Becoming Catholic – An Overview of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
Parishes welcome new members into the Roman Catholic Church through a process of formation, faith sharing, and rituals known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This process includes several stages marked by prayer, study, and discussion.
The RCIA is structured over a series of ceremonial steps and periods of learning, the timing of which may vary for each individual. One may take as much time as he or she needs in the initiation process before entering into full initiation in the Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.
The RCIA process may also be adapted to meet the specific needs of children and youth.
Who is welcome to begin the RCIA Journey?
All who are open to discerning their personal experience of faith and learning more about the Catholic Church are welcome to begin the RCIA process. All that is truly required is a sincere desire to learn, to grow, and to develop one’s relationship with God. The RCIA process is applied to the following:
- Unbaptized: persons (age of discretion: 7+ years) who have never been baptized and who need a process to help them grow in awareness to God’s call to conversion as well as ways to respond to that call. They are considered “catechumens.”
- Baptized in Another Christian Church: Those who were baptized into another Christian denomination and wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. They are considered “candidates.”
- Baptized but uncatechized Catholic Adults: Those who were baptized Catholic as infants who are seeking to complete their initiation. These adults will be prepared to celebrate the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation and Eucharist. They are also considered “candidates.”
The Four Stages of the RCIA
I. Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate
This first stage is called the period of inquiry. This is when an individual first expresses interest in becoming a Catholic, and begins to explore, with the help of the parish community, to discern his or her relationship with Christ and how this can be deepened by joining the Catholic Church.
II. Period of Catechumenate
This second stage is an extended period which normally lasts one year or longer. This is a time of formation and education based on Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Catholic Church.
III. Period of Purification and Enlightenment
This stage coincides with the liturgical season of Lent. It is a time of reflection, prayer, and intense spiritual preparation rather than a time of catechetical instruction. A Lenten retreat is offered during this period.
IV. Period of Mystagogy
At this time the newly initiated explore their experience by being fully initiated through participation in the Sunday Eucharist. The period is marked by actively living a life of charity, service and love. Mystagogy is a lifelong process, one that all Christians are engaged in, as we all work to deepen our sense of what it means to be a Christian.
The Liturgical Rites of the RCIA
I. Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
This is a liturgical rite in which the inquirer states publicly that he or she wants to become a baptized member of the Catholic Church. The Church, through the local parish community affirms this desire to follow God’s call. For candidates who have already been baptized and are seeking full communion in the Catholic Church, this step is called the Rite of Welcoming the Candidate.
II. Rite of Election
The Rite of ELection or Enrollment of Names coincides with the beginning of Lent and is celebrated by the Bishop at the cathedral church of the Diocese. The Rite includes the official enrollment of names of all those seeking baptism at the Easter Vigil. At this Rite the catechumens publicly request baptism and declare their desire to make a faith commitment to Jesus in the Catholic Church.
III. The Scrutinies
The Scrutinies are three public celebrations during the Period of Purification in which the elect are invited to progress in their perception of sin and their desire for salvation.
IV. The Presentations
The Presentations take place after the celebration of the Scrutinies during which the Church lovingly entrusts to the elect the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.
V. The Sacraments of Initiation
The third step in the RCIA is the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Through this step the elect are admitted into the people of God.
The reception of candidates into Full Communion with the Catholic Church should ordinarily take place at the Sunday Eucharist of the parish community. Candidates for full communion into the Catholic Church celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation prior to reception of the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist. For pastoral reasons, they may be received into full communion at the Easter Vigil.