RCIA Frequently Asked Questions
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 are baptized?
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 community gatherings
- 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 #10)
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 initiated.
- 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.