Part One: Fully Initiated- Learning and Living our Faith through the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA)Read Now
The Easter Season is an opportunity to celebrate and reflect gratefully on the faith journeys of those adults newly received into “full communion with the Catholic Church” by participating in the Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist—at the Easter Vigil. The official process, typically covering 9 months to a year in most parishes, with origins in the Early Church, goes by the name of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults, or, O.C.I.A. (Most Catholics are familiar with “RCIA,” however the name has changed since the updating of liturgical texts).
OCIA is easily one of my favorite ministries to participate in and coordinate. Like any ministry, while filled with surprising joys, it also presents unique challenges that call for thoughtful renewal regarding our faith’s rich tradition and treasures. (Usually the joys and challenges spring from the same soil!) For example, each new group of candidates (baptized non-Catholics) and catechumens (non-baptized) includes a very wide range of cultural and educational backgrounds, motivations and levels of commitment, and personal/family situations to pastorally navigate. OCIA is not ministry terrain for impatient or intolerant Catholics.
We must face the reality that seeing our Church and parishes grow simply means learning how to make disciples “from scratch” through the challenging, beautiful work of evangelization and conversion followed by inviting and accompanying them into full communion with the Catholic Church. For adults who want to become Catholic, OCIA is the pathway. That means a robust OCIA ministry will be absolutely crucial in the future for parishes.
Some readers may be surprised, even disturbed, at the attrition rates of newly confirmed adult Catholics who not long after the Vigil do not return to Mass. It is not merely a failure of catechesis (truly, the same problem occurs at parishes with outstanding and Orthodox teaching). It is not the job of parish leaders to complain or blame. It is our problem—not theirs—to solve.
In the words of the late theologian Dallas Willard, “Your system is perfectly designed to yield the result you are getting.” That can be true of OCIA or any ministry structure.
This year, I decided to explore some new practices—attempting a small paradigm shift, actually—that I found rewarding both in terms of the overall formational experience/quality for the candidates and catechumens and even for the ministry leaders (including myself). It’s really nothing “new” at all; in fact, we followed more thoroughly and precisely the liturgical texts than ever before. I’d like to share a few of those practices, which admittedly are far from perfect. I even told my participants the truth from the beginning: I was experimenting with a new structure, it might be bumpy, there would be tweaks, and to provide me feedback along the way. (For the record, they were amazing, adaptable, and very forgiving).
Before that, let me say a brief word on this “paradigm” shift.
It begins with a theological proposition: We learn the faith best by living it (that is, actively participating in it). This is a pastoral truth succinctly expressed in the ancient liturgical axiom Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, “the rule of prayer is the rule of belief.” I am ever more convinced that we need to move away from programs that merely tell people about God and the Catholic Church and instead facilitate sacred time and space to actually encounter and reflect on the experience of the mystery itself by practicing the different “means of salvation” (prayer, scripture, saints, fellowship, works of mercy) contained in the Church’s spiritual storehouse.
Most importantly, OCIA must be “pastorally engineered” to facilitate belonging in the local (parish), particular (arch/diocese), and universal church by gradually and steadily incorporating them into the holy habits and practices of faith in community. Those recent converts who fall away from the Church aren’t bad people and may have even learned much about the faith. Yet, even while receiving the sacraments, it’s as if they were not “fully initiated” at the basic human and relational level in which faith lives and grows. For the great success stories of those who do “catch” the faith over those months, there’s always another determining factor more relevant than class attendance.
Here’s an obvious but under-appreciated fact in parish programming: People live busy and complicated lives. For example, this year I have a married couple in OCIA together. They have three young children under age ten. Is it reasonable to expect both parents to attend class at Church every Monday evening from 7:00 to 8:30pm for six or nine months? I submit it is not, and it isn’t because they aren’t “committed” enough. We’ve had single parents who work nights and weekends, seniors who do not drive at night. Moreover, while I cannot deny it is an important element of a strong OCIA, the classroom approach does not habituate the practice of faith in everyday life. We need ministry systems that work with and for those whom we serve.
You may not personally be involved in OCIA, but I think it is worthwhile for everyone to become familiar with how the process works because it is truly a parish-wide ministry. If I am authentically fulfilling my baptismal call to be a missionary disciple and evangelizer, sooner or later every Catholic will find him or herself accompanying someone through OCIA, right? At least, every Catholic is responsible for fostering a place of belonging, a true family of God, when we receive our new brothers and sisters into full communion each year.
In Part Two of this post, I would like to reflect on some of the practices I tried this year in my parish setting that aimed to create a fuller participation in what it means to be Catholic for life.
“Brothers and sisters our hope has a name: the name of Jesus.” –Pope Francis, Easter Vigil Homily 2022
Easter has arrived. We celebrate the Risen Christ. In our remembrance of the Passion and death of Jesus on Good Friday, we know the rest of the story. Or do we? We may know it in our minds. Do we feel it in our hearts, feel the joy of our hope that “has a name”?
Pope Francis points out in his Easter Vigil homily that the joy of the Resurrection of Jesus is not something to keep to ourselves. We need to proclaim it! Like the women going to the other disciples in the Upper Room, we need to proclaim this hope from our hearts to others who call themselves his followers and far beyond. It is easy for doubt and despair to enter in even within the community of faith. These can dampen our hope.
We human beings are the ones who try to limit hope, somehow thinking that we are in control. We are not. Hope in the Risen Christ is limitless. His love, mercy, and compassion are infinite, leading us to ultimate hope –salvation.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Alleluia, Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia, Christ is our hope!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
From the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper until Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday, the Church celebrates a very special period called the Paschal Triduum. As the USCCB explains, the Easter Triduum is the summit of the Liturgical Year which “marks the end of the Lenten season.” Because of this important spiritual shift, there are some symbols used during this liturgical season that are unique to the Paschal Triduum, and I hope that you might find and reflect on these symbols this year as we commemorate the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ.
The Holy Oils that are used by the Church throughout the year (Oil of the Sick, Oil of the Catechumens, and Holy chrism) may be presented during the entrance procession of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. These oils are blessed by the Bishop during the Chrism Mass—which can happen on Holy Thursday or another time during Holy Week—with the priests of the diocese gathered at the local cathedral. During this celebration, all of the priests present renew their priestly vows.
Ringing of the Bells
During the “Gloria” which is sung on Holy Thursday, we hear the altar bells ringing! We are celebrating the Mass for the last time until the Easter Vigil, and the Church is in mourning so the bells will remain silent until we sing the “Gloria” again.
Washing of the Feet
As Jesus did at the Last Supper (John 14:1-17), the Church is called to wash the feet of the members of the Body of Christ during the celebration of the Institution of the Eucharist. This symbol of humility is a wonderful connection with the service of Christ.
It is rare that the Church prescribes a specific hymn to be sung other than those prescribed for the Proper of the Mass, yet on Holy Thursday the Roman Missal says that we should sing the ancient song “Ubi Caritas” during the Offertory. A very simple song, the lyrics are very meaningful, especially for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Translated, they mean "Where charity is, God is there."
Eucharistic Procession and Reposition
The Church’s tabernacle, while normally filled with the Blessed Sacrament and reserved hosts, is emptied and brought to the Altar of Repose where the faithful are invited to join in Adoration. This procession is meant to be of great importance for the community and reminds us of the walk that Christ is about to take the following day on the Via Dolorosa, but instead of being nailed to a cross, we place our King in a place of honor.
After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, churches are supposed to empty their Holy Water fonts “in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).” (EWTN)
On Good Friday, the Church is mourning the death of Christ and is full of sorrow. In response to this sorrow, the priest (and deacon, if present) prostates himself in front of a stark, barren altar. There is no music and none of the regular pomp and circumstance that comes with the beginning of a liturgical celebration. No sacraments are to be celebrated but that of penance and the anointing of the sick. The earth has gone quiet.
Normally, when a priest begins Mass, he invites us all to pray along with him, saying, “Let us pray.” During the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion (Good Friday), no such invitation is made. The priest just begins his invocation.
You may find that the prayers of the faithful may take longer than normal. Your church may sing them or have them chanted, with some kneeling and standing interspersed.
Adoration of the Holy Cross
There are many ways in which the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion is different from other liturgical celebrations, and the adoration of the Cross is certainly one of them. We are invited to come forward and spend time in veneration and adoration of the Cross on this most solemn of days – the day on which Christ perished while hanging from the very cross which we venerate. You may notice people genuflecting to the cross – this is something reserved specifically for Good Friday, out of veneration and sorrow for the blood which was shed and soaked up by the wood of the cross.
The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a Mass. It is the one day out of the year in which no Mass is celebrated anywhere on Earth. Therefore, when we come to the celebration, there is no Eucharistic Prayer or any prayer related until, after the Adoration of the Holy Cross, the priest or deacon brings out the Blessed Sacrament and begins praying the Agnus Dei as it is normally done at Mass, which follows with himself and others receiving the Blessed Sacrament.
Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil
When one walks into the church for the Easter Vigil, they will notice a big change from the celebrations of Lent and Holy Week – the church should be decorated with lilies, white and gold, and a joyful décor! While the lights should be turned down as well, we are anticipating the Resurrection and the excitement is palpable!
The Light of Christ
From the fire used to light the Easter Candle, the inscriptions on the Easter Candle, and the procession into the Church, light is integral to the Easter Vigil due to its representation of the "light of Christ, rising in glory," scattering the "darkness of our hearts and minds." We process into the Church with the Easter Candle, “just as the children of Israel were guided at night by the pillar of fire, so Christians follow the risen Christ” as we proclaim The Light of Christ while singing praises of thanksgiving! (USCCB)
Instead of the standard 3 readings at a Sunday Mass, at the Easter Vigil we generally hear anywhere between 5 and 9 readings.
As we prepare to celebrate some of the holiest days in our Church, I invite you to observe the different rituals, customs, and symbols present during the Triduum. May you have a blessed and joyous Easter season!
Question for Reflection: What changes do you notice from the Lent to Easter season?
For more resources to guide you throughout the Triduum into the Easter season, please click here.
*This post was originally published on 4/9/2019.
Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold: your king is coming to you,
a just savior is he,
Humble, and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
So begins the first liturgy of Holy Week on Palm Sunday. We hear these words referenced in the first of an unusual two Gospel readings during the procession into the church. We start our celebration of Palm Sunday, appropriately, by proclaiming and then reenacting the story in Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, a moment of great joy and excitement for the inhabitants of the city. Those in the congregation welcome the priest, who enters the church in persona Christi, as we echo the words of the people of Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest!” What a happy occasion! The Messiah, the One whom the prophets foretold, has come!
How fickle this joy seems, though, when we get to the Passion narrative. In a matter of minutes, we go from crying, “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” One minute, we’re giving Jesus a king’s welcome. The next, we’re condemning Him to death. I know I’m not the only one who feels a dagger through his heart every time we say—loudly—that refrain of condemnation. How dare I welcome Christ with such exuberance, knowing what I’m about to do to Him? Quite the emotional roller coaster, with Mass only halfway over!
Holy Week is exhausting. I find it the most taxing part of the liturgical year. Starting with Palm Sunday, I’m attending Masses, praying the Stations of the Cross, and singing with the choir for days on end, practically turning the Triduum into a 3-day long vigil. In recent years, I’ve taken to spending Good Friday on pilgrimage to the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., to place myself in an intentional state of prayer and reflection.
So why do I do this to myself? Why get on this roller coaster and make myself so physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained by the time Easter morning arrives? Quite simply, it’s because I love it. It’s the most rewarding experience of prayer that I have all year.
On Palm Sunday, we’re reminded of what we’ll bear witness to in the days to come. We’re invited to reflect on what’s about to be re-presented in a real-time reenactment of the focal point of Christ’s entire earthly life.
At the Chrism Mass on the morning of Holy Thursday, we bear witness to the consecration of holy oils for use in the upcoming year’s sacraments. We also see the gathering of all our diocesan priests, who renew their vows and participate in probably the largest concelebration of the year. It’s a moving and impressive sight.
Later on Holy Thursday, we see the reenactment of the Last Supper, the very institution of the Eucharist we celebrate to this day. We’re reminded, too, of the great humility we’re called to emulate: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
On Good Friday, we once again take up the cries of, “Crucify him!” as we see the events of Christ’s Passion and death unfold before our eyes. We’re called toward the sanctuary to kiss the gruesome device of our salvation, the ancient instrument of punishment used to redeem all of mankind. And after an unceremonious Communion service, the liturgy suddenly pauses and we just go home. The Church holds its breath as we wait.
And then, finally, the Easter Vigil—the happiest day of the year, of all history! We hear the no longer fickle, but truly joyous words of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation:
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
If I arrive at Easter morning feeling exhausted but strengthened, it means that I've truly entered into Holy Week, walking with Christ as He always walks with me. This Holy Week, may we walk more closely with Christ on His journey towards the cross, knowing that this journey continues with His resurrection. It is Christ's resurrection, His triumph over sin and death, that gives our Lenten journey meaning and enables us to exult with the Church and be glad!
Question for Reflection: How can you enter more deeply into Holy Week in order to better celebrate the joy of Easter Sunday?
For more resources to prepare you for Holy Week and Easter, please click here.
"Since you are ambassadors and ministers of Jesus Christ in the work that you do, you must act as representing Jesus Christ himself. He wants your disciples to see him in you and receive your instructions as if he were giving them to them. They must be convinced that your instructions are the truth of Jesus Christ who speaks with your mouth, that it is only in his name that you teach, and that it is he who has given you authority over them.”—St. John Baptist de la Salle
The entirety of the baptized are, as St. Paul says, “ambassadors for Christ,” but St. John Baptist de la Salle—the patron saint of teachers—expands on this idea for educators of the youth. La Salle sees teachers as becoming the image of Christ for students in the classroom. This idea necessitates that teachers teach their disciplines well, but they must also be models of love and virtue for their students.
As a Secondary Education and History student observing at a Washington D.C. Catholic middle school, I have recently reflected on my role as a classroom teacher. Teachers, in many ways, become an extension of the domestic church. As children reach kindergarten age, they begin to spend the vast majority of their weeks—close to seven hours a day Monday to Friday—in the care of their teachers. The sheer amount of time students spend with their teachers necessitates that teachers become another guardian for their students. I have seen this first-hand in an eighth-grade class I have been observing.
Students look to their teacher for guidance and reassurance, and their teacher provides structure, help, and correction for each student as needed. Particularly, in middle and high school, teachers begin to form students’ adolescent and adult mannerisms, and a teacher’s embodiment of Christ’s charity is essential for students to see how the Christian life is lived. Students crave a person to model, and while Jesus is the perfect example, it is hard for many to conceptualize how Jesus lived as a human being. La Salle explains, “Example makes a much greater impression on the mind and the heart than words, especially for children, for they do not yet have a mind sufficiently able to reflect, and they ordinarily model themselves on the example of their teachers” (la Salle, Meditations for Time of Retreat). A teacher must then step in as a witness to Christ’s mission lived out in the modern world. Teachers cannot be aloof people who look perfect to students. Instead, instructors must show that they are human with the capacity to make mistakes in classroom instruction and in working with their students.
Over this semester of observations, I have noticed that students will eventually place their trust in you as they get to know you. As I assisted students with their classwork, asked them questions about their class and school, and talked about life, they slowly began asking me questions and fostering conversations with me. This culminated when I taught a complete lesson on the Roaring 20s and the Harlem Renaissance. My students engaged with me throughout the class period, and they even offered me feedback like a need to slow down a little and explain my slide images more. Students were also appreciative that I did not have all the answers to their questions, but I followed them up by saying, “let me check on that and get back to you.” Teachers must show students that they are an authority on their content and should be a trusted source of knowledge, but they also have limitations and do not know every single fact on a subject. Teachers—like pastoral ministers—must recognize the gravity of their role and hold themselves to a high moral and professional standard, but they must also be down-to-earth and relatable. This relatability in the classroom for middle and high school students allows for a form of collaboration where teachers and students work together to pursue the truth and the Christian life.
St. John Baptist de la Salle was constantly trying to teach his order of teaching brothers that they were ministers of the Church and Christ and that the salvation of students lay within their hands as teachers. La Salle asked teachers to give of themselves to inspire their students in their academics and faith lives because he realized that students craved authentic witnesses to the theological and human truths of life. St. la Salle explained himself best when he wrote, “for the love of God ought to impel you, because Jesus Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who died for them. This is what your zeal must inspire in your disciples, as if God were appealing through you, because you are ambassadors for Jesus Christ” (la Salle, Meditations for Time of Retreat). In many ways, St. la Salle preempted modern evangelization practices with his emphasis on authentic witness as a means to bring people closer to God.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
This April, we have a busy season of liturgical events. From the conclusion of Lent to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Easter, and the Octave of Easter, the entire Easter season is filled with solemn liturgies, commemorations, and celebrations. Through it all, we are called to grow in our relationship with the Lord. When every Sunday seems to be celebrating or commemorating something different, I often find myself turning to the saints for some consistency and routine.
Saints to Prepare us for Holy Week
This week, we celebrate three saints who can help us prepare for Holy Week. Today, we celebrate the 14th century Dominican St. Vincent Ferrer. He was a gifted intellectual who discerned God’s call for him to be a missionary and ultimately became known for his missionary work all throughout Europe. St. Vincent Ferrer incorporated his intellectual gifts into missionary work for the good of the universal Church. Yesterday, we celebrated another gifted intellectual in the history of the Church: St. Isidore of Seville. St. Isidore is known for his writings which helped spread the faith even long after he had died. On Thursday, we will celebrate St. John Baptist de la Salle. He is known for his educational reforms which included the founding of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Through prayer and discernment, he recognized the need for education reform which included having trained lay teachers. He devoted his life to increasing the access to education for those who normally would not get such opportunities. We can look to all three of these saints to help us prepare for Holy Week by allowing the Lord to work in our lives using the gifts He gave us.
On April 28th, we will celebrate three saints who have left a great impact on the Church: St. Louis de Montfort, St. Peter Chanel, and St. Gianna Molla. St. Louis de Montfort was alive from the late 1600s to the early 1700s. Even though he died when he was only 43 years old, many of his writings form the basis of much of Mariology (the study of Mary) today. St. Peter Chanel was a 19th century Marist who was a missionary on the Polynesian island of Futuna. After four years of tireless work helping the islanders with daily life, Peter Chanel was martyred when the chief’s son converted to Catholicism. After his martyrdom, many of the islanders eventually converted to Catholicism, including the chief himself. Now the island (as well most of Oceania) has a strong devotion to St. Peter Chanel. Lastly, we will celebrate the 20th century saint, St. Gianna Molla on April 28th. St. Gianna Molla was an Italian pediatrician who refused an abortion and hysterectomy despite her life-threatening pregnancy and eventually died after giving birth. She is known for following the teachings of the faith while serving as a doctor and is a model for Catholics practicing medicine today.
As we enter this liturgically busy April, let us look to the saints we celebrate this month for inspiration in following God’s will throughout our lives using the gifts He has given us.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in April, and each month, click here.
For more Lenten and Easter resources, please click here.