So you’ve decided to become an active member of the Roman Catholic Church. Whether you’ve never belonged to a church before, you’re transferring from another faith community, or you were baptized as an infant but have never practiced your faith as an adult, you’ll probably be directed to an R.C.I.A group in a nearby parish.
R.C.I.A. is an abbreviation for the “Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults”. It is a process through which individuals become members of the Roman Catholic Church. I’ll describe the procedure as it occurs in my parish and I expect it will be much the same anywhere in North America and probably the world.
Our group, the leaders, the candidates, and often their sponsors meet one night a week from 7:00 to 8:30 P.M. from September to May in one of meeting rooms in the church. There is a presentation, discussion, a little time for socializing and often coffee and cookies if we’re lucky.
There are five or six leaders, of whom one or two may be clergy. The others are just regular church members who don’t mind speaking in front of small groups. Retired teachers are often recruited for these positions.
The process is divided into four stages, each culminating in a specific rite or ceremony. A brief overview of each follows.
STAGE ONE: INQUIRY
This begins in September and goes until before Christmas. During this time, you’re asking questions and checking things out. You may not be ready to make a commitment as yet, and that’s fine. You’re exploring and developing your faith so that you’ll be able to make an informed decision when the time comes.
This stage concludes in early December with the Rite of Acceptance. Those who decide to continue with the process are accepted as members of the parish community during a short ceremony that usually takes place during Sunday Mass.
STAGE TWO: THE CATECHUMENATE
The “catechumenate” is an ancient name originating in the early Church. Those who have decided to become Roman Catholics will be learning catechism, the basic facts of the Catholic faith and how to live as a Catholic Christian. They will strive to become closer to the living God and to develop their inner, spiritual life.
Stage Two culminates with the Rite of Election often in late February. It often takes place in the Cathedral of the Diocese and all the R.C.I.A. Groups from different parishes attend. Each catechumen is presented to the bishop, and signs the “Book of the Elect”. There is sometimes a short reception afterwards at which the candidates, sponsors, family, leaders and guests are welcome.
STAGE THREE: PURIFICATION AND PREPARATION
This takes place during the season of Lent. The members of the group try to focus and intensify their faith as they prepare to commit their lives to Christ and be received into the Church at Easter. It is a period of intense reflection, with the purpose of leading each one to a deeper conversion in preparation for rebirth at Easter.
This stage finishes with the Mass for the Easter Vigil. Each Catechumen will receive the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. ( If anyone has been baptized before, it will not be done again). They are now full members of the Roman Catholic Church.
STAGE FOUR: MYSTAGOGY
It is a time for settling in, for reflecting again on the mysteries of the Eucharist, the Mass, of salvation. It is a time of reflecting on our own gifts and talents and deciding how they can best be put to use in the service of God’s people. It is a time for transitioning from being a brand new Catholic Christian to being a Disciple. It is a time for discussion, for socializing, for looking to the future.
The R.C.I.A process usually ends on Pentecost. As the first Apostles and Disciples went forth for the first time to preach and teach on that day, so do this year’s crop of disciples start their new life on the anniversary of that feast. May the Holy Spirit be with them.
Finally, there is no charge for participating in R.C.I.A. Also, there is no pressure to continue, if you find out it’s not for you. You can come or leave at any time. There’s only one stipulation: if you want to join the Church, you must complete one cycle, or the complete set of meetings for one year (except for illness or bad weather, of course).
Some people need two years, or more, to make up their minds and that’s fine too. Some people enjoy the sessions so much they return, even after joining and become team leaders, and that’s great!
Having a basic knowledge of the R.C.I.A. process can be a useful bit of information. If you, or any of your acquaintances decide to look into joining the Church, at least you’ll know what will be expected of you or any other inquirers, one night a week for the upcoming year.