Part Three: Fully Initiated- Learning and Living our Faith through the Order of Christian Initiation of AdultsRead Now
In this third and final part to this Blog series (See Part One and Part Two), I will discuss the final stages of OCIA (Order of Christian Initiation of Adults) and how the shifted paradigm I’ve been describing has helped us foster a mentality of full initiation—initiation through the sacraments into the Parish Community and Universal Church—as the true goal of becoming Catholic. I also want to conclude with a heartbreaking but redemptive story of what this year leading our new Catholics into the Church has meant to me.
Stage Three: The Period of Purification and Enlightenment
The transition from Stage Two into Stage Three is marked by a special liturgy at the cathedral known as the Rite of Election. The candidates/catechumens are now referred to as “the Elect.” The Period of Purification and Enlightenment, the final preparatory phase leading up to the celebration of the Sacrament of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, coincides with the Lenten Season and focuses on penance—Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving—that provides the necessary spiritual and moral formation to worthily enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Recall that in Stage One (Evangelization/Precatechumenate) we met each week in class and in Stage Two (Catechumenate) we did not, and instead prescribed various active “missions” to be completed by the candidate/catechumen and their companion/mentor.
Our approach to the Period of Purification and Enlightenment is done as a combination of the previous two stages. That is, we begin to meet again each Monday evening to cover topics like 1) What is the Sacrament of Penance and Anointing? What is Catholic Morality? What is Catholic Social Teaching?, but I also give a new set of “Missions” for the candidate/sponsor as well. This year they included:
This year we had folks read things like C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Fulton Sheen’s The World’s First Love, Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness, Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, and then share an insight with the group. We also took another Lenten Pilgrimage Day (this time at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land and National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC).
By the end of Stage Three, participants have gotten a pretty good faith workout! They have experienced first-hand enough of the Catholic faith—its liturgy, prayer, sacred places, works of mercy and charity—to make a well-formed decision to enter into full communion at Easter. And it is with Easter joy that Mother Church receives them and we gain new brothers and sisters in Christ. The Easter Fire and Paschal Candle symbolizes the Great Light of Christ’s Resurrection, the light that each of us has received to bring His radiant joy and warmth into an often dark and cold world.
Stage Four: The Period of Mystagogy
We cannot forget the fourth and final stage of OCIA, the Period of Mystagogy, which does not signify an end but another beginning. Our Mystagogy sessions further introduce three themes: 1) Mystagogy, 2) Ministry, and 3) Mission. We look back (on the sacraments received) in order to look forward-- How does this grace send me forth to build up the Body of Christ (Ministry) and share the Good News (Mission)?
In other words, faith spreads and grows one way only, from Light to Light.
The last story I want to share is not a “success” story that somehow proves the effectiveness of a new strategy or paradigm. It simply tells the relentless love of Christ, the power and working of the Holy Spirit, and the beautiful communion of belonging the Church offers in the midst of the pain of our shared journey of faith. It’s not a story I would have hoped to tell, but it tells me there is always reason for hope.
During Stage Two (the Catechumenate), the candidate and their sponsor gradually read through the entire Gospel of Matthew. One day one of the sponsors, a young man named Kevin (we’re actually the same age), asked to come see me at the parish office. When he came in, he began to describe what can only be described as a great conversion in his life (he had a challenging past) as he read the Conversion of Matthew story (Matt 9:9-13). While he was supposedly being a mentor and guide for the catechumen, it was incredible to see how being a sponsor, which made him get back to coming to Mass each week and reading the Gospel himself, touched off something profound and life-changing. He met the Lord in a new way, returned to the sacraments, and set about his continued conversion. The Easter Vigil for him and his companion (and new Catholic) was an occasion for joy I won’t forget.
A couple weeks after the Easter Vigil there was an accident at Kevin’s work, a machinery explosion that resulted in him suffering extreme burns and internal trauma. Some other priests and I were able to offer the Anointing of the Sick in the hospital. For three weeks he fought for his life, undergoing multiple critical surgeries, until the Lord relieved him of his suffering and called him home.
I had the honor of presiding his funeral, the largest I’ve ever been involved in. I knew the “missions” he had done with his companion, that he went to Mass, read the Scriptures and the Screwtape Letters, prayed the Rosary, toured our cathedral, and more. For someone who had been through a lot in life already, it leaves me speechless still to witness how in that relatively short period of time leading up to a tragic event that no one could have predicted, this “modern-day St. Matthew” found reconciliation with the Lord and passed on his faith to another in the time he was given. I pray he has now moved on to that truly final “stage” of our Christian pilgrimage towards full communion in Christ, from this dim earthly light below to that blessed and eternal light of heaven. This is a story of belonging, what all of our ministries should be about.