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RCIA Q&A's

What is RCIA?

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the process established for the universal Church for individuals to become Catholic and receive the sacraments of initiation — Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. This initiation process also involves a parish community experiencing a renewal in faith as it prepares and welcomes new members into the Church. The Rite speaks of conversion as a “spiritual journey.” Centered on fostering a deep relationship with Jesus and the Church he founded, this journey takes place through distinct stages over a period of time suitable to bring about a thorough catechesis, significant experience of the parish community, and commitment to the liturgical and moral life of the Catholic faithful. The RCIA process is a restoration of the ancient catechumenate, arising within the first three centuries following the era of the apostles.  It was the early Church’s way of Christianizing the pagan Roman Empire.  The Second Vatican Council called for the restoration and use of this venerable and powerful method of initiation for the worldwide Church.  Has someone in your life shared his/her love of Scripture with you? Would you like to share that love and gift with another?

Who is RCIA for?

1. Persons in need of Baptism.
2. Persons baptized in another Christian tradition who desire to become Catholic.
3. Persons baptized Catholic in need of First Communion and/or Confirmation.

How long is the RCIA process?

The time varies, but is rarely shorter than six months or longer than three years. The Church greatly respects the time each person needs for conversion and decision. The RCIA text gives guides for discerning this on a case by case basis.

What is the RCIA Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens?

The Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens is for inquirers in the RCIA process who are preparing for their Baptism. They are now ready to publicly declare their intention to continue their journey towards becoming Catholics. At this Rite, they are asked to more fully embrace the Gospel message with the help of God, and are also signed with the Cross to show that they now belong to Christ, the Shepherd of souls. In this Rite, the parish community has the opportunity to more fully participate in and pray for those in the RCIA process. At Sunday Mass, some of the inquirers who are considering joining the Catholic Church are going through the Rite of Acceptance. This Rite places these catechumens in a formal relationship with the universal Church. By Church law, the Pope and all bishops are to pray for those who have gone through this Rite. We encourage all parishioners to pray for these souls as well, as they continue in the initiation process over the coming months, and to reach out to them as fellow members of the Household of Christ.

What is the RCIA Rite of Welcoming?

The Rite of Welcoming is for inquirers who have been previously baptized and are ready to publicly declare their intention to continue their journey toward full communion with the Catholic Church. At this Rite, they are asked if they are ready to listen to the apostles’ instruction, gather with the worshipping community in prayer, and join that community in the love and service of others. They are signed with the Cross to show that they belong to Christ.

Why is the parish community important at the Rites of Acceptance and Welcoming, and when will these Rites be celebrated?

Members of the parish community should affirm that they are ready to help and support the RCIA candidates seeking to follow Christ. The Rites of Acceptance and Welcoming are celebrated at a time designated by the parish, and can be offered multiple times, depending upon when a given inquirer is ready to move forward.  

What was the ceremony celebrated last Sunday at Mass?

Last Sunday we celebrated two Rites of initiation for inquirers in the RCIA process: the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens (for those preparing for their Baptism) and the Rite of Welcoming (for those already baptized in another Christian tradition who are seeking full communion with the Catholic Church).  The following catechumens celebrated the Rite of Acceptance:

[names]

The following candidates celebrated the Rite of Welcoming:

[names]

A very special thanks to all who helped in any way with the celebration. Please continue to pray for our catechumens and candidates as they now enter into a period of deeper formation in the RCIA process.

Why are some RCIA participants dismissed in the middle of the Mass?

This Sunday, at one or more of the morning Masses, those adults preparing to be baptized into the Catholic Church will be dismissed at the end of the Liturgy of the Word. This will continue each Sunday until Easter when, at the Easter Vigil, those who are ready will join us at the Table of the Eucharist for the first time. The parish is not sending them out because they are somehow “unworthy” to stay for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Though they cannot yet come to the table of the Eucharist, Mother Church still has an obligation to feed those who have entered into a relationship with her through the Rite of Acceptance which was celebrated recently.  God’s Word is their only food during this period. Instead, the participants depart from the Mass with their godparents and sponsors (if available), and one or more RCIA team members, to discuss the Mass readings for that Sunday and to experience more fully the impact of the Scriptures in their lives. This time is known as “Reflection on the Word.” “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the one who belongs to God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

What is the RCIA Rite of Sending?

Across the entire world, Catholic bishops on this first Sunday of Lent will welcome those sent by the parish to gather together with their godparents and sponsors in what is known as the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion. The Rite of Sending, ordinarily held earlier on the same day, offers the parish community an opportunity to acknowledge the spiritual progress the catechumens and candidates have made, express approval of their election or recognition, and send them forth to our bishop with assurance of the parish’s care and support. To send a catechumen or candidate to the bishop means that a parish has discerned that the person is ready to enter the Catholic Church. In Sacred Scripture, the Book of Revelation makes reference to a “Book of Life,” in which are written the names of those who have chosen to follow the Lord Jesus and be baptized. Those who are already baptized, as Catholics or in other denominations, had our names written in the Book of Life at our Baptism. In this Rite, those preparing for Baptism are invited to come forward and sign a book, which we call the “Book of the Elect,” as a sign of their desire to be numbered among the chosen of God. 

What is the RCIA Rite of Election?

This Rite marks a key moment. For the catechumens, this Rite signifies that they have been called by Christ and attests to the reality that only those mystically claimed by Christ will enter Heaven. St. John writes, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). Throughout the RCIA process, catechumens should have become increasingly involved with the parish community. The community, with godparents representing the parish, will wholeheartedly acclaim the participants’ readiness. It is appropriate for the bishop to recognize them because he is the sign of unity of the particular Church, and it is the parish community’s responsibility to bring those in RCIA into the fullness of the life of the Church. The godparents give public testimony about the catechumens. The godparents’ role is very significant; they represent the community and are asked during this Rite to make serious statements about the catechumens. The decision of an RCIA participant to go through this Rite means that the judgment and decision-making (of both the catechumen and the parish) about whether to enter the Catholic Church has ended. From this point forward, they are no longer catechumens but are called the “elect.” They have been chosen to enter into the final period of preparation for initiation, and called by the bishop, their shepherd, to the holy mysteries to be celebrated that Easter.

What is the RCIA Rite of the Call to Continuing Conversion?

For all who have been baptized, the reality of being chosen and claimed by Christ took place at their Baptism.  This is true for the baptized candidates as well. Therefore the Rite of Election is inappropriate for them; they are already among the elect in Christ. Instead, the candidates are “called to continuing conversion,” and thus their intention to be fully initiated and share in the Eucharist is recognized. This Rite also takes place before the bishop, normally as part of the same liturgical event as the Rite of Election for those who are unbaptized.  With their sponsors standing in support of them, the candidates are addressed by the bishop: “Hear the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal covenant.” (RCIA 454) Together with the elect, the candidates are thereby moved by this Rite into a period of intense spiritual preparation. 

What does Lent have to do with those becoming Catholic?

In Lent, RCIA participants move into the final period of preparation for the sacraments. They have been nourished by the graces of various liturgical Rites throughout the RCIA process, which have helped them to embrace God’s call. In Lent, God pours purifying and enlightening graces upon them, through the spiritual preparation they receive in RCIA sessions, the special Rites that mark the Sundays of Lent, and the prayers offered for them by the faithful.

How should the RCIA process encourage all Catholics to enter into Lent more deeply?

The Church, in the RCIA process, calls this proximate time immediately preceding initiation the period of “Purification and Enlightenment” for those in the RCIA process. That is what Lent is meant to be for all of us, who are already receiving the graces poured out through the sacraments of the Church. The Church calls us to reflect on our own baptismal graces, through prayer, penance, and almsgiving. We are also called to pray for those who are approaching the Easter sacraments of initiation. We are called to examine our lives through increased prayer and penitential practice; identify sins that keep us from becoming holy; purify ourselves through the sacrament of Reconciliation; and express our gratitude to God through the love of the poor by giving from our material and spiritual bounty. Throughout Lent we enter into the Passion of Jesus Christ. We turn our hearts and minds in prayer to our own Way of the Cross, we call our own wounds by name, and we give them to the
Divine Healer. When we behold the empty tomb at Easter we can be filled with joy, believing with complete certainty that those chains that bind us have been broken, and that life, not death is our birthright.

How can every Catholic make Lent a time of “purification and enlightenment”?

We can attend weekday Mass. We can reflect on the Creed, taking each statement of belief and asking ourselves if we do believe, and what it means in our everyday lives. We can go to adoration and to Confession. We can attend our parish penance service. We can pray the Stations of the Cross, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, pray the rosary. We must pray, every day. We can fast from food, TV, foul language, gossip, and the list goes on and on. We can give alms, in a genuinely sacrificial manner, to the poor. As Catholics we know all of these things. It is not a lack of “things to do” that have many of us scratching our heads on Holy Thursday wondering why Lent was really not any different for us than any other forty days throughout the year. What we lack is a conversion of the heart. We don’t have to seek far to hear God speak to us. The Church in her wisdom provides us in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass what our hearts yearn to hear. In the Lenten liturgies the Church prays what she believes and teaches, and in word and sacrament the Lord directs us toward his Divine heart.

What is the Penitential Rite?

For those baptized Christians seeking to enter full communion with the Catholic Church, this Rite helps them to prepare for the healing sacrament of Reconciliation. Normally occurring on the 2nd Sunday of Lent after the homily, this Rite calls the candidates to a deeper repentance and a total abandonment to the mercy of the Father who sent his only Son to die for our sins. Our prayer for these candidates, and for ourselves, is that the presence among us of Jesus who is the sum of the Law and the Prophets will transfigure all our lives with his redeeming grace, bringing us to conversion — a genuine desire to be holy as he is holy.

What are the Scrutinies?

These Rites are celebrated to help deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (RCIA 141). The Rites of Scrutiny are meant to uncover, and then heal, all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the elects’ hearts and to bring out through repentance all that is upright, strong, and good. Three Scrutinies are celebrated in the parish community on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent, after the homily. The Scripture readings for the Scrutinies ordinarily come from Cycle A of the Lectionary: the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well for the 1st Scrutiny, the Gospel story of the healing of the man born blind for the 2nd Scrutiny, and the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus for the 3rd Scrutiny. The celebrations of the Scrutinies also remind the whole parish community of the need to reflect on their own sins and the need for God’s help.

How might the Scrutinies of the RCIA process help the parish as a whole?

On the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent we participate in the Scrutinies. The universal Church hears the stories of the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus. These readings were chosen to be the driving force of prayerful introspection, surrender, and conversion. They offer powerful images of surrender, sin, conversion, faith, and healing. In our faith journey with those seeking Baptism, we must stir our souls, as if they were dying campfires, to expose any parts of ourselves that have not been purified by the burning love of the Holy Spirit. We are challenged with the Samaritan woman at the well when we thirst for the Lord, who knows what we need and provides it; we beg, with the man born blind, to see Jesus, who is the light and gives us sight; and finally we lie with Lazarus within the tomb of oblivion and death, built with the stones of our own sins, until Jesus reaches out his hand and pulls us from the pit. Take this gift of the Church and use this group of readings as Lenten reflections.  The Scripture readings for each Scrutiny are listed below. Read them slowly, asking the Lord to give you the grace to hear what is being said to you. Share these readings with your children or your spouse.

1st Scrutiny  2nd Scrutiny 3rd Scrutiny
(3rd Sunday of Lent) (4th Sunday of Lent)  (5th Sunday of Lent)
Exodus 17:3-7 1 Samuel 16:1b,6-7,10-13a  Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 95:1-2,6-9  Psalm 23:1-6 Psalm 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-7
Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8  Ephesians 5:8-14  Romans 8:8-11
John 4:5-42 John 9:1-41  John 11:1-45

(Note: the readings for the Scrutiny are always taken from Cycle A, regardless of the current cycle of readings being used. Each parish has the option of using these readings for all Masses, or only for the Masses where the elect are present.)

What is the Presentation of the Creed for those in the RCIA process, and when does it occur?

This Rite, which can be done at Mass or during an RCIA session, entrusts the words of the Creed to those seeking to enter the Catholic Church. Nearly seventeen centuries old, the Creed is recited by the faithful at every Mass, and summarizes what we believe as Catholics. For those coming into the Church this Easter, this Rite symbolizes that our parish community is passing on and sharing the beliefs of our Catholic faith with them, so that those about to join our Catholic family embrace and treasure these venerable words as we do.

What is the Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer for those in the RCIA process, and when does it occur?

This Rite, which can be done at Mass or during an RCIA session, entrusts to those seeking to enter the Catholic Church the precious words of our Lord on prayer. This prayer of hope is to Catholics a summary of the entire Christian life, and a model of that relationship of trust that we are invited to enter as children of our Heavenly Father. For those coming into the Church this Easter, this Rite symbolizes the passing down of our heritage of prayer, learned at the feet of the Savior, and nurtured in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that is the Church.

What is next for those who entered the Catholic Church this Easter?

We have reached the 4th period of the RCIA process, which is the neophyte year. All who were baptized and received into full communion are called neophytes in this period, until the anniversary of their initiation next Easter. The final period of regular weekly formation extends through the Easter season, the seven weeks from Easter to Pentecost. This post-baptismal catechesis is called mystagogy. It is a time for deepening the Christian experience, especially in appreciation for the sacramental life, for spiritual growth, and for entering more fully into the life and unity of the Catholic community. The neophytes now share with Christ, and his Body in the parish community, the intimate communion of the Eucharist. Now they have access to all the means of sanctification. We as a parish community pledge to help them grow and mature in the Christian life and to develop a genuine Catholic world view. Please pray for all those who God has called  to join us as we continue on our pilgrimage to our Father in Heaven. 

The Association for Catechumenal Ministry (ACM) grants the original purchaser (parish, local parochial institution, or individual) permission to reproduce and modify this text.