Resources for RCIA
Resources for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Resources for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Parishes welcome new members into the Catholic Church through a process of education, 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. Included in the process are several Rites, which take place within the context of the Mass. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) describes the RCIA as a process in which participants “undergo . . . conversion as they study the Gospel, profess faith in Jesus and the Catholic Church, and receive the sacraments . . . The RCIA process follows the ancient practice of the Church and was restored by the Second Vatican Council as the normal way adults prepare for baptism.”
The RCIA is structured over a series of ceremonial steps and periods of learning, and the timing of these may vary for each individual. One may take as much time as he or she needs in the initiation process before becoming ready for full initiation through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. Initiation within the Church is a journey of conversion that is gradual and ongoing and suited to individual needs. It is a process rather than an educational program and this process takes place within the community of the faithful, the local Church.
The RCIA process can be adapted to meet the specific needs of children and youth.
Who is welcome to begin the RCIA Journey?
All people who are open to discerning their personal experience of faith and to learning more about the Catholic Church are welcome to begin the RCIA process. Many people come to an awareness of their desire to learn about membership in the Catholic Church in various and different ways. Often it may be a personal faith experience, overcoming personal difficulty and tragedy, or a relationship or discussion with a person of faith which leads one to begin this exciting journey. All that is truly required is a sincere desire to learn, to grow, and to develop one’s relationship with God. The RCIA process can be applied to the following 3 groups:
It is important to note that “candidates” do not always need to take part in the full process. If they have been actively living the Christian life in another denomination, they are likely to need very little catechesis and may be welcomed into the Church on any Sunday after a short period of preparation. According to the National Statutes for the Catechumenate, “Those baptized persons who have lived as Christians and need only instruction in the Catholic tradition and a degree of probation within the Catholic community should not be asked to undergo a full program parallel to the catechumenate.”
In the case of children who have reached the age of reason (age 7), the pastor of the local parish should be consulted for information about Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. Adult Catholics who were baptized and received their First Eucharist in the Catholic Church and are interested in the Sacrament of Confirmation should contact their local parish office. These are Catholics who have been instructed in the Catholic faith but who have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation. A separate program of adult Confirmation is available to these Catholics, who are then prepared to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The Steps of the Journey
The Rite of Christian Initiation is based on the principle that the process of conversion proceeds gradually, in stages. Progress from one stage to the next is marked by a liturgical celebration in the midst of the parish community. The experience and needs of those in each category described above differ, and so the length of time may vary for each person. Yet there are certain similarities among all the groups and the process they will experience. RCIA consists of four periods of formation which are marked by rituals that celebrate what has been completed and that call a person into the next phase.
Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate
The first stage is called the period of inquiry (or the precatechumenate). This is when the individual first expresses an interest in becoming a Catholic, and begins to explore, with the help of the parish community, what his or her relationship with Christ might be and how that relationship might be fulfilled and deepened by joining the Catholic Church. There is no liturgical rite to mark the beginning of this stage. There is no time limit or constraints placed on this period. It is rather a very flexible and open time period, which may take several months or several years. Some people engage in this first stage as a long process of searching and discernment. For others, it is a much shorter period of time. This stage is completed when the inquirer feels ready to move forward and the community is prepared to welcome him or her or decides against continuing in this direction. There is no commitment necessary, and no expectations during this time.
During this period of time individuals, who are called inquirers, are introduced to the person, the life, and the ministry of Jesus Christ. This period revolves around the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and learning about the Truth expressed in the Gospels. One is introduced to prayer and learns the importance of developing a prayer life. People share their personal stories and their life journeys in a supportive environment and are encouraged to ask questions about the Catholic faith. It is a time for building communion and for listening, learning, sharing, and asking questions. It is a time of initial conversation and conversion.
First Step: Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
Once the inquirer decides to continue the journey, he or she seeks acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. This is a liturgical rite in which the inquirer states publicly in the midst of the parish community that he or she wants to become a baptized member of the Church. The Church, through the local parish community, affirms this desire by accepting the person and his or her intention to follow God’s call. Included in this rite are the renunciation of false worship, giving of a new name, and the presentation of a cross. The candidate is now affirmed by the local community and strengthened to continue the journey.
For candidates who have already been baptized and are seeking full communion with the Catholic Church, this step is called the Rite of Welcoming the Candidate.
Period of the Catechumenate
The second stage is called the catechumenate and is an extended period which normally lasts one year or longer. For the baptized but uncatechized (not yet educated in the faith), the period should be a similar length. “Candidates” for full communion may complete this stage in a shorter time frame. This is a time of formation and education, and learning is based on Sacred Scripture as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Catechumens learn about Catholic teachings and values, what it means to be a member of the Catholic community, prayer and worship, and are also introduced to the apostolic life. This is also a time for the catechumen or candidate to learn how to live as a Catholic Christian through their faith journey and the support of their parish community. Each individual learns what it means to be a Catholic and what changes they may need to make in their lives. It is a time of deepening one’s faith, initial conversion, and commitment to the Church. This period is marked by rites such as the dismissal rite, blessings, and anointing of catechumens. This period ends when the catechumens and candidates express their desire to receive the sacraments of initiation and the parish community acknowledges their readiness. The catechumen, with the support of the parish team working with him or her, then becomes an “elect,” which is marked by the Rite of Election during the next stage.
Second Step: 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. Parishes normally celebrate the Rite of Sending prior to the Rite of Election. Godparents and catechists testify to the readiness of the catechumens for the sacraments of initiation.
Period of Purification and Enlightenment
The third stage is the period of purification and enlightenment. It coincides with the liturgical season of Lent. It is a time of reflection, prayer, and spiritual direction rather than a time of catechetical instruction. This period is intended to enlighten the minds and hearts of the elect with a deeper personal knowledge of Christ. During this time, the elect (formerly the catechumens) and the candidates enter into a period of intense spiritual preparation and prayer which includes the three public celebrations of the scrutinies (for catechumens) and is marked by the presentations of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The Rite of Election (for catechumens) and the Call to Continuing Conversion (for candidates) are celebrated at the beginning of this stage. A Lenten retreat is offered during this period as final preparations are made for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. This period ends with the celebration of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. (Note: only the elect are baptized. All receive the sacrament of Confirmation and are welcomed at the Eucharistic table. Once a person has received the sacraments of initiation he or she becomes a “neophyte,” which means “beginner” or “novice.”)
Third Step: Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation
At the Easter Vigil, the catechumen receives the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist. Now the person is a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church and will continue to live out his or her response to God as a member of this faith community.
Period of Mystagogy
The fourth stage is the period of post baptismal catechesis or mystagogy. At this time, the newly initiated explore their experience of being fully initiated through participation with all the faithful at Sunday Eucharist and through appropriate catechesis. Emphasis is placed on the study of the Gospel, the reception of the Eucharist, and actively living a life of charity, service, and love. The period formally lasts through the Easter season and may be marked by a parish celebration on or near Pentecost. During this time the deeper meaning of the sacraments, the Christian life and prayer is examined. It is a time of growth during which one’s understanding of the faith matures so that he or she can participate more fully in the Mass and in the life of the Church. On a different level, 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 live the Christian life.
The Pinnacle of the Journey
The celebration of the Sacrament of Initiation at the Easter Vigil marks the highlight of each person’s spiritual journey, as one celebrates with family and church community full entrance into the Catholic Church. The Liturgy begins with the Service of Light which includes the blessing of the new fire and the Paschal candle which symbolizes Jesus, the light of the World. The second part consists of the Liturgy of the Word with a number of Scripture readings. After the Liturgy of the Word, the candidates are presented to the members of the community, who pray for them and join in the Litany of the Saints. After the Litany and prayer for the elect, the presiding priest blesses the water placing the Easter or Paschal candle into the baptismal water. Those seeking baptism then renounce sin and profess their faith after which they are immersed into the baptismal water three times with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In some situations the water may be poured over the head of each candidate.
After the baptism the newly baptized are dressed in white garments and are presented with a candle lighted from the Paschal Candle. The newly baptized are then confirmed by the priest or bishop who imposes his hands on their heads, and invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit. He then anoints them with the oil called Sacred Chrism.
The Mass continues in the usual fashion. At this point the newly baptized can participate in the general intercessions, in bringing their gifts to the altar, as well as sharing in the offering of Christ’s sacrifice. At the Communion of the Mass, each of the newly baptized receives the Eucharist, Christ’s body and blood, for the first time.
Symbols of the Journey
Symbols are an important part of our lives as Christians and they help to define and express the realities of our Catholic faith.
Companions for the Journey
Jesus recognized the importance of community and teamwork in spreading the Gospel, as displayed by the fact that he called a group of apostles and often sent his apostles out two by two. The Church recognizes the importance of support as one progresses through the RCIA process. First of all, candidates journey not alone but together with other adults who are learning about the Catholic Church and also with a team of dedicated people from the parish community who meets with the group regularly to offer assistance and support. Secondly, the Church also gives the inquiring person a sponsor who will share the journey and accompany you at RCIA sessions and other special events. This sponsor, who normally comes from the parish community, is called a godparent for those who have not yet been baptized and a mentor for those who have already been baptized. They are truly companions for the journey of faith and walk with each candidate through each step of the process. The sponsor also connects the candidate to the local parish community. Finally, since the RCIA process takes place within a parish community, the prayers from this community are essential for the journey. Moreover, the prayers of the universal Church are with each candidate, providing spiritual support for the journey and connection to the Church community.
Beginning the Journey
For many people interested in becoming Catholic or entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, the process can be somewhat confusing or intimidating. After all, this is a major decision in one’s life. The decision to join the Church is exciting and will lead to a deepening of personal faith and relationship to God, others, and self. No matter what has brought you here, the fact that you are interested in taking the next step shows your openness to God and God’s call in your life. Many people have come through the RCIA program and are living lives of service, faith, and love. Perhaps you are asking where to begin the journey. The answer is that you have already begun! Welcome to your faith journey! The next step may be to contact your local parish. Most parishes have an RCIA coordinator who would be happy to help you move ahead in your discernment process. Also feel free to contact the pastor and arrange a meeting to discuss your desire to become a full member of the Catholic Church. In many parishes the RCIA program begins in the fall and includes a series of weekly meetings.
Christian Initiation of Children
“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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
During the catechumenate
During Lent/Time of the Elect/Initiation
Time of Mystagogy
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.
Inquirer – those who have not been baptized and desire to know more about Christ and the Church
Catechumen – one who has taken the initial step of conversion and desires to grow in and fully develop a life of faith in Jesus Christ in the context of the community of faith.
Elect – one who has been chosen by the Bishop to go forward to celebrate the sacraments of initiation.
Neophyte – one who has recently been baptized.
Candidate for full Communion – one who has been baptized and seeks full communion with the Catholic Church; such a person is not to be considered a convert. Rather the person is fulfilling a life of conversion centered in Christ that all the baptized must live; he or she must be supported and the person should be helped to grow in that life. When dealing with people in this group it is important to pastorally consider their life story in order to appreciate how best to approach the level of formation they may require as they are fully initiated into the life of the Church.
Orthodox – anyone who has been initiated in an Orthodox church is fully initiated and is required only to give a profession of faith. They are initiated into the equivalent Eastern rite Catholic Church; they are not Latin rite Catholics.
Catechized – through the faith life they already are living as a member of another Christian tradition and they have already been formed at some level into a life with Christ; the degree of continuing formation that might be needed must be determined on an individual basis; the biggest issue is adherence to the Church and her teachings; bridging the gap between doctrinal differences of their previous community and the Church; recommit his or her life to continuing conversion to Christ
Un-Catechized (Non-Catholic or Catholic who has not received first communion) – Has no formation in a life with Christ and needs to develop it; there are similarities to the catechumens but they should not be treated as catechumens; it is important that they are given the appropriate time to develop and be formed in the Christian faith; they must be formed spiritually, morally and intellectually.
Conversion – (metanoia from Greek) radical turning around of the whole person towards Christ; a radical reorientation of one’s desires thought processes and actions centered in the Paschal Mystery; never accomplished in a single moment but rather is a process of transformation; it is a striving for holiness that is centered in God and supported by the community; conversion must bring about change in all levels of our person and way of thinking spiritually, morally, intellectually; any such change is always at the initiation of God.
Conversion involves “both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and the concrete milieux which are theirs.” Evangelii Nuntiandi 18
(Conversion excerpted from James J Walter “Conversion” The New Dictionary of Theology, 233-235)
Catechesis – is about formation of the entire person spiritually, morally, and intellectually and therefore it is not simply about intellectual education or curiosity (catechesis ≠ adult education); formation of the person regarding one’s relationship to God, Church, society, neighbor, and self; how one is responsible to live out the Gospel imperatives and directives at all levels of our being; it is an holistic approach to Christian living.
“[is] not only [about] an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also [the person] is brought to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate.” (RCIA, no 75.1)
Evangelization – is aimed at bringing others into a true relationship with Christ and his Church. It is the duty of all the baptized and entails the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ in word and action. It also calls us to personally invite others to know God through Christ in the context of the community formed by the Holy Spirit.
“Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.” Evangelii Nuntiandi 18
For the proper response to the different sacramental and catechetical backgrounds of those who seek full communion with the Catholic Church, these notes are intended to supply direction by addressing two specific issues: (1) which categories of people must or may be in RCIA and (2) which categories of people are able to receive the sacrament of Confirmation from a priest.
The Archdiocesan Rite of Election will be held on February 26, 2023. It will be at 2pm at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
Patrick has worked for the archdiocese since 2014. He works in the areas of faith formation, ethnic communities, pastoral planning, evangelization, discipleship, and leadership. Patrick has worked previously in parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere as a Director for Evangelization, Director of Religious Education, and Coordinator of Youth Ministry. He and his wife have two sons.
As a newly ordained priest Fr. Gaspar was assigned to a very diverse community in Marlborough, where he ministered alongside some wonderful priests to English, Spanish, and Portuguese speaking communities.
After four happy years in the parish, he was asked by Cardinal Sean to work with him as his secretary and the archdiocesan Director of Divine Worship, which he did for over ten years.
Fr. Gaspar is currently the pastor of the parish of St. Mary of the Assumption, Brookline and continues to assist the Office of Divine Worship and the Cardinal.
Diane Campbell joined the Archdiocese of Boston in 2017. Prior to joining the Archdiocese she worked in the private sector as an executive assistant as well as serving in ministry for her parish and in the Cursillo community.
In March of 2020, when the pandemic hit, Diane helped initiate a Zoom daily morning rosary that is prayed 365 days a year. It continues today with over the 75 people attending daily.
Diane grew up on the South Shore of Boston and continues to live there with her family. She enjoys spending time with family and friends often traveling, skiing or spending time at beach on Cape Cod.