Why do so many newly baptized Catholics stop practicing their faith within only a couple years? The causes of attrition are various, and can include inadequate catechesis in the RCIA process, lack of interior conversion to Christ, and insufficient support and connection with other Catholics or the wider parish community.[i]
Let’s think about these new Catholics for a minute. Still wet from baptism and glistening with the oil of confirmation, they now have a new status and, according to the tradition of the Church, a new name. The elect who have been initiated into the Catholic Church are called “neophytes.” The term neophyte comes from the Greek, neos, meaning new, and phutos, meaning grown or planted, so, literally, “newly planted.” The former catechumens are now newly planted or grafted onto the Vine who is Christ. Initially, the term neophyte meant only those receiving full sacramental initiation; it has come to refer equally to candidates who are received into the Church. They retain this special name and status for a year following their initiation.
If the neophytes are fortunate, their parish provides a post-baptismal catechesis called Mystagogy, which lasts until Pentecost. Yet, whether at Easter or at Pentecost, the RCIA experience ends, and they set forth to begin a Catholic life, but now unaccompanied—seemingly alone and often surrounded at work and at home with non-Catholics, who are anything but supportive of their new faith. They are “newbies” in a faith that takes a lifetime to learn, in a world ever more hostile to the basic premises of Christianity. Their need for pastoral care is, one could argue, every bit as great as when they were engaged in becoming Catholic. No gardener would put his new plants in the ground unprotected in the early spring. No, he would keep them in a greenhouse, or cover them with plastic, and keep a careful watch on them. Just so, the newly planted need to be accompanied and strengthened as they “practice” being Catholic. This is the purpose of the “Neophyte Year.”