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Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults


RCIA is bringing the "Good News" alive in the modern world ...


The letters "RCIA" stand for the "Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults", the document flowing from Vatican II which guides the process by which adults are initiated into our Roman Catholic community. The RCIA describes a process in which men and women are guided and cared for as they awaken in faith and are gradually introduced to the Catholic way of life.


The RCIA process is a series of carefully planned stages, marked by liturgical rites in the presence of the whole community, in which new Catholics embark on and join us in a continuing and deepening conversion into faith and discipleship.


The RCIA takes the distinctive history and spiritual needs of each person into account, differentiating between the baptized and the unbaptized, the catechized and the uncatechized. The needs of mature, practicing Christians from other faith traditions are considered on an individual basis.


The RCIA draws its model from the "catechumenate" of the ancient Church. Becoming Christian in the early days of the Church involved a sharp break with the surrounding culture. New Christians entered into the joy of new life and a life-sharing community of faith, but also entered into a way of living which demanded deep commitment and entailed great risks. In the modern world, our faith also demands deep commitment -- our beliefs and the beliefs of our society are often in tension. The Church revived the catechumenate -- embodied in the RCIA -- because new believers in the modern world need careful preparation and caring support as they enter into the mysteries of Christ and the commitment of Christian living.


Conversion: a Journey of Mind, Heart and Spirit


Awakening to Christ and seeking out the Church through the RCIA comes about in a variety of ways. The first step for some GRAPHIC is a sense that "something is missing" -- a sense, perhaps provoked by some crisis, that there is more to life than what they now have or a better way to live than how they now live. For many others, the journey begins because of a relationship with a Catholic -- a close friend or a potential spouse. Still others are drawn by seeing the example of a Catholic life well lived, or by exposure to a Catholic writer like St. Augustine, Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day. Whatever the reason for the awakening and decision to seek, the RCIA process is the first step on a lifelong journey of intellectual, emotional and spiritual conversion.


In her book Turning: Reflections on the Experience of Conversion, Emilie Griffin reflected that "conversion" is the process of "turning over one's life and energies to God." While we know that the concept of "turning" is apt -- the root image of conversion is the proverbial "one hundred eighty degree change" -- we also know from our own lives and experience that conversion is an ongoing, lifelong process of personal spiritual growth as well as a social process in which we strengthen and draw strength from others. The RCIA recognizes both the ongoing quality and the communal nature of conversion, providing an intellectual and spiritual framework and a faith community in which an individual's conversion experience can be understood and supported. Caring for people in the midst of this life-changing experience is the goal of the RCIA ministry.


Preparation: Awakening, Growth and Formation


The full RCIA process consists of four periods of awakening, growth and formation marked by celebration of three major rites involving the whole  community.




During the first period of the journey, the inquiry period, seekers GRAPHICask hard questions about Christianity and receive truthful, life-sharing answers from Catholic Christians. The informal discussions during the inquiry period help the seekers link their personal life stories to the Good News as witnessed and lived by the Roman Catholic community.


As each inquirer desires to continue the conversion journey within our faith community, he or she is invited to experience the first major rite of the RCIA process, the Rite of Acceptance. Several times each year at Sunday Mass, inquirers enter the second period of the journey, the catechumenate, by being marked with the sign of the cross on the ears, eyes, lips, heart, shoulders, hands and feet -- a symbol of both the joys and the costs of Christian discipleship.


Into the Catacombs


The word catechumenate means "time of serious study" and inquirers who become catechumens -- those who have not been baptized -- or candidates -- baptized Christians who have not been confirmed as Roman Catholics -- join us at Sunday Mass during the Liturgy of the Word, after which they move to the parish house to continue reflecting on the Scriptures. The length of the catechumenate varies according to individual need. The norm is a year or more.


Our catechumens and candidates do not travel alone during this period. Sponsors are chosen from the parish community to act as spiritual companions, providing personal support, sharing experience of Christian life and helping make the catechumens and candidates feel "at home" with Catholic religious practice.


The catechumenate period ends when a catechumen or candidate is ready to begin the third period of the journey, the period of purification GRAPHICand enlightenment, which coincides with Lent each year. On the first Sunday of Lent, catechumens travel to Holy Name Cathedral to celebrate the second major rite of the RCIA process, the Rite of Election, while candidates receive the Call to Continuing Conversion.


Purification and Enlightenment

The period of purification and enlightenment is a time of final preparation for initiation. The period is one of prayer, fasting and reflection for both catechumens, now known as the Elect, and candidates. During this period, the Elect experience scrutinies and exorcisms, special rites which seal their break with evil in preparation for baptism.


Easter Fire!

The candidates and the Elect are initiated through the third and consummating rite of the RCIA process, the Sacraments of Initiation, at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. On that night, when light drives out darkness, joyful sounds fill the silence, and we proclaim and renew our resurrection hope, the Elect culminate their long journey to initiation in the waters of Baptism -- then, with the candidates, the newly baptized are sealed with the oil of Confirmation and share the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist as full members of the Roman Catholic community.




Initiation begins the fourth period of the RCIA journey, the mystagogia, which means "leading into the mysteries". The newly initiated meet weekly between Easter and Pentecost to explore and confirm the Easter experience. From Pentecost until the following Easter, mystagogia continues with intermittent meetings. Mystagogia is the final stage of the RCIA process, but it is in turn the beginning of a pilgrimage of lifelong, continuous conversion in full communion with the Roman Catholic community of Christians.


How long does it take?


  • "The Rite of Christian Initiation is not a program.

  • It is the church's way of ministering sensitively to those who seek membership. For that reason some people will need more time than others to prepare for the lifetime commitment that comes with membership in the Catholic Church. The usual length of preparation is from one to two years. For those already baptized and who seek full communion in the Catholic church, the time may also vary.

  • It seems reasonable that catechumens or candidates experience the yearly calendar of Catholic practice at least one time around in order to make an informed decision.

  • The process of spiritual renewal and catechesis should not be hasty, especially for those not accustomed to the fasts and feasts and Sundays and seasons the way Catholics observe them.

  • One of the best time for the sacraments of initiation or the Rite of reception into full communion is the Easter Vigil. Lent prepare catechumens, candidates and the whole community for baptism,, confirmation and eucharist. The celebration of the Easter Vigil dramatically points to the wellspring of the church's life:

    "The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ."



    Four Steps to Becoming a Fully Initiated Catholic


    The Big Picture


    The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (commonly known as the R.C.I.A) is the normal way in which adults become full, active, participating members of the Catholic Church. The R.C.I.A. is not just a "convert class" with a new name. It looks different too. Special rites are celebrated during the Sunday liturgies at various times throughout the year. Adults involved in the R.C.I.A. are dismissed with their faith sharer each week after the homily to reflect and apply the scriptures they have just heard to their own lives. The R.C.I.A. involves the whole parish - in prayer as the rites are celebrated, in witness to our faith, in hospitality as new members are welcomed, and in specific ministries like sponsor, team member, or dismissal leader.


    The most important thing to keep in mind about the R.C.I.A. is this: it is not merely a new way to prepare adults for baptism; baptism is only one step. The goal of the process is full communion which means "full, conscious, and active participation" in the Eucharist and in the whole life of the Catholic faith community.


    The R.C.I.A. helps adults to grow in their relationship with God, become familiar with Catholic teachings and practices, get acquainted with people in the parish, and get involved in service within the parish or the wider community.


    Many persons who want to join the Catholic Church have already been baptized in another Christian Church. They will not be rebaptized. These candidates for full communion in the Catholic Church will follow these four steps of conversion.


    First Step

    Period of Inquiry


    How someone comes to consider joining the Catholic Church is unique to each individual. Years of marriage to a Catholic spouse, conversations with a Catholic friend or coworker, or even something written or viewed in the media can move an adult toward membership in the Catholic Church. Informally, this can go on for years!


    At some point, the person may contact a Catholic parish and begin to meet with other adults who are also inquiring about the Catholic faith. These adults, with members of the R.C.I.A. team, will take time to tell their own stories and connect them with the faith stories found in scripture.


    Second Step

    Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens and the Period of the Catechumenate


    Some of the inquirers become firm in their desire for initiation and decide that they would like to begin more formal study of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. They are admitted into the next step through a special ceremony called the Rite of Acceptance/Welcome into the Order of Catechumens. In this ritual the Church symbolically claims these men and women for Christ by signing them with the cross.


    This is the first time that the inquirers publicly declare their faith before the parish community. Because no one likes to do something like that on their own, each inquirer is accompanied by a sponsor. Sponsors may be chosen by the individual or provided by the parish. Sponsors provide support and companionship for the rest of the R.C.I.A. process.


    After this rite, the inquirers are called catechumens, and the initial conversion is deepened. This name indicates that they are learning the teachings of the Church and beginning to accept Catholic tradition and practices. Even though they are not yet permitted to receive the sacraments, the catechumens do enjoy other important rights. They have a right to assistance as they grow in faith by learning about the teachings of the Church and participating in works of service in the parish. They also have a right to be married in the Church and to receive Christian burial.


    Third Step

    Rite of Election and the Period of Purification and Enlightenment


    The period of the catechumenate ends when the catechumens discern, with the help of their sponsors and the parish R.C.I.A. team, that God is calling them to receive the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and First Eucharist) at the next Easter Vigil. Before they can be initiated, they must be officially called to the sacraments by the bishop or someone designated by him.


    This Rite of Election is celebrated on weekend of the First Sunday of Lent presided by the Bishop. The Rite of Election marks the end of formal study of the teachings and practices of the Church. The catechumens are now called the elect. The weeks of Lent are a time of intense prayer and conversion as the elect prepare themselves to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord at Easter and to receive the sacraments of initiation.


    On the Sundays of Lent, special prayers are offered at the Eucharist for the elect, called Scrutinies. These prayers are for strengthening in grace and virtue, and help them prepare more fully for the sacraments. The sponsors continue to accompany the elect in church and support them in their Lenten preparations.


    Fourth Step

    Initiation and Mystagoia


    On Holy Saturday, the parish assembles for the Easter Vigil. The Church has always recognized that in baptism we die to sin in Christ's death so that we may rise to new life with him. The Easter Vigil is the primary celebration of the Lord's resurrection and is, therefore, the most appropriate occasion for the elect to celebrate their baptism, confirmation, and first eucharist.


    For the newly initiated, now called neophytes, the time between Easter and Pentecost is a special opportunity to reflect on the commitment which they have made to the Lord, to the Church, and to the local parish community. This time of unfolding the meaning of the initiation sacraments is called mystagogia. The Sunday scripture readings, which explain the meaning of the resurrection and of baptism, have special meaning for these new Catholics. During this season the bishop may gather the neophytes for a special eucharistic celebration called the Mass of the Neophytes.


    The journey of faith lasts a lifetime. The weeks after Easter are a time for new Catholics to seek out their place in the parish community. Other parishioners can reach out to welcome them, helping them to get involved and feel at home.


     If you know someone who might like to begin journeying with us in faith, invite them to call the local parish office.





    Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved