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

The Word of God – blessing and task

A little late this week 3 members write from an international conference in Chile.

Martin writes

The International Forum on Adult Religious Education holds a consultation every two years. The theme of this year’s consultation is The Word of God: blessing and task for catechesis todayand it is being held in Santiago, Chile over this last week. The invitation to attends goes to Bishops’ Conferences around the world and It is a privilege to be part of a small group from England and Wales.

The Forum is 20 years old this year and it began as an initiative from England and Wales. The first meeting was organised by Paddy Purnell, Anne McDowell and Margaret Foley and held at St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill. Each meeting takes a similar format: reflection and discussion on a theme, generally inspired by a Church document or initiative, and country sharing. What can be fascinating is the interplay between the familiar and the unknown — the similarities and difficulties we hold in common and differences that can be beyond our experience.

Two highlights for me have hearing about the meeting of Latin American bishops – CELAM – at Aparaceido in Brazil last year. Their reflections on catechesis, the need for bishops and their agencies to have an examination of conscience as to where they have failed to be the Church and the importance of the catechumenal model for all catechesis.

On Sunday morning we visited local parishes to look at family catechesis. We met families from the parish who spoke to us about their involvement. What was moving was the sense that the parish and the catechesis was responsibility of the community and that the involvement in family catechesis had strengthened relationships.

Paula writes

It has been a real privilege to take part in this international consultation. Throughout the process there have been opportunities to hear from countries around the world about the joys and challenges of adult religious education and also our hopes for this ministry in the future.

For me the most striking experience was the visit to a local parish for Sunday Eucharist and sharing with parish catechists. The welcome and hospitality was overwhelming and humbling at the same time. We were welcomed into two local parishes and met those involved in family catechesis. The parish and community structures are very different to those in the UK and the numbers of catechists quite astonishing. Catechists undertake formation provided by the archdiocese, and this is a serious undertaking for the catechists and the whole family of the catechist. Married couples are catechists together and as one man commented, although this interfered with his football team it was important for him and his wife to undertake this ministry together. The ministry of catechesis is described with great enthusiasm and commitment as a lifelong ministry in the parish community, catechists are called to live their lives as witnesses to the Word of God that they share. This was not undertaken lightly, and in the people we met, it was clear that their lives, in mind heart and action was shot through with the Word of God.

A last thing that struck me was the role of the godparent. In family catechesis, all families need a father in those instances where a woman may be widowed or divorced and Godfather becomes the father in the family. In our own situation in the RCIA and RCIC in England and Wales, maybe there is something to be learned from this idea.

Linda writes

A key moving experience for the group was the visit to the Sanctuary of Fr Alberto Hurtado.

Fr Hurtado was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2005 and is the third saint for Chile. Born in 1901 he died of cancer at the age of 51 in 1952.

His ministry as a priest focussed much on the young and the poor. The dvd clip we saw showed a warm and ever-present smile.

The Sanctuary includes a museum reflecting his life and work, a beautiful garden including a wall where people’s prayer petitions and thanksgiving for prayer are placed and a chapel where the saint’s tomb forms the altar. It is a place of grate peace which celebrates the life Fr Hurtado and which offers the opportunity for reflection and prayer.

15/01/08

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

When our Saviour appeared

Originally there was going to be a week’s break on Walking the Rite waybut when I was preparing the next 3 Year of St Paul leafletsI was struck by how in the middle of Christmas — at the Dawn Mass — there is baptism.

Here is the passage and the prayer from the leaflet (adapted from RCIA) for reflection.

When the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:4-7

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life.

Send your Holy Spirit upon us to be our helper and guide.

Give us the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill us with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Martin F

31/12/07

Welcome

Welcome to Walking the Rite Way, the blog for the RCIA Network. You will find here over the coming weeks: practical ideas and resources, reflections of scripture, the lectionary and the liturgical seasons, comment pieces on how we do the rite. As RCIA touches on so many aspects of the Church’s life the writers also have a broad remit.

We aim to have new piece posted on Monday every week. There is already a team of writers with their fingers poised over the keyboard ready to write but if you are a member of the Network and would like to contribute please contact Martin Foster.

One of the good things about a blog is that it allows you an opportunity to comment on what you have read, to join in the conversation – please do so. The writers are not a group of experts but people who are exploring the ‘Rite way’ and sharing what they find.

A few gentle guidelines for participating:

  • Think of your contribution as one you might make in your RCIA group.
  • Listen to what other people are saying.
  • If you disagree do so with courtesy.
  • Try to be brief and to the point.

The blog is setup so that the first comment you make is moderated — this is a way of avoiding spam.

Welcome to the journey.

Martin Foster

29/11/07