Monday, April 9, 2007

Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil liturgy is of course the high point of the journey for participants in the RCIA. In our parish we had four catechumens baptized (one other catechumen had to be out of town and will be baptized later). We also had adults and children being received into the church as well as one young girl who was present for confirmation. This is one of the smallest groups in our parish for quite a while. Before the service some people were quite nervous. One young lady (a first year teacher in our Catholic school system) told me that if she fainted she would never come back to church again. I reminded her that as a first year teacher she had already survived the first week of school, unruly students, parent meetings, and administrators and so she would most likely survive this (she did). Still, some people do feel uncomfortable in front of a large group (Our church was about three quarters full, so 350 people or so).

The liturgy itself went well. We had gone over the liturgy so the candidates and the catechumens knew what to expect. The liturgy began outside just as the sun was setting so the entrance into the church was not in complete darkness. The exsultet was partly sung and partly proclaimed by the deacon and the presider. We had four priests and a deacon present (not a common blessing in most parts of this diocese). The proclaiming part of the exsultet was because since the previous pastor left (he has an amazing singing voice and is the archbishop now) people feel inadequate as singers in comparison. The liturgy of the readings went as expected. We had already reflected on the readings in a retreat context so it was possible to just listen to the proclamation (You could not follow in the missal since the church by now was completely dark). There was a small light at the ambo, another for the cantor, and a clip-on light on the sacramentary for the presider. I noticed that there were also lights on the step leading down from the ambo. This because of a history of lectors tripping in the dark while leaving the ambo. The readings were well proclaimed. The congregational refrain during the responsorial psalms was the same throughout. I thought that was a good idea. A number of cantors sung the responsorial psalms but it was difficult to make out the words to some of the psalms. This is a problems because the congregation can't just look at their missal since it is dark. The explosion of light and bells at the conclusion of the readings is always effective. The young girl in front of me was momentarily startled when the lights came on.

The actual liturgy of baptism, confirmation, and reception went well. People looked very serious and there were no mistakes. I was struck during the litany of saints how much support the church tries to provide to everyone, but especially to the neophytes, on their journey of faith. We had rehearsed the reception of the Eucharist ahead of time. I still am surprised by how much we "cradle Catholics" take for granted about the rituals and prayers of the Church. New people need to be reminded and assured about some very basic things. Sometimes its hard to remember this when you are concerned about "covering" a certain amount of knowledge as well.

So, we have had our sacramental experience. The challenge of course is to continue living that experience. How do we continue to journey in our spiritual lives? How do we continue to be open to the meaning of the Paschal mystery in our lives? This is the challenge of Mystagogia not just for the neophytes but for all the Church.


Pat McDonald said...

"I have certainly been part of groups where a candidate had a wealth of knowledge about Christianity (especially about scripture). Despite this most of the people (including sponsors) that I have met during my years of participation in RCIA groups have been seriously lacking in knowledge of their faith."

Do you not think that sometimes a little knowledge or indeed a lot of knowledge may very well become a detriment to a participant if they are set in certain areas that may be erroneous? Having a number of seekers and one " mr. smart guy" can create special problems for the RCIA team. I agree that generally participants, certainly in the last 25 years, seem to be woefully lacking in basic Catholic Faith Principles maybe through no fault of their own. I also find that there is a big gap in any historical perspective- Roman Occupation, Old Testament history,biblical geographical locations etc.

John Witschen said...

Mostly participants in RCIA are very ready to learn. Sometimes people who come from strong evangelical backgrounds have trouble "letting go" of things they have been told about Catholicism.