Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA)
Who is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults intended for?
"Adults who after hearing the mystery of Christ proclaimed, consciously and
freely seek the living God and enter the way of faith and conversion as the
Holy Spirit opens their hearts." (RCIA # 1)
Are there steps for preparing to enter into the Church?
Yes there are. This journey begins with the person being an inquirer. The
person may seek to get more information on who Jesus is and what is the Church’s
role in his or her life. This leads to the moment when the person desires
to make a more formal commitment to Christ and that is the step of the catechumenate
which is the point of initial conversion. The catechumenate prepares the person
to seek initiation into the Church. When the person, with the support of those
involved in formation, desires to be initiated he or she enters a period of
intense preparation and is called one of the elect. The final step is realized
at the Easter Vigil when the person is initiated into Christ and His Church
becoming a full member of the Church.
What is the time frame from someone entering the catechumenate to when they
There is no time frame rather the person who desires to enter into the Church
is on a spiritual journey. “The initiation of catechumens is a gradual process
that takes place within the community of the faithful.” (RCIA # 4) How long
that journey takes really is dependent on different factors. The model of this
process should not be a school year: they begin in September and “graduate”
at the Easter Vigil. This is not about adult education. This process is about
committing one’s life to Christ. It is about conversion to Christ and a life
that becomes centered in Christ. Therefore, it is important to recognize that
each journey is unique and each person must be treated as an individual. That
could mean that one person is ready to commit to Christ in a year while another
needs two, three or more years to be fully open to that commitment.
When do you know that someone is ready to make the commitment to Christ?
This question has no simple answer. It is important to take into account
many different factors. The most important element is getting to know the
person who seeks to make this commitment. This determination is unique to
the individual and the circumstances of his or her life. Thus, those who are
involved with the process need to be part of this decision to help guide the
person. It is necessary to reflect on how well the person has already integrated
their life into the life of grace that they will be called to live out by their
baptism. How do they understand who Christ is? What meaning does God hold
for them? Have they actualized in their lives their relationship to the Church? In
other words they are “expected to have undergone a conversion in mind and in
action and to have developed a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching
as well as a spirit of faith and charity. With deliberate will and an enlightened
faith they must have the intention to receive the sacraments of the Church,
a resolve they will express publicly in the actual celebration of the rite.” [RCIA
#120] It is not, therefore, simply about adult education and being able to
answer theological questions but rather it is about conversion of heart and
mind to Christ in which catechesis plays a role. It is about formation of
the whole person into a true relationship with Christ.
What is the process that should be used to lead someone along this journey?
The rite itself is structured to support this journey in faith and its appropriate
application will help to facilitate a person’s growth in faith. The process
includes time for people to inquire into the faith and to mature in their understanding
of that faith as lived reality in their lives. There are moments in the journey
that are of a more intense nature and mark a change in the journey. There
are various periods within the process the first period is as inquirer or the
pre-catechumenate when the person is evangelized and helped to understand who
Christ is and what Christian life entails. The second period begins with a
person entrance into the order of catechumens. This period may last an indeterminate
amount of time. As part of this period there are various rites that can be
celebrated to aid the catechumen’s spiritual journey. Theses rites include
exorcisms, praying over the individual, dismissals with prayer contained in
the prayer of the faithful for the person and so forth. Catechesis would also
be an important during this time to help the person grow in understanding of
the faith. The catechesis is intended though not to be simply an intellectual
exercise, but, rather, to aid the person’s conversion to Christ. The third
and shortest but most intense period begins with the rite of election celebrated
on the first Sunday of Lent. This is a time of purification and enlightenment. The
person is accepted by the bishop as a member of the elect and during this time
there is even more intense preparation for the person’s initiation into Christ
and His Church. There are various rites that are celebrated such as the scrutinies,
presentation and recitation of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, and Ephphetha
Rite. This period is intended to strengthen the person as he or she moves
quickly towards the celebration of the initiation sacraments. The final period
extends throughout the Easter season and is a time of mystagogy. Here the
catechesis continues as the person experiences the celebrations of Christian
faith as a Christian.
Who is involved in the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation?
The short answer is the whole Church. Remember the person is entering into
a community of faith. They are to be made part of the Body of Christ. Therefore,
this is not a process that is intended for simply the priest or a small team
working with the person. The real vision is that the whole parish as representing
the Church is there to journey in faith with those seeking to know Christ. “By
joining the catechumen in reflecting on the value of the paschal mystery and
by renewing their own conversion, the faithful provide an example that will
help the catechumens to obey the Holy Spirit more generously.” (RCIA # 4) Furthermore,
“In various circumstances of daily life, even as an apostolate, all followers
of Christ have an obligation of spreading the faith according to their abilities. Hence,
the entire community must help the candidates throughout the process of initiation.”
(RCIA #9) Thus, it is essential, for the process to be truly effective, that
the whole parish play some role in the formation of those who seek to come
to know Christ through His Church. Some people will have a greater role than
others but those roles should never preclude the whole of the parish at some
level being actively involved through prayer and other ways of supporting those
who seek to be Catholic.
How are people called to be involved in this process?
There are various ministries, offices and roles that exist for helping those
who are on the journey of conversion to Christ.
Priest, RCIA Director, and RCIA Team must work together first to help the
community to recognize its role in the formation of new Christians. Thus,
there is preparation work that must be done before the process begins. It
might even be necessary to create more than one team that will work with particular
people as they begin and make the journey of faith. Each individual must understand
their personal role in this process and how they are called to fulfill it. Also
important is the creation of a plan for how people will make the journey. It
is too easy to fall into the education only model, which is not desired by
the Church. Rather it is necessary to create a process that truly addresses
the whole person and their relationship with God, Christ and the Church. Remember
this is about a process of conversion of the whole person and not simply about
learning about the faith.
During the pre-catechumenate,
- The faithful are to witness to their faith in Christ and welcome
those seeking to know the faith into their homes, personal conversation and
- Priest provides pastoral care and support to both inquirers and
the Director and team.
- RCIA Director works with the priest and the team to help the inquirer(s)
to learn more about the Christian faith and help to develop a Christian relationship
with God through Christ.
- RCIA Team helps to provide personal connection with parish acting
in the name of the community; works closely with the Director.
- Sponsors are called to support the inquirer and to walk with
them. They are people “who have known and assisted [the inquirer] and stand
as witnesses to the [persons’] moral character, faith, and intention.” (RCIA
During the catechumenate
- The faithful are to be in attendance and actively participating
when possible at the celebrations for the catechumens.
- Priest continues the personal care and assistance; approves the
choice of godparent; celebrates the rites that can occur during this period
such as exorcisms or blessings adapting them as needed and allowed; provides
instruction with others; works closely with those who are given the explicit
ministry of working with the catechumens.
- RCIA Director works with the priest and the team to help the inquirer(s)
to learn more about the Christian faith and helps to develop a Christian
relationship with God through Christ.
- RCIA Team to provide personal connection with the parish acting
in the name of the community; works closely with the Director. May
help with catechesis and acting as witnesses to the faith through their own
experience of faith to the catechumen. They should also come to know the
catechumen on a personal level.
- Sponsors or Godparents journey with the catechumen and giving them
the spiritual support during this time. The Godparents do not need to be
the original sponsors and are “chosen by the [catechumen] on the basis of
example, good qualities and friendship, delegated by the local community.”
(RCIA # 11) They witness to the Gospel by a lived faith in all aspects of
their life. By this witness they lend support to the catechumen when they
may falter in their own growth in the faith of Christ.
During Lent/Time of the Elect/Initiation
- The faithful participate in the scrutinies and presentations; witness
to the elect a spirit of penance, faith and charity.
- Priest continues the personal care and assistance; celebrates the
scrutinies and presentations and other rites; acts as minister in the celebration
of sacraments of initiation
- RCIA Director and RCIA Team works with the priest to ensure that
the rites take place. They with the priest, and Godparents, help to discern
if the person is ready to take the final step. Is the person’s life is so
formed that they are ready to take on the duties and responsibilities that
come from initiation.
- Sponsors or Godparents accompany candidate on day of election, and
at the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. Chosen before the rite
of election such that at the rite of election they publicly accept the office
and work even more closely with the elect after this point. They participate
in their proper roles at the celebration of the sacraments of initiation
Time of Mystagogy
- The faithful continue their support for the newly initiated by celebrating
Mass with them, and making them feel welcome and truly part of the community.
- Priest through his mystagogical preaching gives to the baptized
a presentation of the mysteries of faith as seen through the liturgical celebrations.
- RCIA Director and RCIA Team continue their support of the newly
- Sponsors or Godparents continue to accompany during this time.
How do we work with those who are already baptized?
It is important first to determine the state of the person’s relationship
with Christ. If the person has only been baptized but has never been catechized
then there should be an adequate time for the process of formation to take
place. Like the catechumenate this time of formation should not be rushed. How
long this time of preparation lasts is dependent upon the individual and their
own formation in relationship to God and his Church. It is not simply about
gaining intellectual knowledge but formation of the entire person. There must
be time for intellectual catechesis but also spiritual, and moral development
such that the person makes the Gospel a lived reality in his or her life. As
part of this process, like the catechumen, the candidate for full communion
must be helped to develop a prayer life if one does not yet exist. Also, they
must acquire a sense that a Christian life is a journey of conversion to the
Lord. Those working with the candidate must understand that the candidates
are not converting to the faith, since they are already members of the Body
of Christ; rather, they are coming into full communion. In other words, they
are completing their initiation. Therefore, the candidates must not be treated
as catechumens. But, depending on their level of formation and conversion
to Christ, there may be parts of the catechumenate that can be adapted to their
needs. If a person has been living out a life in Christ than no greater burden
than is necessary should be placed in their process of entering the Church. The
time of formation for them should focus more on developing their understanding
of the Church, their place in the Church and an adherence to the Church. But
even with these people the formation is still about the whole person and not
simply adult education; spiritual development must play a role in their entrance
into full communion.