It happens more than we like to admit: after a joy-filled Easter Vigil, many new Catholics skip out on the post-baptismal catechesis sessions. Our best plans for a riveting exploration of the rich theological and historical meaning of the sacred signs of our faith serve only a few.
Like other RCIA directors, this trend in my own parish has given me much cause for reflection. Was it something I did or didn’t do? There may be any number of reasons why someone does not attend mystagogy, but there are also good reasons why people do show up. Last year, our sessions after Easter were better attended and more appreciated than in years past, due to some changes that helped. This article will share with you a few observations and ideas from that experience.
“Fear not little flock”- Luke 12:22
To begin, we started our RCIA with a smaller group than usual. This, of course, was not a freely chosen change! While I, and the RCIA team, mourned the lower numbers and searched for any reasons for it, we soon discovered something important. This smaller group of people (about 10 candidates and catechumens plus their sponsors) bonded with each other seemingly better than any of our other groups before. The retreats and minor rites also went better. There was simply more time to devote to each person, and more impetus for each one to get to know the others. The friendships that formed among the catechumens and candidates helped inspire the improved attendance of mystagogy, I’m sure. Call it positive peer pressure.
Other little changes also helped improved attendance. For example, during the Lenten season, we mentioned mystagogy at almost every turn. It was presented as something important and exciting that we looked forward to doing with them. Part of the reason we could be so positive involves the new elements we included. I will speak of those later.
In battling the business of everyone’s schedule, we conceded a few things to the rhythm of the secular calendar. For example, on Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, we did not ask them to participate in a mystagogical session apart from attending the Mass of their choice. They appreciated the break and the time with their families.
When we gathered together to unpack the sacraments, the sacred signs, and their layers of significance, the sessions were heavily driven by discussion. They each had an opportunity to speak about what was most meaningful to them in each sacrament. This was a welcomed change in rhythm from our more didactic catechumenal sessions on the sacraments. At times, their insights were amazing! One young man shared his experience of “being made totally new” by Jesus in Holy Communion.
Finally, when the concluding celebration of mystagogy took place on Pentecost, to help encourage attendance, we included a special thank you brunch prepared by the new Catholics for their sponsors. No one wanted to miss it!
Altogether, having a smaller group who got along well together was the first of several changes that God made during our RCIA last year. Sensitivity to family and more dialogical catechetical sessions helped to reinvigorate our RCIA process. However, there was still one more change that we made last year, which everyone appreciated: we discovered and engaged our local Church community (beyond our parish), experiencing the joys of warm hospitality and service.