Fr. Peter Daly
April 4, 2001
As soon as the Vigil is over, a new phase of life begins for the catechumens and candidates who came into the church through the Easter sacraments.
These “elect” become “neophytes”, new members of the Church. Their “new” life in the Church is, for many, more difficult than the previous seven or eight months of preparation to enter the Church.
The baptismal water is hardly dry. The anointing is still a sweat smell on their forehead. Then they are confronted with the question, “What do I do now?”
As in many parishes, we continue our RCIA meetings after Easter until Pentecost. This period of the “mystagogia” is supposed to be a time of discernment on how the new Catholics will live out their call from God. But the 50 days from Easter to Pentecost does not appear to be enough.
Nationwide, some surveys have shown that as many as half of the “neophytes” are not going to church a year later. That experience has been more or less confirmed in our parish. While the adults who enter the church as converts are often our best and most active parishioners, a significant percentage who go through the Vigil fall away by the next Easter.
Why? Where have they gone?
For some people it may be the “shock” to their system. The Church has a radically different feel “post RCIA”. They no longer have a ready-made group for fellowship, study, prayer and social life.
For others it may be that the “goal” has been accomplished. They have become a Catholic, for one reason or another. Perhaps they did it to please a spouse, fiancée or parent. Perhaps they did it as an example to their children who are in religious education. Some may have stayed with the program in order to fulfill the requirements for sacraments, but as soon as there is no longer a requirement, they feel “done”.
In some ways, the neophytes leave RCIA and go into a kind of religious void. For seven or eight months someone has been instructing them and guiding them. Suddenly, after Pentecost, they are “on their own.”
What can be done? I’m not entirely sure.
Part of this, of course, is the responsibility of the neophyte. Ultimately adults have to take responsibility for their own spiritual lives.
Part of this is also the responsibility and role of the sponsor.
The sponsor at Baptism and Confirmation should be a “mentor” for the Christian life. They should be calling their neophyte and saying, “Come on, lets go to church.” They should be encouraging them to participate in the parish organizations, go on retreats, make a Cursillo retreat, join a bible study, prayer group or ministry. Once in a while they may also have to reprove their neophyte a bit. “I haven’t seen you at church for months. What is the matter?”
Responsibility can’t be left to the sponsor alone.
In our parish we have tried various follow up programs. We had an adult education program that met weekly. It fizzled after a couple of years. With no sacraments at the end of it, we could not get regular attendance.
This year we are going to try something new. In the year following Pentecost, we will have quarterly follow up meetings for each year’s RCIA class; a sort of reunion. It will be a chance to get together with the people you made the Journey in Faith with and see how things are going a little further down the road.
It may not be the final answer to the attrition, but we hope it will help.
Maybe it will help ease the “shock” that comes after the Baptismal water dries.