Monday, 9 April 2018
Initiation During the "Slow Days of Summer"
This article originally appeared in Celebrate! The Journal That Makes Liturgy Come Alive! The last issue of Celebrate! was published in 2012.
On May 20th we will celebrate the feast of Pentecost marking the end of the Easter season. In many parishes Pentecost marks a change in the parish calendar. There are fewer meetings and some of the regular groups tend to “take a break for the summer”. In our country it is common for parish life to move into a slower rhythm as the school year ends and families look to weekends away. Although the onset of nicer weather and summer schedules changes the rhythm of our parishes it need not lead to a lack of activity for the initiation team. The ‘slower days of summer’ can be a time of renewal, formation and activity.
The 90 days of Lent and Easter are busy and intense for those preparing to celebrate initiation, sponsors and the leaders of the initiation process. The weeks shortly after Pentecost are an ideal time to gather the leaders for a day of reflection and prayer.
Whenever possible gathering away from the parish is helpful for it allows for a different experience and reduces the opportunity for interruptions. The day of reflection is a time of nourishment for the leaders. The agenda would not provide time to address practical issues nor to plan. When designing the day it is important to include sufficient time for a short reflection by a facilitator, silence and shared prayer. Each of these elements fosters a time of renewal. Some parishes may be able to join with one or two other parishes and share the cost of a facility and facilitator.
For many, this yearly gathering has become an essential component of formation for initiation leaders. The pastoral staff and finance committee recognize the importance of renewal and budget accordingly.
As we enter into the long period of Ordinary Time it is particularly helpful to gather the pastoral staff and the initiation leaders to reflect on the liturgies of Lent and the celebration of the initiation sacraments. For example, taking time to reflect on the rites that began the period of Lent as well as the Scrutinies and Presentations will allow for discussion that may lead to changes for next Lent.
This reflection can begin by recalling the experience, noting the ritual actions or activity that fostered participation and naming anything that inhibited participation of all. A review of the ritual text including the pastoral notes and rubrics will allow you to name any aspects of the rite that needs to be celebrated in a stronger way. A review of the rite may lead to new information and understanding of the three Scrutinies and the Presentations of the Creed and Lord’s Prayer.
For example, a parish team may realize that the intercessions for the Scrutinies “may be adapted to fit various circumstances” (RCIA, 140). The intercessions may be written after the preparation for the scrutiny has been completed so that the particular needs of the local community are included. A thorough reading of the pastoral notes may lead to a decision to include the Presentations of the Creed and Lord’s Prayer during the extended period of the Catehcumenate. (RCIA, 134). The reasons for anticipating the Presentations may be linked to the length of the catechumenate and the needs of the catechumens. This decision would be revisited each year for the needs of the catechumen must be considered.
Adopting this practice of reflection and reading the rite may be applied to all periods and rites of the initiation process. Taking time to review the pastoral notes for the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate and the Rite of Acceptance may lead to implementing pastoral practices that more clearly reflect the vision of the rite.
It has been my experience that even after years of working with the ritual text, the pastoral notes and the rubrics still have something to offer a seasoned initiation leader. The slower days of summer provide some breathing space and an opportunity for the leaders to further their own understanding of the rite. During this long period of Ordinary Time there may be opportunities to travel and take a course or attend a conference or gathering focused on initiation. Members of the parish initiation team are more likely to stay involved when they are able to continue to grow in their own understanding of this ministry.
In a parish with an ongoing inquiry group there would be regular gatherings during the slower summer months. It is important to continue the contact with the inquirers although the nature and frequency of the gatherings may change. A barbecue either at the parish or at the home of one of the parishioners would allow for family members to attend. A time of socializing and shared prayer before the meal would mentor others in community living.
Throughout the Easter season it is possible to have a variety of people formally connected to the initiation process. It is becoming more common for a parish to have catechumens who continue to gather to Break Open the Word each Sunday throughout Easter and Ordinary Time. These people are continuing their time of apprenticeship and formation. During the summer months the catechumens and families along with the inquirers and families could participate in a visit to a local outdoor shrine. The visit to the shrine could include time for prayer, catechesis on the saint and fellowship.
In some parishes there are a number of festivals that occur during the early months of summer. Often the festival is linked to a particular cultural group and focus on a certain saint. Inviting the leaders responsible for the festival to include those seeking initiation is a concrete way of fostering a greater understanding of initiation as a task of all the baptized.
The neophytes, those newly received into Full Communion and their families could be involved in the organizing and hospitality for some of the activities.
The slower days of summer are times of renewal and rest. It is possible to respect the need for renewal while expanding our understanding of initiation as a time of formation and apprenticeship. We live as Catholics 52 weeks of the year so it is reasonable for our initiation process to reflect the fullness of a Catholic lifestyle.