By Allyson Escobar
Newly-initiated and confirmed Catholics have a duty and responsibility to continue their faith formation, deepening their understanding of the mystery of the Church, during a period known as mystagogia.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the definition of “mystagogy” is the liturgical catechesis at the local and regional level, which aims to “initiate people into the mystery of Christ…from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the sacraments to the mysteries” (CCC, 1075).
One parish in the Diocese of San Bernardino aims to walk alongside newly baptized and confirmed Catholics in the post-Easter season of mystagogia – through formal classes, online education, service opportunities, evangelization programs, and retreats.
At St. Paul the Apostle Church in Chino Hills, there are over 25 ministries and small communities dedicated to deepening parishioners’ knowledge of, and involvement with, their Catholic faith.
“Understanding the faith does not stop once you receive the sacraments,” said Father Joseph Pilotin, MS, Pastoral Associate at St. Paul. “Especially for young people; the Holy Sacraments [of Baptism and Confirmation] are not a graduation ceremony that just ends, and they are done…the more they know, the more they will appreciate and commit themselves to the realness and mystery of the faith.”
Faith formation and building community
Anywhere from 25 to 50 new Catholics are sealed into the faith each year through St. Paul’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program.
Reflecting on their experiences at the Easter Vigil, and diving into Scripture, Sacraments, and Church teachings is what Jerry Watson—RCIA Coordinator at St. Paul—encourages catechumens to undertake.
“We are psyched to bring as many people to the Church as possible,” said Watson, who has served as a coordinator for eight years. “I want people to know Jesus Christ and this wonderful kingdom that He founded, that we’re all a part of. We carry on His work because we’re in a covenant relationship with Him.”
Watson shared that at St. Paul there are multiple faith-sharing groups for post-catechumens. He has led a weekly at-home Bible study for the past five years, mostly made up of people who have been initiated into the faith through the RCIA program.
Currently, the group is going through biblical salvation history. Watson said that many of them ask questions about the Mass and leadership of the Church – and in turn, he provides them with resources through Catholic websites, podcasts, blogs and reading material.
“It’s important for people, especially the newly baptized and confirmed, to get a grasp on who Jesus is, and how we all got here,” said Watson. “I always tell [students] that you can’t take this great gift of being Catholic, and do nothing about it. Your commission is to bring Jesus in to the whole world.”
For newly confirmed youth and adults, there are a variety of faith-sharing programs, ministries, and opportunities to serve in love – especially for the 40-60% of teens who, according to many studies, often do not return to the Church after they are confirmed.
“As a parish, we instill the teachings of the Church and the freedom to serve during their sacrament preparation process,” says Edric Alcantara, Confirmation Coordinator at St. Paul. “We don’t force them to serve. They are taught that this is a loving Church that calls her servants. They see the love of service through [becoming] Catechists, youth ministers, Catechetical Student Body members, and CrossTrainers.”
Each of these ministries serve as outreach experiences targeting younger churchgoers – many of whom return to St. Paul as lectors, hospitality ministers, religious education catechists, and “CrossTrainers,” serving teens in the parish’s two-year confirmation process.
Alcatara shared that around 300 teens receive the Sacrament of Confirmation each year, and at least half join CrossTraining or youth Catechetical Student Body ministries after they are confirmed.
“We have an interview towards the end of their classes, asking [those being confirmed] if they have questions about anything,” he said. “Those [questions] are often so beautiful, in a way that they understand the strength of our faith, that they are independent moral thinkers… they seek answers by joining different ministries appropriate for their age levels. We also challenge students to use their specific talents to make the Confirmation process better for the next generation.”
Young adults, an age group often overlooked in the Church, also have a vibrant presence at St. Paul the Apostle, with various sub-ministries under the parish’s young adult program.
“We help young adults ages 18-39 grow more into their faith in their personal lives, to take what they have and apply it daily,” said Jancarlo Singh, a young adult minister at St. Paul. “When you get older, you start to truly see the beauty of the faith and appreciate rituals in our church. It’s not just another stage in life, but it’s embracing the Catholic lifestyle fully, being a proper follower and believer of Jesus Christ, and giving back to others.”
Weekly men’s and women’s fellowship, bible studies, general meetings, opportunities for adoration/devotion, and collaborative events with other young adult ministries around the Diocese allow newly confirmed young adults to share their faith, and form solid community with fellow Catholics.
It’s a “catch basin,” and much-needed in the often lonely, discernment-heavy years of young adulthood, says Fr. Pilotin.
“They are taking their faith from the book level of religious education to real-life application,” added Singh. “We talk about praying in public, speaking up and defending the faith, forming a solid relationship with Jesus—things that happen in real life.”
Continuing the journey of faith
With various opportunities for learning, growing in and serving the Church, St. Paul the Apostle hopes to walk with believers in the period of mystagogy and beyond.
“There is a whole sea of knowledge and deeper meaning of the Eucharist,” said Fr. Pilotin. “The journey to understanding faith does not stop; there is always so much more.”
Allyson Escobar is a freelance writer and blogger, and a parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle in Chino Hills.