Pentecost and the newly initiated neophytes

This year it was reported (HERALD, April 9, 2023) that 852 Elect were baptised during the Easter Vigil in the three arch/dioceses in Peninsular Malaysia.

May 26, 2023

                                     REMINISCING CHURCH 

By Richard Chia
This year it was reported (HERALD, April 9, 2023) that 852 Elect were baptised during the Easter Vigil in the three arch/dioceses in Peninsular Malaysia. This is quite a significant drop from the total numbers the Church in Peninsular Malaysia experienced pre-COVID 19 pandemic years, where the total numbers receiving the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation) were mostly 1,000 or more.

As these neophytes (as they are called when they are newly baptised) journey in their last leg of their Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), they are now introduced to their new life in the Church. The Period of Instructions which lasted until the First Sunday in Lent, was the period where they were catechised on the teachings of the Church, Bible, sacramental and prayer life of the Church.

Between the Rite of Election on the First Sunday of Lent, where the catechumens were presented to the bishop, until the night of Easter Vigil, the Elect undergo an intensive Period of Enlightenment and Purification. This is the period where the prayer of exorcism is prayed upon the Elect by the priest celebrant in the three Rites of Scrutiny and the church community are urged to pray for them every week. Spiritually, the five weeks of Lent is the time when the evil one will be at its peak doing its best to stop the Elect from making their commitment to God and Jesus Christ. It cannot afford to lose 852 souls and their families to God.

In my 30 years of involvement in RCIA, during the Period of Enlightenment and Purification, strange things suddenly occur among the people involved in RCIA – the Elect, their family members, sponsors, godparents and their families, facilitators, presenters and their families. Elect may suddenly lose their jobs or suffer severe illness. Family members or even the Elect may experience an accident or death may occur. Depression, family arguments, or spouse conflicts may occur. Freak accidents, calamities or disasters may occur. All these I have learned to discern, is certainly the work of the evil one, attempting to prevent the Elect from making a lifelong commitment to accept God and Jesus into their life.

It is absolutely important for all RCIA coordinators, facilitators and helpers to truly understand these spiritual processes at work. That is why spiritual formations, retreats and weekends away are encouraged for all those involved in RCIA, to strengthen their own spirituality and faith, as they lead and guide the Elect through these periods of trials and temptations. The evil one will not only attempt to prevent or stop the Elect from taking their next step, but he may also pull away anyone connected to any of these Elect, if their faith or spirituality is weak. This is one reason why many parishes require the sponsors and godparents for these adult catechumens, or Elect, to also journey together in the RCIA process.

Unlike university or any tertiary education, the RCIA process does not end on Easter Vigil, after the Elect receive their Sacraments of Initiation. As the name implies, it is INITIATION, not graduation. Meaning, after the joyous night when the Elect receive their three sacraments, after all the congratulations, hand-shaking and celebrations end, the neophytes (as they are rightly called then), BEGIN their new life as Christians living their Catholic faith.

The Period of Mystagogy (in Greek, meaning “to lead through the mysteries”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes mystagogy as a “liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ” [CCC 1075]), where the neophytes are now introduced to the living faith and practices of the local Church. This period will begin from Easter Sunday and continue throughout the Eastertide season until Pentecost Sunday. Sadly, this is also the period when many parishes report a significant decline in attendance for those adults newly baptised, as they think they have now graduated and need not learn any more.

During this Period of Mystagogy, the neophytes are introduced to the practices, services and life of the Church. To KNOW, to LOVE and to SERVE GOD, where the initial process of the RCIA is to know (Period of Instruction), and then to love (Period of Enlightenment and Purification), and now to serve Him (Period of Mystagogy).

During the seven weeks of Easter season, the neophytes are introduced to the other members of the Church; namely, the various parish ministries, the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), taught how to make their first Confession, and given an overview of the local Church, its history, vision and mission, structure and how the local parish community is integrated with the larger Church hierarchy. In short, this period is like a job orientation period before the neophytes begin their new job. A new “job” it is, as that is what the neophytes or new Catholics are called to be. Their job specification: To know, to love and to serve God.

For some arch/dioceses or parishes in Malaysia, a ceremony called the Rite of Commissioning, held on the Sunday of Pentecost, marks the end of the one - year RCIA process and journey. This “end of journey” is by no means the end, but merely the end of a guided tour into the life of a Christian Catholic. Like most tours, the first tour is too brief and too rushed. We need time to absorb, to understand and to appreciate the various “parts of the itinerary visited”. We may need subsequent tours, but at a more leisurely pace and customised to our individual needs. Likewise, in the RCIA process, a newly baptised neophyte may require follow-up programmes, other faith deepening sessions (e.g. Bible study courses, formation programmes) or participation in Church activities, ministries and groups, to truly absorb and appreciate their learning. To know, to love and to serve God is not a one-off process, but a lifelong journey, until we meet Him face-to-face.

(Richard Chia has been actively involved in Church since young. He held full-time corporate jobs while serving in ministries and groups at various church levels for the past four decade)

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