New Catholics encouraged to grow in faith

CHARLESTON—The Mass of the Neophytes is not your typical Sunday liturgy. It is a celebration of those who received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and/or first Communion at the Easter Vigil, and people often drive hours to be part of it.

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, said it is a tradition in the Diocese of Charleston to hold the neophyte Mass on Pentecost Sunday at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

This is the day that marks the end of the Easter season and celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Mary.

It is significant because it challenges the faithful to reflect on what it means to believe that Jesus is Lord, truly risen from the dead, and to live this great mystery of faith, according to Priscilla Estrada.

Director of Christian Formation at the Cathedral, Estrada said the parish had 16 people enter the church during the Rite of Election.

She said they usually have a good crowd gather with the bishop for encouragement in their journey as newly baptized Christians.

St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken had 18 new members enter. Vici Jackson, RCIA coordinator, said about six of those made the pilgrimage to Charleston.

A reception at the Cathedral hall followed Mass.

Sister Pam, diocesan director of catechesis and Christian initiation, said the Mass is the formal conclusion of the neophytes’ initial formation “even though there is no real formal conclusion because we’re supposed to keep growing in the faith throughout our lives.”

Mystagogia, a reflection of the Christian mysteries, is never-ending, she said.

Unlike one of the sacraments, the Mass of the Neophytes does not include special rituals, Sister Pam said. It is simply to recognize those who are entering the faith and encourage them to continue to grow and reflect.

“It helps people realize they didn’t graduate at the Easter Vigil,” she said.

For the most part, new members of the Catholic Church are baptized in their own parish by their priest, Estrada said. But being Catholic is about more than one parish.

“It is important they understand that they did not just become a member of a parish, but that they are part of the local church which is built up around its bishop and thus united to the universal church,” Estrada explained.

Those involved with religious education all stress several important points.

One, there are many levels to the church. Sister Pam said Catholics aren’t just part of a parish, or even a diocese, but a worldwide community.

Two, while neophytes have completed their initial formation, they are encouraged to delve ever deeper into the teachings of the church through prayer and study throughout their lives.

“They must make it their constant prayer to be guided and enlightened by the Holy Spirit so as to be grasped by the splendor of truth and always profess Jesus Christ as Lord,” Estrada said.