RCIA: Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
Adults who are interested in exploring Catholic beliefs and practices are invited to participate in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). This is a process of prayer, reflection and study spread over several months during which the inquirer participates in Catholic life and worship. The focus of the RCIA process is Christian conversion - a change of heart in which the individual turns toward God and away from whatever is in the way of living a full Christian life.
Once one has decided to become a baptized Christian, the next question becomes, ‘Is the Catholic Church the faith tradition within which I can best live out my Christian life?’ The Christian faith is lived out in community and so the RCIA process will explore what Catholics believe and the implications of accepting those beliefs.
The RCIA is a journey, marked by rites (ceremonies) that lead to the reception of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist on the night before Easter (the Easter Vigil). These are called the sacraments of initiation.
The process begins with a period of Inquiry. Stories are shared, questions are asked and the basics of Christianity are explored. The inquirer is invited to get to know the community and hopefully to see in that community an example of the Christian life. Each inquirer has a sponsor, a person who serves as a companion, a guide, an advocate. At the end of the Inquiry the first Rite takes place. In the Rite of Welcome participants ask to be formally enrolled into the Catechumenate. The word comes from the Greek term meaning to teach by word of mouth and suggests instruction in the faith.
During the Catechumenate phase, participants prepare for the sacraments, attend Mass regularly with the community, share discussion on the Sunday scriptures and continue to learn and reflect on Catholic beliefs. They participate in the ministry and social life of the parish.
On the first Sunday of Lent, the Catechumenate period ends and the Rite of Election is celebrated. The church calls participants to the Easter sacraments and to deeper relationship with God.
Lent, the forty days before Easter, is a special time in the Catholic Church. It focuses on nurturing spirituality, a personal relationship with God, with a community emphasis on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We are called to examine our lives to see what is standing in the way of living a full Christian life. The Catholic tradition regards conversion as a lifetime process which begins at baptism and ends with death. Lent is a time for recommitting ourselves to conversion.
During the period of Lent, participants are now called the Elect, and are led into a deeper prayer life and understanding of what it means to be followers of Christ. A retreat, or time apart for prayer and reflection, is part of the experience. On the second, third and fourth Sunday of Lent, the Elect participate in rites called “Scrutinies.” This is not a public examination of worthiness. The community prays for and with the Elect, reminding us that we all still need God’s saving power in the process of ongoing conversion.
At the Easter Vigil, the Church invites those who have not been baptized to enter the waters of baptism, from which they emerge as new creations, sharing the life of the Risen Christ. All of the Elect then receive the sacrament of Confirmation to empower them in the Spirit. All are nourished at the Table of the Lord as they take communion for the first time. Their new way of life has begun!
Post-Easter gatherings are held to reflect on the sacramental experience and to discern ministry in the community. Christian initiation through RCIA is now complete; the Christian journey of life is just beginning!
Will there be pressure on me to join the Church if I attend the inquiry classes?
Not at all. The purpose of the process is to provide information and experiences needed to decide whether God is calling you to the Catholic way of life. Our role as leaders and teachers in RCIA is to help you discern for yourself. Worship with us, explore our beliefs and practices, spend a year among us participating in the community, and then decide if you are called by God to this way of life.
What if I just want to learn about the Catholic Church without joining?
We welcome those who just want to understand what being a Catholic really means. It is not unusual for people who are engaged or married to a Catholic to participate so that they will understand their spouse’s religion. This is also true of parents whose children are being raised Catholic - they want to know how to answer the questions posed by their children. All are welcome.
Why does it have to be so long and so public with all the rites and ceremonies at Mass?
Although the decision to embrace the Catholic faith is deeply personal, it also has a community dimension. Catholics believe that we encounter the Risen Christ in the community of believers, in the Word of God and in the Sacraments, especially so in the Breaking of the Bread (Luke 24:13-35). Faith is lived out within the context of community. Baptism invests us with bringing the mission of Christ to the world. Those standing before us during these rites are evidence that the Church is doing its work. The presence of those in RCIA is an occasion of celebration and gratitude.
As for the length, this is an important decision, not to be rushed. It is not at all unusual for former participants who had this concern to gratefully acknowledge that they would not have missed this experience for the world.
What about my children? If I become Catholic, can they do it too?
Of course! Everyone is welcome. If neither parent is a practicing Catholic we defer baptism of children until the Easter Vigil. Infants and young children do not require additional preparation as they will grow in the faith just as any other person baptized as a young child. School aged children or teens will be instructed in a process similar to the RCIA, adapted to be appropriate to their age. The older the person is, the more he or she will participate in the decision.
What do I do if I want to enroll or know more?
Call or e-mail Marie Staffa, the co-director of the RCIA program (847) 885-7700 .
Click here to view the RCIA/CMI document.