to the Rite of Election! Nor is it a proposal that, like Martin, the Catechumenate should take 7 years. It is an encouragement to continue to reflect on what the potential of Catechumenate is.

  • For further thoughts on these issues see recent postings in Team RCIA
  • The 11 March posting will be reflections on celebrating the Rite of Election – contributions welcome.

Martin F

07/01/08

Catechesis in Advent: Christ past, present and future

Most parish enquiry groups are a mixed bag, so I don’t think ours is unique in that we have two unbaptised teenagers and their uncatechised but baptised Mum; a person who was ‘received’ elsewhere two years ago through one-to-one instruction but has never felt she ‘belongs’ to the Catholic church, and although fully initiated, she comes along to share in the catechesis;  then we have a man whose first marriage has just been annulled, now engaged to a young widow parishioner; another is married to a Catholic whose children are now being prepared for Holy Communion and he wants to think about becoming a Catholic himself;  a woman from a Protestant background with a strong personal relationship with God, but no experience of ‘church practice’; and finally, a woman who met one of our neophytes in a cycling club and is interested in finding out more (about the Church, not cycling!)

When we first started using the Rites of Initiation of Adults we were worried about this sort of mix, and how to meet each person’s needs.  Now we have stopped worrying!  We see it as real ‘treasure’ for the parish.  Using the liturgical year, and the lectionary, as mainstays for our catechesis, we have found that over a period of between 1 and 3 years our catechumens come to a deep understanding and experience of the mysteries at the heart of our faith. We are no longer ‘driven’  by the time constraints of a more programmatic approach – and we would call this more of an ‘apprenticeship’  into the Catholic Christian way of life – the sort envisaged in the Rite itself.

All these people have knocked at our door at odd intervals since last January, and we have trained ourselves (!) to say ‘Come in’ rather than ‘Come back in September’.  We are muddling our way towards an all-year round ‘Come and See’ enquiry.  By about Advent most people have been with us for several months, and we offer the first opportunity for the Rite of Welcome (or Acceptance).  In looking at the Rite together, seeing what is required, it has been discerned (by us and them) that 3 of our 7 enquirers are ready for this step. And that hasn’t been difficult – people know when they are reay, and we can see the change in them over the months – there is an infectious enthusiasm, an openness to the Gospel, eagerness to learn to pray, to be part of community life.  Others are still a little cautious about what this commitment might mean, and want to carry on asking questions.

With the limited resources in our small rural community, the team decided to have the enquiry and catechumenal sessions on the same night.  This means a welcoming drink and chat, followed by prayer time and gospel sharing together, and then split into the two groups for the deepening catechesis, with two members of the team guiding the process in each group, with sponsors there to support.  The main ‘pillar’ of our catechesis in Advent for both groups continues to be the Sunday gathering, with opportunity to reflect afterwards on the experience of the Liturgy – the heady mix of signs and symbols, gestures and vestures, words and silence, is rich enough fayre for any apprentice to feast on! Leading up to Christmas we have some parish activities planned, and the enquirers and catechumens are actively encouraged to take part in community life – special advent liturgies, an outreach to the elderly housebound, a presentation on our Zimbabwe project – all of this is part of the apprenticeship in the Christian way of life, deepening the awareness of Christ in the season of Advent.  Yes, Christ in history, and Christ who will come again, but most importantly, the Christ who comes and is present is so many ways in our every-day C21 lives.

Resources:

  • Have a look at RCIA Network website [www.rcia.org.uk]  for Tool Box for discernment among other things;
  • The Liturgy Office  for info on lectionary based catechesis and lectio divina.
  • www.cliftondiocese.com produce some resources for year-round lectionary based catechesis
  • Shrewsbury (Paddy Rylands) and Brentwood (Nuala Gannon) produce weekly  ‘lectio divina’ leaflets.

Caroline D 

10/12/07