Sunday, March 30, 2008

Easter Vigilance

Well, my catechumen is now a neophyte! The Easter Vigil is over and the young lady I helped to prepare for the Sacraments of Initiation is a new Catholic. The experience was extremely rewarding for me personally. I hope my contribution to her catechesis was sufficient so that she be inspired to continue to grow in the Faith we are blessed to share.

All of this came about through my participation in a weekly Faith Enhancement class which suddenly took a new direction when a seventeen year-old high school student showed up one day expressing a desire to join the Catholic Church. This happened several months into the class. I went from student to student-teacher in the span of one week. My primary responsibility came at the dismissal following the homily at the Sunday Liturgy. The customary Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) calls for dismissing unbaptized catechumens from the Sunday Mass after the homily for private instruction, usually centering on the Scripture readings for that particular day. Our pastor asked me to fill this role and I agreed.

The weekly Faith Enhancement classes doubled as RCIA preparation for our new catechumen. The textbook we were using was not intended for RCIA, so it became incumbent on all of us to focus attention on our new student by explaining topic of discussion in detail. Our responsibilities increased further when the priest leading the process became incapacitated about mid-way through Lent. Fortunately, one other classmate had prior experience as an RCIA instructor. With preparation time running out, we abandoned the original class synopsis and devoted all of our class time to our catechumen.

Having taken an interest in Catholic apologetics about fifteen years ago, I considered my above average in my understanding of Catholicism. A few weeks into the Faith Enhancement Class, I realized how ignorant I still am. Yes, I have a grasp of Church teaching. I know about the rubics and the GIRM. I know how to scripturally rebut most Protestant misrepresentations of the Catholic Faith. But, my understanding of the history of salvation, especially as revealed in the Old Testament, is woefully lacking. I consider myself a C-student in theological kindergarten.

When all one has to do is attend Mass each week, it is fairly easy to hide a lack of knowledge. The priest never passes out pop-quizzes after the homily to test our comprehension of the material. No one knows our Catholic GPA. Once I was thrust into service as a minister of catechesis, I was quickly humbled. Exposing oneself to even simple questions can lead to some embarrassing admissions of ignorance. If nothing else, I learned where my weaknesses lie, and gained a renewed interest in filling some of those gaps.

My personal shortcomings were not the only obstacles to adequate preparation of our catechumen. She entered the program late, just after Christmas. The class, already having been in progress for several months, was not designed for RCIA. Easter came unusually early this year, giving us even less time to prepare. The priest’s unexpected absence for the duration of Lent left us without pastoral leadership. Despite all of this, I think we rose to the occasion. The one class participant with RCIA teaching experience took control during the final weeks and did a wonderful job leading the weekly sessions. When it came time for the Easter Vigil, we had covered the essentials with emphasis that growing in the Catholic Faith was a lifelong process. The Rites of Initiation are only the beginning, and we will continue with a period of mystagogy after Easter.

An elderly priest from our sister parish came to celebrate the Easter Vigil Liturgy. He told us he could not remember the last time he baptized an adult. During the afternoon rehearsal, we assisted him in following the various rites as prescribed in our missalettes. We were all a little confused at times, but we made notes and planned the liturgy as correctly as we knew how. Father was a bit frail in his advanced age, and having gone through a surgical heart procedure just before Christmas, we prayed that he would be able to tolerate the rather long Easter Vigil liturgy.

That night, we joyfully celebrated one of the most beautiful Easter Vigil liturgies I have ever witnessed. Father had obviously prepared himself well in the hours following the rehearsal. Our catechumen was Baptized, Confirmed, and made her First Holy Communion in the presence of God, family and friends. She selected Saint Therese of Lisieux as her patron and Father gave a lovely homily about the Little Flower. It was the perfect night. The alleluias rang out in celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection and we welcomed a new member to the Body of Christ. It doesn’t get any better than that!