Another cycle of RCIA and religious education is about to begin. Over the next nine to ten months, many faithful will prepare for confirmation and other sacraments. By the time the Church has celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost, the majority of new confirmations will have occurred. By the end of this cycle, new Catholics will have received their sacraments of First Holy Communion, Confession and Confirmation. Other baptized Catholics will have come into the fullness of the faith through reception of these sacraments as well. The period from Easter to Pentecost, for these people, is a time of great celebration and anticipation of the fruits of the faith to come.
After Confirmation and Pentecost, Then What?
How long will the glow of the moment at Easter or Pentecost last before the confirmands head back to life as usual? Many have ties to the small community made up of their class within the parish community. During their time in class, they’ve bonded with each other through the months of instruction and sharing their faith. After confirmation, once the weekly classes stop, will they continue to feel a sense of community?
Mystagogy–Transition from Easter to Pentecost
Mystagogy sessions conducted for RCIA groups between Easter and Pentecost can help build stickiness to the faith and to the community. From the Greek term meaning to lead into or through the mysteries, mystagogy involves a reflection on the mysteries of the sacraments received. It’s intended to help cement the faith of the new members of the Church and encourage them to continue to grow in this new faith of theirs. That’s all well and good, but it ends after Pentecost. Furthermore, those who receive the sacrament of confirmation on Pentecost don’t get the benefit of these mystagogy sessions. In many cases, the parish really needs to work toward further integration of the neophytes into the parish community.
Avoiding Attrition of the Newly Confirmed
Numbers have been thrown around to the effect that something like half of all new converts to the Church end up leaving. However, in an article from 2018, Mark Giszczak citing survey results from CARA, debunks this belief. In fact, approximately 80% of them are retained, it would appear. Even so, shouldn’t we shoot for 100%? And what about the previously baptized Catholics who have received the sacraments of communion and/or confirmation? What’s being done or should be done to keep them engaged?
Retention Starts with Preparation
Retention has as much (or more) to do with the catechization process as it does with the mystagogy process. Preparation for coming into the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) takes place in parishes to bring new Catholics into the fold. As well, existing, baptized Catholics who need some sacraments, including confirmation, enter into catechesis to prepare them for these sacraments. In my experience, the nature, extent and at least the subjective quality of such preparation varies widely from parish to parish. In some parishes, people on fire for the Lord enthusiastically share their faith with candidates, catechumens and confirmands. Not only that, but they do an effective job of imparting the truths of the faith to the people they are catechizing.
In other situations, the process is less robust. The material covered, time taken to cover it, and method of coverage can vary widely in practice, regardless of the protocols or guidelines instituted by higher authority. Thus, we may find confirmation preparation classes that run only a few weeks. The apparent assumption in offering such shortened formats is that the participants already know their faith well. Therefore, they only require a “refresher,” with deeper coverage of the sacrament of confirmation. However, many who attend these courses do not have a good grasp of the basic tenets of the faith. They simply don’t possess even a rudimentary knowledge of the teachings of the Church. Running them through a few “shake and bake” classes is not doing them any favors. Nor will it create committed Catholics who know their faith and aren’t afraid to show it.
Don’t Omit Training in Prayer
Beefing up catechesis in general can help. Within all of that, an emphasis on prayer, and in particular, prayer with scripture would be beneficial. Spending time with God, talking to Him—but more important—listening to Him, is imperative for all Christians. More to the point, though—praying with the Gospels will help us come to know Jesus better. Unless we know Jesus in a personal, intimate way, our Catholic faith may just seem like so many “must do” and “can’t do” maxims. When we know Jesus and love Him as a personal friend, we look at our faith through the lens of love, rather than the lens of laws and regulations.
Get Them Involved ASAP
Receiving the sacraments of initiation brings us into the fullness membership in Christ’s mystical body. Yet it takes more than weekly Mass attendance to bring the newly confirmed into the fold and keep them there. This takes more effort than simply sending them to class once a week. The sponsors should be encouraging their faith walk and their involvement in the local parish. The local parish community needs to welcome them with open arms. Of course, this can be a challenge in some parishes where the locals are pretty comfortable with their long-time friends but less convivial with newcomers.
The size of the parish makes a difference as well. The larger the parish, the more difficult it may seem to create new contacts, to make new friends, and to feel like a part of the community. Getting the newcomers actively involved in a ministry or two can break the ice. Through that involvement, many more new acquaintances and friendships will arise over time. The closer the newly confirmed feel to the people in the parish, the more they’re likely to stay through thick and thin.
Not “We” But “I” Will Make A Difference
In the executive training workshops that we conduct in the secular business arena, we emphasize the need for each person to be accountable. Simply agreeing that “we” need to do this or “we” need to do that is not enough. Who’s this “we?” It’s each and every one of us. Each of us individually ultimately is responsible for the congeniality of our parish. We, as individual parishioners, make the difference in whether someone stays or goes. The way we individually show God’s love for each person who comes into the narthex will make a big difference in how long they stay, and how active they become. Getting to know them, checking on them when we haven’t seen them in a while, inquiring as to how they’re doing, are simple enough. Encourage them, befriend them, support them, and pray for them. Let’s do our part to bring them into the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd.