The RCIA Process
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the process of discerning and ritualizing stages of gradual conversion. Initiation of adults belongs to all the baptized. The process is about a relationship over time with both God and the Catholic community. It is the Church's method of a faith journey of conversion.
The process has no time frame. Conversion occurs on God's time; not our time. The RCIA conversion process consists of four periods. The amount of time spent in each phase is dependent on individual needs and feelings.
- The Period of Evangelization or Precatechumenate (Inquiry)
- The Period of The Catechumenate
- The Period of Purification and Enlightenment
At the end of each period, a rite is celebrated to signify the continuation of the process until the sacraments of initiation are celebrated. The rites are:
- The Rite of Acceptance (into the Order of the Catechumens)
- The Rite of Election
- Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation
The Period of Evangelization or Precatechumenate or Inquiry
Conversion is a gradual process or a faith journey. The first step in this journey is the inquiry stage. This period may last a long time. One needs to be aware that gradual conversion cannot be measured in earth time, but in God's time.
The aim of this period is to awaken one's faith. It is characterized by:
- Sharing stories about the Catholic faith
- Answering questions about why Catholics do the things they do
- Proclaiming the message of salvation through the Word
- Introduction into parish life
- Building trust
During the inquiry stage of the process, the name given to the participant is simply "an inquirer." There are no specific rites celebrated during this time.
Once God's time has been fulfilled and the inquirer is ready to take the first step in the process of conversion, The Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens is celebrated.
The Period of the Catechumenate
The faith journey becomes more in-depth after the initial commitment has been made. This period may last one to a few years. A relationship with the Catholic community begins. A deeper understanding of the Catholic faith and ones' relationship with Christ begins to emerge.
The aim of this period is to deepen the initial conversion. Catechumens with the help of catechists study, share and reflect on the Sunday Gospels. They experience passing on the Catholic tradition. The period is characterized by:
- Catechesis based on Liturgy of the Word - Studying Sacred Scripture
- Living in the life of the Catholic community - participating in church activities
- Prayer and worship
- Introduction to the apostolic life
There are two different names given to the participants in the Catechumenate. Unbaptized members are called "Catechumens" and baptized members are called "Candidates.".
During the period of the Catechumenate, minor rites can be celebrated. These include: celebrations of the Word, anointings, blessings, exorcisms, presentations of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, and the rite of Sending Forth to Election.
Once God's time has been fulfilled and the catechumen or candidate is ready to take the next step in the process of conversion, The Rite of Election for the unbaptized and the call to continuing conversion for the baptized is celebrated with the Bishop presiding.
The Period of Purification and Enlightenment
The faith journey now intensifies as the initial commitment becomes a deeper commitment to conversion to the Catholic faith. The period of Purification and Enlightenment is during the Lenten and Triduum period (Ash Wednesday to the Easter Vigil Mass). The relationship with the Catholic community deepens as preparation for the sacraments of initiation are anticipated.
The aim of this period is to eliminate what is weak and sinful; and affirm what is holy. It is characterized by:
- A time of recollection
- Lenten retreat
- Final preparation for the sacraments of initiation
- Celebration of Lenten Rites
After the Rite of Election, the Catechumens are called "the Elect." During the period of the Purification and Enlightenment, rites are celebrated: the Scrutinies, presentation of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, and preparation rites on Holy Saturday.
As the Period of Purification and Enlightenment comes to a close, the Elect and the Candidates are ready to take the final step in the process of conversion, the Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation during the Easter Vigil Mass.
The Rite of Acceptance into the Order of the Catechumens
All of the rites are celebrated with the assembly or congregation during a liturgy. The Rite of Acceptance is a celebration where the unbaptized inquirers publicly declare to the church their intentions to continue their faith journey. The church welcomes and accepts them as persons who intend to become its members.
This rite marks the beginning of the Catechumenate proper. The celebration consists of:
- Reception of the candidates
- Celebration of the Word of God
- Dismissal of the Catechumens
This Rite maybe adapted to accommodate baptized Inquirers who seek to become fully initiated into the Catholic Faith (Rite of Welcoming). After the celebration of the Rite of Acceptance, the Catechumens enter into the Catechumenate period.
The Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion
Based on testimony of godparents and catechists, and the Catechumens' reaffirmation, the Church declares their state of readiness to enter the final period in their faith journey. The Catechumens now called the "Elect" are strengthened to take part in the sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.
This rite marks the close of the Catechumenate. The celebration is presided over by the Bishop. The primary time for the Rite to be celebrated is on the first Sunday in Lent.
The Bishop, in the name of the community, declares approval of the Candidates. During the celebration, each candidate publicly signs their name in the Book of the Elect, signifying their readiness to complete their faith journey of conversion.
The "Elect" and Candidates now enter into the Period of Purification and Enlightenment to intensify their preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation.
The Paschal Triduum with the Sacraments of Initiation
The greatest celebration of the Church year is Easter, and the Easter Vigil Mass is the greatest of the Easter celebrations. It is at this celebration where the Elect and Candidates are initiated into the Church.
The Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil Mass, and Easter Sunday) sets the stage for the initiation rites. As part of the Easter Vigil Mass, the Sacraments of Initiation are celebrated with the assembly. The Sacraments of Initiation are:
- Baptism - by the waters of baptism, a person passes into the new life of grace and becomes a member of the Body of Christ
- Confirmation - anointing with special holy oil called chrism is the act which seals the baptism promise through the power of the Holy Spirit
- Holy Eucharist - participation at the Table of the Lord - receiving Eucharist completes full membership in the Church
Though the reception of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist signifies the conclusion of the third step of the process of Initiation; it is just the beginning. As with any relationship, it must continue to grow. The newly initiated continue their growth through post baptismal catechesis in the next period called Mystagogy - deepening their relationship with Christ and His Catholic Church.