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April 7, 2004
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Mystagogy: Final Stage of the RCIA Process
I like the word mystagogy, probably because it makes this final period of the RCIA process sound so mysterious. This special time after Easter is indeed a time of deepening a neophyte's understanding of the mysteries of faith. However, finding a fresh way to approach this final stage of the initiation process need not remain mysterious.
In the first weeks after Easter it is important to help the newly initiated to reflect on their sacramental experience, hopefully leading them into a deeper understanding of the mystery of salvation. Our approach can be both inductive and deductive (GDC, #151-153). That is, it can lead neophytes from the experience to the teaching, or it can take the teaching and ask them to see how it compares to their experience. Make sure to ask them how they felt as well as what they thought. (Ritual, particularly Catholic ritual, helps us to process reality through an intuitive as well as a sensate perception.)
Consider asking them also to process the experience of the last few months preparing for the sacraments. Again, ask for feelings as well as thoughts. As you listen to their experiences, sacramental and catechetical, jot down notes as a reminder of what to touch on later when you can offer the Church's words and teachings that shed light on the feelings and thoughts they articulated.
William H. Shannon's book, Exploring the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is an excellent resource for the catechetical leader and RCIA team during mystagogia. For example, take Shannon's chapter on the Eucharist. He offers the various names for the sacrament and explains the nuances of each expression. He gives a brief history of the sacrament as well as a short but excellent explanation for the structure of the Eucharistic celebration.
The book makes a great gift for the newly initiated. It would also be a great RCIA resource for mystagogy when you are ready for a more inductive catechetical approach. The book could be studied together, using the questions at the end of each chapter for discussion. The reflection questions, titled "Growing in Knowledge" and "Growing in Faith," touch both the head and heart of mystagogy catechesis.
The Mystery of Creation
People of all ages love a mystery, so while the folks in RCIA are enjoying their season of mystagogy, let parish families do a little mystery-solving themselves. Choose a theme each year and plan a parish-wide family gathering. In the first year, begin at the beginning and tackle the mystery of creation.
Spring is a great time to take up this theme. Seeds get planted and flowers start blooming. In some parts of the country it seems as though the whole earth is celebrating God's gift of creation and new life. With a little planning, family groups can help the parish focus on that new life and learn a little about sharing God's gift for creation.
Some elements you might want to include are:
• a discussion on the period of mystagogy in the RCIA, including what mystery means (i.e., sometimes no matter how many clues we discover, we cannot fully understand a mystery and it remains baffling or perplexing).
• a reading from Genesis about creation.
• a discussion on God's great plan for a fertile earth. (Here is where you help to unfold the mystery.)
• an exchange of ideas about how we can share God's gift of creativity by coming up with new ways to take care of our environment.
• time for families to weed and plant new blooms in parish flowerbeds, plant new trees or even dig and maintain a parish vegetable garden.
• starter seeds to be planted and taken home.
• a closing prayer service. (Click here for sample family prayer service from The Blessing Candle.)
An afternoon of mystery-solving can become an annual event at your parish, with a different theme each spring. By inviting those who were newly baptized or received into the Church, along with their families, you can provide another occasion for interaction between the parish and its newest members.
Video Updates on Mystagogy
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults doesn't say much about the Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis, or Mystagogy, but in the one-and-a-half pages it does give us, the Rite is clear in emphasizing that "postbaptismal catechesis is of great significance for both the neophytes and the rest of the faithful" (#246). It goes on to offer two desired outcomes of this period: "The neophytes…should experience a full and joyful welcome into the community and enter into closer ties with the other faithful. The faithful…should derive from it a renewal of inspiration and of outlook" (#246).
While the Sunday Masses of the Easter season are the main setting for mystagogy, most parishes will continue meeting with the neophytes and their godparents at least through Pentecost. Since the major topics of our faith would have been covered during the Period of the Catechumenate, this is a time for delving more deeply into the mysteries of faith, particularly the Paschal Mystery, drawing on both the Gospel readings and the neophytes' experience of the Easter sacraments (RCIA, #245).
The word mystery is frequently used when talking about matters of faith—and some pretty significant ones at that: the Mystery of the Trinity, Paschal Mystery, etc. The video series Foundations of Christianity with Father Michael Himes can be a helpful resource in explaining mystagogy to the neophytes and inviting them to enter more deeply into the mystery of our faith.
This series offers five topics: Mystery, Conversion, Faith, Hope and Love. Click here to see a video clip from Foundations of Christianity: Mystery (RealMedia | Windows Media). These subjects fit in quite well with the Sunday Gospels of the Easter Season. While it's likely that these themes were covered in some way during the Periods of Evangelization and Catechumenate, the Period of Mystagogy is a wonderful time to revisit them—from new vantage points in both the liturgical year and the faith lives of these new members.
Making the Move From Membership to Discipleship
One of the most exciting things about the RCIA process, from a religious educator's point of view, is how engaged the catechumens and candidates are in exploring the many facets of Catholic life and belief. The rites engage the whole person, and the catechetical experience can't help but follow. Most RCIA sessions are filled with people actively exploring and seeking to understand more about what it means to be a Catholic. Once the newly initiated Catholics have celebrated their entrance into the Church, however, it is important that they understand that membership is only the beginning—and that lifelong discipleship is really what being Catholic is all about.
Author and journalist Paul Wilkes has been a Catholic all his life. While researching and writing his book, Excellent Catholic Parishes: The Guide to Best Places and Practices, he became acutely aware of the difference that a good understanding of discipleship made in the daily life of active, involved Catholics. From that awareness emerged New Beginnings: A New Way of Living as a Catholic, a three-part, three-session course that takes Catholics on a life-changing journey from Church membership to discipleship. After spending one session exploring what it means to be parish, New Beginnings leads participants through a session exploring how they can deepen and enrich their personal spirituality. Finally, in the third session, participants discover their own unique value and talents and how best to put those to use in the parish and community.
If you're looking for a thoughtful and concise program to help newly initiated or newly involved parishioners come to a better understanding of what discipleship means for Catholics, New Beginnings is worth a look.
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