Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA)
The RCIA is primarily intended for those who are unbaptised and now, drawn by God’s grace, wish to be share in the faith of the Catholic Church.
For such adults all three of the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist are conferred together – but only after a suitable period of preparation. In most cases these Sacraments are administered during the Easter Vigil Ceremony on Holy Saturday night.
There are four major periods in the initiation process, separated by various liturgical rituals, which express and celebrate what is occurring at each stage in the process.
Period of Evangelisation and Pre-Catechumenate
This is not only an essential Christian response to an enquirer, but is a basic characteristic of the whole journey to the sacraments. We believe in a God who welcomes, loves and accepts people. Therefore we are bound to do the same. Welcome involves a deep respect for each man and woman as they are. It also means according them their true value. It respects what they are and all the experiences they bring with them. Therefore the Pre-catechumenate, the first period, is one of story-telling – getting to know who we each are – non-Christian, Christian… and the catholic story. … At the heart of the process of welcome is the ministry of lay people who accompany newcomers into faith, after all, the catholic community is made up of ordinary men and women “like ourselves”.
First step – Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
Reaching the point of initial conversion and wishing to become Christians, the Enquirers are accepted as Catechumens ( = those who desire Baptism) by the Church. “Assembling for the first time in public, the Enquirers who have completed the period of the Pre-catechumenate declare their intention to the Church and the Church in turn carrying out its apostolic mission, accepts them as persons who intend to become its members.” RCIA41
“The prerequisite for making this first step is that the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidates. Thus there must be evidence of the first faith that was conceived during the Period of Evangelisation and Precatechumenate and of an initial conversion and intention to change their lives and to enter into a relationship with God in Christ.” RCIA 42
Period of Catechumenate
This stage is intended for formation; in its most holistic and integral sense – doctrinal, moral, social, spiritual growth. Regular rituals support and carry it forward at appropriate intervals. As much of the catechesis or teaching takes place in this period, it presumes an initial conversion and a commitment to the RCIA process.
This is the longest period in the process and takes as long as it needs to take for formation into the Catholic way of life. It is a time of instruction in Christian doctrine, a time for association with Christians in their way of life, a time for sharing in public worship and private prayer, especially celebrations of the Word, and a time for engaging in Christian service along with others in the community. In short it is a time for experiencing the Christian way of life by involvement with the Church community in all of its activities. “The Catechumenate is an extended period during which the Catechumens are given suitable pastoral formation and guidance, aimed at training them in the Christian life. In this way, the dispositions manifested at their acceptance into the Catechumenate are brought to maturity. This is achieved in four ways:
1. A suitable catechesis…accommodated to the liturgical year. This catechesis leads the Catechumens not only to an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate.
2. By the example of the community… the Catechumens learn to turn more readily to God in prayer, bear witness….. Thus formed, “the newly converted set out on a spiritual journey…. As they pass from the old to a new nature made perfect in Christ.” Ad Gentes 14
3. The Church… helps the catechumens … by means of suitable liturgical rites, which purify the Catechumens little by little.
4. …Catechumens should also learn how to work actively with others to spread the Gospel and build up the Church by the witness of their lives and by professing their faith.” RCIA 75
This period includes a variety of Rites, including minor exorcisms which are prayers to overcome the power of sin, and blessings and anointings, seasonal liturgies of the Word and prayer services. The Catechumens also attend the Sunday liturgy with the faithful, preferably to be dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word to engage in prayer and reflection together on the meaning of the Word they have just heard. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is properly celebrated only by the Baptised.
Second step – Rite of Election
When Catechumens are discerned to be ready for Christian initiation, they are formally called to the sacraments of initiation in the Rite of Election. In this Rite the Church states its intention to Baptise the Catechumens at the Easter Vigil. Its decision is based on a Catechumen’s election by God in whose name the Church acts. There are two actions in the Rite of Election – the testimony of the sponsors and the community as to the Catechumens’ readiness, and the enrollment of names.
“From the day of their election and admission, the catechumens are called “the Elect””
The sacraments of initiation are celebrated during the Easter solemnities, and preparation for these sacraments is part of the distinctive character of Lent. Accordingly the rite of election should normally take place on the First Sunday of Lent and the period of final preparation of the Elect should coincide with the Lenten season. RCIA 126
Period of Purification and Enlightenment
This third period is basically a time of retreat, a period of intense spiritual preparation for the reception of the sacraments. The Elect will not “know it all” but then… neither do we. This is not a period for cramming but a period of preparation to receive the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
“The celebration of certain rites, particularly the scrutinizes and the presentations brings about this process of purification and enlightenment and extends it over the course of the entire Lenten season.”
This period is accompanied by several special Rites, including the Scrutinies which are celebrated at Mass on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent.
These Rites are prayers of the whole congregation to assist the elect in strengthening what is upright and holy in their lives and overcoming what is weak and sinful.
There are also two presentations in this period, when the Elect are given the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Holy Saturday is also spent in preparation rites.
Third step – Easter Vigil and the reception of the initiation sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation, Confirmation
The process culminates at the Easter Vigil with the celebration of the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist for the first time.
After the lighting of the Easter fire and the paschal candle, the community listens to a lengthy series of readings which recount the history of God’s people and also remind us of many symbols of Baptism and God’s promises of salvation and new life.
Following this liturgy of the Word, the Elect renounce Satan and profess their faith. Then they are baptised, clothed in a white garment and given a Baptismal candle, the high point being the washing and the invocation of the Trinity. They are then Confirmed and take their place among the faithful, leading the Prayer of the Faithful and presenting the bread and wine for the Eucharist. They then share in Communion for the first time.
Period of Mystagogy (Post-baptismal catechesis)
Following the celebration of the sacraments at the Easter vigil, these new members are known as Neophytes or ‘new comers’ and they enter the period of Mystagogy when the mysteries of the experience and the sacraments are unpacked.
Fourth step – Mass with the Bishop in the Cathedral at the end of Easter Season followed by liturgy each Sunday
The period of Mystagogy concludes with a celebration around Pentecost with the Bishop in the Cathedral. Sunday liturgy and celebration of the Eucharist is the repeatable initiation ritual which continually urges us to renew our lives through hearing the Word and receiving Christ in the Eucharist.