During the introduction to a previous section (Being Catholic), we noted that the heart of the Catholic experience is the relationship with the God who loves you. It is essential that we keep this relationship front and centre as we discuss what it means to become Catholic. For the call to become Catholic is purely and simply the call to enter into this relationship with God in the company of those who have been similarly called.
This God, with whom we are invited to be in a relationship, comes to us in a specific way. By ‘God’ we mean God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, into whose life you are invited and sustained by means of the sacraments, a life of prayer and living in accord with the teachings of the Body of Christ. On related webpages, we look at the three sacraments that initiate us into this relationship (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Here we begin with an explanation of the process most usually utilised by the Church: the Rite of the Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA)
The RCIA is a process universally restored in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1970s to prepare unbaptised adults for membership in the Church. Also called ‘the Catechumenate’, this process of Christian initiation has several stages and ritual steps, leading up to the reception of all three sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, ideally but not necessarily at the Easter Vigil. People undertaking this journey of initiation, unless they have been baptised into another Christian community, are called catechumens. If they have been previously baptised, they are called candidates and, while they normally undertake the same formation in the Catholic faith as catechumens, they are initiated into the Church through Confirmation and Eucharist only.
There are four stages that make up the RCIA. The first two conclude with a special rite celebrated with and in the presence of the catechumen’s Church community. The third stage ends with the sacraments of initiation, customarily celebrated in the context of the Easter Vigil. The fourth stage is post-initiation.
Stage one is referred to as the Pre-catechumenate or Period of Evangelisation and focuses on helping inquirers to address their many questions as they start out on this journey of faith. It is during this stage that the inquirer is introduced to the account of the life and teachings of Jesus to be found in the gospels and to the community of which they will soon form a part. Once the inquirer believes he or she has made sufficient progress in their understanding, and the community agrees, he or she is formally accepted into the life of the Church as a catechumen or candidate by means of a public rite: the Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens.
The second stage covers the period of formal formation in the Christian faith. Catechumens attend the Sunday Liturgy, traditionally leaving after the Liturgy of the Word for their own time of prayer and instruction. During this period of formation (or catechesis) they are introduced to core teachings of the Church and encouraged to participate in the community’s life of service to those in need. Over an extended period of time, they and the community discern their growth in understanding of the Christian life and contemplate their willingness and ability to put that into practice. When it has been discerned that the catechumen is ready to take the next step, it is ritualised in the Rite of Election or Enrolment of Names. It is during this rite that the community acknowledges and celebrates God having chosen the catechumens and candidates for full initiation into the Body of Christ.
Having been put forward for the sacraments of initiation, the elect (which is the title for the catechumens and candidates now that they have transitioned into this stage) enter the third stage. When the sacraments are to be celebrated during the Easter Vigil, this third stage corresponds with the Lenten season. This third stage is called the Period of Purification and Enlightenment and is marked by three community celebrations, traditionally called Scrutinies. The Scrutinies are, from the point of the view of the elect, an opportunity for healing and forgiveness as they leave their old life and continue their journey into the new. From the point of view of the community, the Scrutinies provide an opportunity to pray for the elect and to renew its own commitment to ongoing repentance and renewal. The Scrutinies take place on the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent. This stage culminates in the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo By Michael King
Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019
30 October 2019