The Church was
instituted by Christ Jesus Himself. The Church is the Universal Sacrament of
Salvation. In short, the Catholic Church is the place ‘where the Holy Spirit
flourishes’. St Hippolytus.
‘church’ means ‘assembly’. It describes that place where the Light of Christ
shines out visibly. In the liturgical assembly we are gathered together by the
Word of God and the Sacraments to form the People of God. This people, nourished
by the Word, and by the Body of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist,
themselves become the Body of Christ. This unity is expressed both on the local
and universal level.
the Catholic Church?
The Church was prepared for in the Old Testament, founded by the words and
actions of Jesus Christ, established by His Saving Cross and His Resurrection,
and revealed as the Mystery of Salvation by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at
Pentecost. She will come to completion in the glory of heaven as the assembly of
all the redeemed.
What is the
hierarchy of the Church?
The Church is a hierarchical communion. Its members consist of laity, clergy and
religious. The lay faithful (laity) are those who have become members of the
Church through baptism. From among these, by divine institution, men are chosen
to serve as bishops, priests and deacons (clergy). There are also those who
profess the evangelical counsels, and are consecrated to God in a special way
What Can the
Catholic Church Offer Me? The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation. She is the sign and
instrument of the communion of God with His people. One becomes a member of the
Church through Faith and Baptism. All are invited to come forward to become
How to Become a Catholic
Catholic is one of life’s most profound and joyous experiences. Some are blessed
enough to receive this great gift while they are infants, and, over time, they
recognize the enormous grace that has been bestowed on them. Others enter the
Catholic fold when they are older children or adults. This tract examines the
joyful process by which one becomes a Catholic.
A person is brought into full communion with the Catholic Church through
reception of the three sacraments of Christian initiation—baptism, confirmation,
and the holy Eucharist—but the process by which one becomes a Catholic can take
A person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at that
moment. One’s initiation is deepened by confirmation and the Eucharist, but one
becomes a Catholic at baptism. This is true for children who are baptized
Catholic (and receive the other two sacraments later) and for adults who are
baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist at the same time.
Those who have been validly baptized outside the Church become Catholics by
making a profession of the Catholic faith and being formally received into the
Church. This is normally followed immediately by confirmation and the Eucharist.
Before a person is ready to be received into the Church, whether by baptism or
by profession of faith, preparation is necessary. The amount and form of this
preparation depends on the individual’s circumstance. The most basic division in
the kind of preparation needed is between those who are unbaptized and those who
have already become Christian through baptism in another church.
For adults and children who have reached the age of reason (age seven), entrance
into the Church is governed by the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), sometimes called the Order of
Christian Initiation for Adults.
Preparation for the Unbaptized
Preparation for reception into the Church begins with the inquiry stage, in
which the unbaptized person begins to learn about the Catholic faith and begins
to decide whether to embrace it.
The first formal step to Catholicism begins with the rite of reception into the
order of catechumens, in which the unbaptized express their desire and
intention to become Christians. "Catechumen" is a term the early Christians used
to refer to those preparing to be baptized and become Christians.
The period of the catechumenate varies depending on how much the catechumen has
learned and how ready he feels to take the step of becoming a Christian.
However, the catechumenate often lasts less than a year.
The catechumenate’s purpose is to provide the catechumens with a thorough
background in Christian teaching. "A thoroughly comprehensive catechesis on the
truths of Catholic doctrine and moral life, aided by approved catechetical
texts, is to be provided during the period of the catechumenate" (U.S.
Conference of Bishops, National Statutes for the Catechumenate, Nov. 11,
1986). The catechumenate also is intended to give the catechumens the
opportunity to reflect upon and become firm in their desire to become Catholic,
and to show that they are ready to take this serious and joyful step (cf. Luke
14:27–33; 2 Pet. 2:20–22).
The second formal step is taken with the rite of election, in which the
catechumens’ names are written in a book of those who will receive the
sacraments of initiation. At the rite of election, the catechumen again
expresses the desire and intention to become a Christian, and the Church judges
that the catechumen is ready to take this step. Normally, the rite of election
occurs on the first Sunday of Lent, the forty-day period of preparation for
After the rite of election, the candidates undergo a period of more intense
reflection, purification, and enlightenment, in which they deepen their
commitment to repentance and conversion. During this period the catechumens, now
known as the elect, participate in several further rituals.
The three chief rituals, known as scrutinies, are normally celebrated at
Mass on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The scrutinies are rites
for self-searching and repentance. They are meant to bring out the qualities of
the catechumen’s soul, to heal those qualities which are weak or sinful, and to
strengthen those that are positive and good.
During this period, the catechumens are formally presented with the Apostles’
Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, which they will recite on the night they are
The initiation itself usually occurs on the Easter Vigil, the evening
before Easter Day. That evening a special Mass is celebrated at which the
catechumens are baptized, then given confirmation, and finally receive the holy
Eucharist. At this point the catechumens become Catholics and are received into
full communion with the Church.
Ideally the bishop oversees the Easter Vigil service and confers confirmation
upon the catechumens, but often—due to large distances or numbers of
catechumens—a local parish priest will perform the rites.
The final state of Christian initiation is known as mystagogy, in which
the new Christians are strengthened in the faith by further instruction and
become more deeply rooted in the local Catholic community. The period of
mystagogy normally lasts throughout the Easter season (the fifty days between
Easter and Pentecost Sunday).
For the first year of their life as Christians, those who have been received are
known as neophytes or "new Christians."
Preparation for Christians
The means by which those who have already been validly baptized become part of
the Church differs considerably from that of the unbaptized.
Because they have already been baptized, they are already Christians; they are,
therefore, not catechumens. Because of their status as Christians, the Church is
concerned that they not be confused with those who are in the process of
"Those who have already been baptized in another church or ecclesial community
should not be treated as catechumens or so designated. Their doctrinal and
spiritual preparation for reception into full Catholic communion should be
determined according to the individual case, that is, it should depend on the
extent to which the baptized person has led a Christian life within a community
of faith and been appropriately catechized to deepen his or her inner adherence
to the Church" (NSC 30).
For those who were baptized but who have never been instructed in the Christian
faith or lived as Christians, it is appropriate for them to receive much of the
same instruction in the faith as catechumens, but they are still not catechumens
and are not to be referred to as such (NSC 3). As a result, they are not to
participate in the rites intended for catechumens, such as the scrutinies. Even
"[t]he rites of presentation of the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the book of
the Gospels are not proper except for those who have received no Christian
instruction and formation" (NSC 31).
For those who have been instructed in the Christian faith and have lived as
Christians, the situation is different. The U.S. Conference of Bishops states,
"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" (NSC 31). For this reason, they should not share in the same,
full RCIA programs that catechumens do.
The timing of their reception into the Church also is different. The U.S.
Conference of Bishops states, "It is preferable that reception into full
communion not take place at the Easter Vigil lest there be any confusion of such
baptized Christians with the candidates for baptism, possible misunderstanding
of or even reflection upon the sacrament of baptism celebrated in another church
or ecclesial community . . . " (NSC 33).
Rather than being received on Easter Vigil, "[t]he reception of candidates into
the communion of the Catholic Church should ordinarily take place at the Sunday
Eucharist of the parish community, in such a way that it is understood that they
are indeed Christian believers who have already shared in the sacramental life
of the Church and are now welcomed into the Catholic Eucharistic community . .
." (NSC 32).
Christians coming into the Catholic Church must discuss with their pastor and/or
bishop the amount of instruction needed and the time of their reception.
Peace with God
The sacrament of baptism removes all sins committed prior to it, but since
Christians have already been baptized, it is necessary for them to confess
mortal sins committed since baptism before receiving confirmation and the
In some cases, this can be difficult due to a large number of years between the
Christian’s baptism and reception into the Catholic Church. In such cases, the
candidate should confess the mortal sins he can remember by kind and, to the
extent possible, indicate how often such sins were committed. As always with the
sacrament of reconciliation, the absolution covers any mortal sins that could
not be remembered, so long as the recipient intended to repent of all mortal
Christians coming into the Church should receive the sacrament of reconciliation
before their reception into the Church (there is no established point for when
they should do this) to ensure that they are in a state of grace when they are
received and confirmed. Their formation in the faith should stress that frequent
confession is part of Catholic life: "The celebration of the sacrament of
reconciliation with candidates for reception into full communion is to be
carried out at a time prior to and distinct from the celebration of the rite of
reception. As part of the formation of such candidates, they should be
encouraged in the frequent celebration of this sacrament" (NSC 36).
The Christian fully enters the Church by profession of faith and formal
reception. For the profession of faith, the candidate says, "I believe and
profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be
revealed by God."
The bishop or priest then formally receives the Christian into the Church by
saying, "[Name], the Lord receives you into the Catholic Church. His loving
kindness has led you here, so that in the unity of the Holy Spirit you may have
full communion with us in the faith that you have professed in the presence of
The bishop or priest then normally administers the sacrament of confirmation and
celebrates the holy Eucharist, giving the new Catholic the Eucharist for the
Reception in Special Cases
In some situations, there may be doubts whether a person’s baptism was valid.
All baptisms are assumed valid, regardless of denomination, unless after
serious investigation there is reason to doubt that the candidate was baptized
with water and the Trinitarian formula (". . . in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit"), or that the minister or recipient of baptism
did not intend it to be an actual baptism.
If there are doubts about the validity of a person’s baptism (or whether the
person was baptized at all), then the candidate will be given a conditional
baptism (one with the form ". . . if you are not already baptized, I baptize you
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit").
"If conditional baptism . . . seems necessary, this must be celebrated privately
rather than at a public liturgical assembly of the community and with only those
limited rites which the diocesan bishop determines. The reception into full
communion should take place later at the Sunday Eucharist of the community" (NSC
Another special case concerns those who have been baptized as Catholics but who
were not brought up in the faith or who have not received the sacraments of
confirmation and the Eucharist. "Although baptized adult Catholics who have
never received catechetical instruction or been admitted to the sacraments of
confirmation and Eucharist are not catechumens, some elements of the usual
catechumenal formation are appropriate to their preparation for the sacraments,
in accord with the norms of the ritual, Preparation of Uncatechized Adults
for Confirmation and Eucharist" (NSC 25).
Waiting for the Day!
It can be a time of anxious longing while one waits to experience the warm
embrace of membership in the Church and to be immersed into Catholic society.
This time of waiting and reflection is necessary, since becoming a Catholic is a
momentous event. But waiting can be painful as one longs for the sacraments,
especially the Eucharist, and the joys of Catholic life—the security that being
a faithful Catholic bestows. Yet even before being received, those waiting to be
fully incorporated already have a real relationship with the Church.
For those who are already Christians, their baptism itself forms a certain
sacramental relationship with the Church (cf. Vatican II,
Unitatis Redintegratio 3;
Catechism of the Catholic Church
1271). They are also joined to the Church by their intention to enter it, as are
the unbaptized who intend to do so: "Catechumens who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
desire with an explicit intention to be incorporated into the Church are by that
very intention joined to her. With love and solicitude mother Church already
embraces them as her own" (Vatican II, Lumen
Gentium 14:3; CCC 1249).
Thus, even before one is fully incorporated into the Church, one can enjoy the
status of being recognized by the Church as one of her own, precious children.
From Catholic Answers, San Diego,
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials presented in this work are
free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum,
August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted. +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004