Dear Fr. Joe: What is RCIA? I see and hear a lot about it at Church but I don’t understand what is going on.
Thank you for your question! RCIA is an important part of our Catholic life and it’s good to know as much as we can about it. So, let’s dive right in!
The initials RCIA stand for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is a process by which a person can enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
RCIA is actually designed for those who have never been baptized. At some point, these people have been pre-evangelized; that is, they’ve heard about Jesus Christ and have come to believe in him, and they are interested in the Catholic Church. This time of searching can take years, or it might be very quick – it depends on the individual.
If the inquirer feels called to be baptized, he or she seeks acceptance into what is known as the Order of Catechumens, which occurs during the Rite of Acceptance – something you may have experienced during a Sunday Mass.
Catechumens are journeying in the faith until it is time for them to receive the sacraments of initiation into our faith. This can happen in a variety of ways, but is often through a series of meetings with members of a parish team who work with the catechumenate. The catechumens study the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, and pray about where God is leading them. Usually, they are preparing to enter the Church at the time of the Easter Vigil.
When they are ready, they request baptism and participate in the Rite of Election. At this liturgy, usually conducted by the bishop, the catechumens’ names are recorded in a book, and they are now called the elect.
During Lent, the elect prepare even more intently for the Easter Vigil. At various Sunday Masses, there are additional ceremonies you may experience – such as the scrutinies. If you are at one of these Masses, you may notice that the readings differ from the listed readings of the day. Don’t worry – it’s OK!
Then, at the Easter Vigil, the elect are welcomed into the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the reception of holy Communion. These sacraments, in this order, are called the sacraments of initiation, and we celebrate them with any of the elect who are over the age of reason (about age 7).
Additionally, the Easter Vigil Mass may include the reception into full communion with the Church of people who are members of other faith traditions. These are our brothers and sisters who have already been baptized, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in one baptism, so we do not re-baptize them. They will make a profession of faith in the Catholic Church, be confirmed and receive first Communion. There are occasionally people who have been baptized, but never confirmed. They, too, may be confirmed at the Easter Vigil.
RCIA is a great blessing to all of us, not just to those being initiated. It reminds us that we are all called to conversion on a daily basis. It enables us to witness to the faith to our new brothers and sisters in Christ. It calls on us to reaffirm our faith and recommit to Jesus.
What are some of the blessings you can offer those in RCIA?
1. Pray for them! They need to be strengthened and upheld by your prayer.
2. Introduce yourself to the catechumens and elect. We are about to welcome them into the great family of the Catholic Church, and the smaller family of our parish. Make sure they feel the warmth of our genuine joy to have them join us at the table of the Lord.
3. Volunteer to provide food, snacks or materials for their sessions. This is a mark of hospitality and will be much appreciated by the RCIA team.
4. Finally, volunteer to assist the RCIA team. You will find that sharing your faith with others blesses you with greater faith yourself.
If you have never done so, try to attend the Easter Vigil Mass this year in your parish. In addition to providing a welcoming presence for those who are coming into the Church, I think you will find it is truly the most beautiful liturgy our Church celebrates. From the lighting of new fire, to the first proclamation of the Gloria since Lent began, to the profound message of our salvation history, it is just profound.
Happy Easter; enjoy another day in God’s presence!