What is RCIA
Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
This is the preparation program set up by the Church to bring people into the Catholic faith. It includes prayer, study, and discussion all of which are designed to bring one to the point of asking for the Sacraments of Initiation. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) describes the RCIA as a process in which participants “undergo . . . conversion as they study the Gospel, profess faith in Jesus and the Catholic Church, and receive the sacraments . . . The RCIA process follows the ancient practice of the Church and was restored by the Second Vatican Council as the normal way adults prepare for baptism.”
I am not sure if I fit the profile….I am a high schooler, I have a complicated schedule, I am not sure I can handle the study…
The RCIA program offers a outline of how to prepare persons to enter into the Church. While there are necessary parts to it, it most definitely can be adapted to meet the specific needs of persons of all abilities and stages of life
Who is welcome to begin the RCIA Journey?
All people who are open to discerning their personal experience of faith and to learning more about the Catholic Church are welcome to begin the RCIA process. Many people come to an awareness of their desire to learn about membership in the Catholic Church in various and different ways. Often it may be a personal faith experience, overcoming personal difficulty and tragedy, or a relationship or discussion with a person of faith which leads one to begin this exciting journey. All that is truly required is a sincere desire to learn, to grow, and to develop one’s relationship with God. The RCIA process can be applied to the following 3 groups:
- Unbaptized persons (age of discretion: 7+ years): who have never been baptized and who need a process to help them grow in awareness to God’s call to conversion as well as ways to respond to that call. They are considered catechumens.
- Baptized in another Christian church: Those who were baptized into another Christian denomination and wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. They are considered candidates. For baptized Christians interested in possibly joining the Catholic Church, the process will vary depending upon the depth on one’s religious and spiritual readiness.
- Baptized, but uncatechized Catholic adults: persons who were baptized as infants and not given any religious instruction in the Catholic faith. These adults will be prepared to celebrate the sacraments of penance, confirmation and Eucharist. They are also considered candidates.
It is important to note that “candidates” do not always need to take part in the full process. If they have been actively living the Christian life in another denomination, they are likely to need very little catechesis and may be welcomed into the Church on any Sunday after a short period of preparation. According to the National Statutes for the Catechumenate, “Those baptized persons who have lived as Christians and need only instruction in the Catholic tradition and a degree of probation within the Catholic community should not be asked to undergo a full program parallel to the catechumenate.”
In the case of children who have reached the age of reason (age 7), the pastor of the local parish should be consulted for information about Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. Adult Catholics who were baptized and received their First Eucharist in the Catholic Church and are interested in the Sacrament of Confirmation should contact their local parish office. These are Catholics who have been instructed in the Catholic faith but who have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation. A separate program of adult Confirmation is available to these Catholics, who are then prepared to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The Steps of the Journey
The Rite of Christian Initiation is based on the principle that the process of conversion proceeds gradually, in stages. Progress from one stage to the next is marked by a liturgical celebration in the midst of the parish community. The experience and needs of those in each category described above differ, and so the length of time may vary for each person. Yet there are certain similarities among all the groups and the process they will experience. RCIA consists of four periods of formation which are marked by rituals that celebrate what has been completed and that call a person into the next phase.
First Step: Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
Once the inquirer decides to continue the journey, he or she seeks acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. This is a liturgical rite in which the inquirer states publicly in the midst of the parish community that he or she wants to become a baptized member of the Church. The Church, through the local parish community, affirms this desire by accepting the person and his or her intention to follow God’s call. Included in this rite are the renunciation of false worship, giving of a new name, and the presentation of a cross. The candidate is now affirmed by the local community and strengthened to continue the journey.
For candidates who have already been baptized and are seeking full communion with the Catholic Church, this step is called the Rite of Welcoming the Candidate.
Second Step: Rite of Election
The Rite of Election or Enrollment of Names coincides with the beginning of Lent and is celebrated by the Bishop at the cathedral church of the diocese. The Rite includes the official enrollment of names of all those seeking baptism at the Easter Vigil. At this Rite the catechumens publicly request baptism and declare their desire to make a faith commitment to Jesus in the Catholic Church. Parishes normally celebrate the Rite of Sending prior to the Rite of Election. Godparents and catechists testify to the readiness of the catechumens for the sacraments of initiation.
Third Step: Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation
At the Easter Vigil, the catechumen receives the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist. Now the person is a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church and will continue to live out his or her response to God as a member of this faith community.
The Pinnacle of the Journey
The celebration of the Sacrament of Initiation at the Easter Vigil marks the highlight of each person’s spiritual journey, as one celebrates with family and church community full entrance into the Catholic Church. The Liturgy begins with the Service of Light which includes the blessing of the new fire and the Paschal candle which symbolizes Jesus, the light of the World. The second part consists of the Liturgy of the Word with a number of Scripture readings. After the Liturgy of the Word, the candidates are presented to the members of the community, who pray for them and join in the Litany of the Saints. After the Litany and prayer for the elect, the presiding priest blesses the water placing the Easter or Paschal candle into the baptismal water. Those seeking baptism then renounce sin and profess their faith after which they are immersed into the baptismal water three times with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In some situations the water may be poured over the head of each candidate.
After the baptism the newly baptized are dressed in white garments and are presented with a candle lighted from the Paschal Candle. The newly baptized are then confirmed by the priest or bishop who imposes his hands on their heads, and invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit. He then anoints them with the oil called Sacred Chrism.
The Mass continues in the usual fashion. At this point the newly baptized can participate in the general intercessions, in bringing their gifts to the altar, as well as sharing in the offering of Christ’s sacrifice. At the Communion of the Mass, each of the newly baptized receives the Eucharist, Christ’s body and blood, for the first time.
Companions for the Journey
Jesus recognized the importance of community and teamwork in spreading the Gospel, as displayed by the fact that he called a group of apostles and often sent his apostles out two by two. The Church recognizes the importance of support as one progresses through the RCIA process. First of all, candidates journey not alone but together with other adults who are learning about the Catholic Church and also with a team of dedicated people from the parish community who meets with the group regularly to offer assistance and support. Secondly, the Church also gives the inquiring person a sponsor who will share the journey and accompany you at RCIA sessions and other special events. This sponsor, who normally comes from the parish community, is called a godparent for those who have not yet been baptized and a mentor for those who have already been baptized. They are truly companions for the journey of faith and walk with each candidate through each step of the process. The sponsor also connects the candidate to the local parish community. Finally, since the RCIA process takes place within a parish community, the prayers from this community are essential for the journey. Moreover, the prayers of the universal Church are with each candidate, providing spiritual support for the journey and connection to the Church community.
Beginning the Journey
For many people interested in becoming Catholic or entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, the process can be somewhat confusing or intimidating. After all, this is a major decision in one’s life. The decision to join the Church is exciting and will lead to a deepening of personal faith and relationship to God, others, and self. No matter what has brought you here, the fact that you are interested in taking the next step shows your openness to God and God’s call in your life. Many people have come through the RCIA program and are living lives of service, faith, and love. Perhaps you are asking where to begin the journey. The answer is that you have already begun! Welcome to your faith journey! The next step may be to contact us at 781.326.0550 or see one of the priests or staff members.