The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (R.C.I.A.)
Each year on Holy Saturday during the Easter Vigil, thousands of men and women are received into the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Parishes welcome these new members through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and at a liturgy bringing men, women and children into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. They receive the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism; Confirmation; and Eucharist.
The Four Stages of the RCIA Process
Prior to beginning the RCIA catechetical process, an individual approach someone in the parish or staff to inquire about Roman Catholicism and perhaps how to become a member and what this process entails. Or perhaps contact with people of faith and a personal faith experience lead people to inquire about the Roman Catholic Church.
A phone conversation or meeting with a priest or the Steward of RCIA takes place and the “Inquirer” is invited to attend our Inquiry Sessions here at Saint Michael Parish. Moreover, contact with people of faith and a personal faith experience lead people to seek more information about the Roman Catholic Church and its beliefs. At other parishes this Inquiry period may be known as the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate.
But first and foremost, this journey begins with our hearts being opened by the Holy Spirit, our hearts converted to Jesus Christ, our Lord, and His Gospel of Salvation, recognizing that we are being called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s Love.
For some, this process involves a long period of searching; for others, a shorter time. Each person comes with his or her own unique story so the time for preparation of the Sacraments can vary.
Some people come knowing nothing about Jesus and His Good News, others may come from another Christian denomination and have an active faith and participation in that Christian community…and peoples in between. Also, RCIA can be a means to further instruction those Roman Catholics who are seeking preparation for their Sacraments of Reconciliation, First Eucharist and Confirmation.
An important part of this faith formation is conducted at a Mass whereby these Inquirers are administered “Rites.” These are formal celebrations that form and inform not only the Inquirers but St. Michael’s faith community. It is the responsibility of the entire baptized to help form these Inquirers through all the processes of initiation by their prayer, concern and fellowship.
Once an Inquirer discerns the next step is to be taken, his or her intention is celebrated during Mass, and the priest administers the Rite of Acceptance or the Rite of Welcome. These people are called catechumens if they are NOT baptized and candidates if they have been validly baptized.
This part of their journey is called RCIA catechesis when these catechumens and candidates engage in reflecting on the Gospel, learning about the teachings and traditions of the church, sharing their growing Faith and journey, participating in a community service project. RCIA is about forming and training disciples of Jesus Christ in the Roman Catholic tradition. It can be likened to an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.
The period of the catechumenate last for as long as several years or for a shorter time. It depends on how the person is growing in faith, what questions they encounter along the way, and how God leads them on this journey. During this time, the catechumens consider what God is saying to them in the Scriptures, what changes in their life they need to make to respond to God’s inspiration, and what Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church means. Even before the catechumens are baptized, they have a special relationship to the Church.
This process applies to the candidates as well. A candidate who is validly baptized in another denomination is already one with us in the Body of Christ. However, their journey to the Catholicism is toward being received into Full Communion with the Roman Catholic by making a profession of faith, and receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist.
Stage Three involves the catechumens only. During the first week of Lent they are called to the Rite of Election by the Archbishop. At this church service, the Word of God is proclaimed, the pastor introduces our catechumens to the Archbishop and they sign their names into the Book of the Elect, remembering that it is not they who elect to be baptized but God who has elected them to enter into the Body of Christ, by virtue of their being baptized at the Easter Vigil. Our catechumens are now called The Elect and they move into their final preparations to receive the Sacraments of Initiation.
The days of Lent are the final period of purification and enlightenment leading up to the Easter Vigil. Lent is a period of preparation marked by prayer, study, and spiritual direction for the elect, and prayers for them by the parish communities. The Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation takes place during the Easter Vigil Liturgy on Holy Saturday when the catechumen receives the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. Now the person is fully initiated into the Catholic Church.
The newly baptized are now called the Neophytes. They post baptismal catechesis, which is called “mystagogy.” This period continues usually continues until Pentecost. Our newest fully initiation members reflect on their experiences at the Easter Vigil and continue to learn more about the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In addition they reflect on how they will serve Christ and help in the Church’s mission and outreach activities.
Like our newly baptized and fully initiation members, we, the parish need to remember that our conversion process is always on-going and there are always new opportunities to further form us in our faith and educate us in the Church’s teachings and traditions.