Where Are They Going and Where Have They Been?

by Rev. Paul Turner

Mystagogy is the period after the rites of initiation into the Catholic Church. It’s a time for settling in.

Have you ever started a new job? A new school? A new family? It’s exciting to begin, but those first steps can be wobbly. We rely on people around us to help us feel at home. That’s the purpose of mystagogy.

Mystagogy affects new members and old members alike. Newcomers deepen their understanding of what happened to them at Easter. Their presence in the community brings new life to those who have been members for a while. In your kitchen you may have followed the same recipe a hundred times. But when your friends taste the results for the first time, their enthusiasm brings new pride to your work, new joy in the meal, new life to an old dish. Mystagogy enriches the whole community.

Technically, the word “mystagogy” refers to catechesis for the newly baptized. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults does not use the term for those baptized in other Churches and now in full communion in the Catholic Church. The RCIA presumes that the unbaptized will need more care settling into a Catholic environment than Christians will need.

Pastorally, we’ve discovered in the United States that some of the baptized may need as much or more care as the unbaptized. Settling in can be difficult no matter your background. Individuals bring their own set of needs, and we respond as best we can.

In addition, there are many prayers just for the newly baptized. Check the presidential prayers in the sacramentary for Easter Monday through Saturday and watch how often the priest prays for the neophytes. Then look at Eucharistic Prayer I. For Easter week it carries special inserts for the newly baptized, and presumes that they are present at the Eucharist.

What does all this mean for you? You could encourage the newly baptized to be present for daily Mass sometime that week, fully understanding this will be not be possible for many to do.

The Sundays of Easter. The RCIA (247) encourages the neophytes to attend the Sunday Masses of the Easter season together. The readings of Year A are especially appropriate for them. If your group has been meeting on Sundays to “break open the Word,” this would be a natural extension of their sessions. Now they can reflect on the readings in the light of the mysteries they have celebrated.

Pentecost. Pentecost closes the Easter season and, hence, the period of postbaptismal catechesis. The RCIA (249) suggests that a celebration be held near Pentecost Sunday. The liturgy shows the relationship of Pentecost to Easter. The service concludes with the double alleluia, reminiscent of Easter week. (We used to call Pentecost “Whitsunday” because on that day the newly baptized returned to Mass wearing their white garments again. We also used to bless the baptismal font again, using the formula from Easter.)

The Anniversary. Finally, the RCIA (250) proposes that the neophytes be brought together on the anniversary of their baptism “to give thanks to God, to share with one another their spiritual experiences, and to renew their commitment.” This could happen at a time independent from Easter, or you may invite them to take part in the celebration of the Easter Vigil. They may wish to help with prayer and reflection on the morning of Holy Saturday. They may wish to provide a reception for the new members after the Vigil.

There are many opportunities for successful mystagogy. A blend of pastoral care and liturgical celebration will help the new members of our communities feel right at home.

This article was sent from the Christian Initiation Office of the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in the fall of 1990. Reprinted with Permission by Paul Turner for the Atlanta Forum, April 2012.