What is the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).
It is a series of rites, conducted in the context of learning about the faith and spiritual formation through which a person is fully incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church.
There are four stages in the RCIA: the Precatechumenate, or period of inquiry and evangelization; the Catechumenate, which is a time of serious and dedicated formation; the Period of Purification and Enlightenment, which coincides with Lent; and Mystagogy, which lasts from Easter to Pentecost. All of these stages are marked by distinct liturgical rites.
How Long Does It Take?
There is no set time period for the process of becoming a Catholic. The Church makes it clear that what is important is not meeting a schedule, but instead ensuring adequate preparation. Some may require more, some less, depending on their spiritual readiness. Whatever precedes it, though, the Sacraments of Initiation are normally celebrated during the Easter Vigil. Thus, RCIA could as well be described as an effort to restore the spirit of early Christianity by emphasizing conversion as a participation in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, where the entire praying, witnessing and teaching Body of Christ gives support and shape to that journey.
Who Are people involved in the RCIA?
People involved in the RCIA process are either catechumens or candidates. Catechumens are those who have never been baptized. Candidates are those who have been baptized in other Christian denominations, whose baptism is recognized as valid. There are special rites for unbaptized children who have reached the age of reason and are seeking to become Catholics (call to speak to our Director of Religious Education). Individuals who have been baptized in the Catholic Church but have never learned or practiced their faith can also be helped.
The Precatechumenate is also called "the inquiry stage" in many parishes. For individuals, this is the stage when they might first contact the parish about their interest and start attending inquiry sessions or meeting privately with a priest or catechist. For some who have engaged in their own study or attended Mass attentively and regularly, the Precatechumenate might last months. For others who have little background in Catholicism or Christianity in general, more time might be needed.
When a person has decided to join the Catholic Church, he or she begins the Catechumenate. This begins with a Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. When there is a mixed group of the unbaptized and the already baptized, the Rite of Acceptance is often combined with a Rite of Welcoming for Candidates.
This rite occurs at a Sunday liturgy. The catechumens proclaim their readiness to accept the Gospel and candidates declare their intent to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. The catechumens and candidates are signed with the cross as a sign of their readiness to bear witness to Christ with their whole lives. The candidates are usually given a Bible or cross.
The period of the Catechumenate can last for months or even years. Catechumens are "brought to maturity" in the faith during this period through the formal study of Church teachings, a deeper commitment to living a Christian life, prayer and by the witness of their faith in the world. Catechumens are considered part of the Church. If a Catechumen dies, he or she is buried with Catholic rites.
Catechumens are being formed to be members of the Body of Christ, and it is the responsibility of the entire parish, not just a few people, to participate in this formation through witness, support and prayer.
In the early Church, baptisms only occurred at Easter; so the weeks before Easter were a focused time of preparation for catechumens. This period evolved into what we know as Lent. Today, the period of Lent still plays that prominent role as a final preparation for the initiation of catechumens and candidates.
This stage begins with the Rite of Election which normally occurs on the First Sunday of Lent. Catechumens and candidates are presented to the Bishop of the diocese at the cathedral. The catechumens' names are inscribed in a Book of the Elect and candidates commit to continuing conversion.
During the Period of Purification, catechumens participate in several rites during parish liturgies. On the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent are Scrutinies, during which special prayers are offered for the catechumens "to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good." (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, no. 141).
During the First Scrutiny or the week afterward, the catechumens are presented with a copy of the Creed. During the Third Scrutiny or the week afterward, they are given a copy of the Lord's Prayer in accord with the ancient tradition in which catechumens were not taught the words to the Lord's Prayer until soon before their baptism.
In the early Church, the Easter Vigil was the only liturgy of the year in which people joined the Church. This was because at Easter we celebrate Christ's victory over death and our sharing in that victory through baptism. The journey during that all-night vigil was a journey from darkness to light, from death to life. This is the journey that new Christians share as they descend and rise from the waters of baptism in which they are reborn.At the Easter Vigil, catechumens are baptized and confirmed; candidates are confirmed. The new Catholics complete their initiation by approaching the Lord's table for the first time to receive His Body as full members of His Body at last.
The final period of Christian initiation is called "Mystagogy" (from Greek, meaning "interpretation of mystery"). It continues through the Easter season, up until Pentecost. During this period, the new Catholics, or "neophytes," are "deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and . . .Making it part of their lives through meditation on the Gospel, sharing in the Eucharist and doing the works of charity" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, no. 244). Throughout the RCIA, the support and witness of the entire parish has been important. That role continues during Mystagogy as the parish welcomes the neophytes and continues to offer them encouragement on their journey with us toward Christ.
Some parishes may continue some sort of formal catechesis during this time, but the focus of Mystagogy is the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy at which the neophytes, their sponsors and the entire supporting parish community hear the words of Scripture that focus on the life of the early Christians and are nourished and unified in their new and growing faith by sharing the Body and Blood of Christ.
Why can't the RCIA rites be done in Private?
The rites of Christian initiation all occur at Sunday parish liturgies. What is happening there is not something "extra" or an interruption. These rites, with some dire exceptions, must take place during Sunday liturgy. The Church exists to bring souls to Christ. The people who stand before us during these rituals are evidence that the Church is doing its work. They are drawing closer to Christ through His Body, the Church. Their presence among us is an occasion of celebration and gratitude.