WHAT IS THE RITE OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION OF ADULTS (RCIA)?
“Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” is a process in which non-baptized and baptized Christians make a serious commitment to discuss, discern and to study whether or not they want to become Catholic, as well as, to decide and to profess their faith in Christ and the Church, through the reception of the three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
“Rite” refers to several liturgical ceremonies or rituals where the adults will profess their faith in a public way at Mass. These rites, normally done over a two-year period, celebrate the process of conversion and initiation; they are to express their deepened and mature faith in a public manner.
“Christian Initiation” points to their act of being brought into the full life of the Church through the reception of sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, which initiate them as full members of God’s Church.
“Adults” refers to those who are able to make adult like decisions for Christ and do so with complete free will to decide for themselves.
The RCIA is divided into different time periods. The first time period is called the “Pre-Catechumenate” which means evangelization. In this phase, anyone who seeks more information about the RCIA is invited to participate in a faith sharing class, which is held on Sundays, at 10 am in the basement of the school at Sacred Heart Church. The “Pre-Catechumenate” phase invites those who seek Christ and full communion with the Catholic Church to join others who seek the same.
The RCIA team normally works with those interested in helping them to discover God’s will for their lives. During this time period, a member of the team will set up a meeting where the seeker of faith will have an opportunity to share his or her faith journey and why s/he wants to make his/her sacraments of initiation. This is called “The Inquiry Interview.”
The second time period is called the “Catechumenate,” which begins the formal initiation into the Church. It is an invitation to study more the Scriptures and the Church’s teaching.
This period also begins with the “Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming” for those who have decided to continue in RCIA make a public profession of faith in front of the entire congregation. It is called the Rite of Acceptance because we are accepting those who are not baptized into our community as Catechumens. It is called Rite of Welcoming because we are welcoming those who have not made the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist into our church as Candidates. This ritual is one of the most important celebrations in the RCIA because it gives the Catechumens and Candidates an opportunity to declare publicly their faith to the entire Body of Christ.
During this time period, each person in the RCIA is also assigned a faith companion or sponsor. Sponsors are encouraged to meet on a regular basis and help them to listen, to study and to discern God’s will for their lives. The role of the sponsor during this Rite is also just as important because the sponsors are helping the catechumens and candidates through this decision making process, which is acted out in the Rite itself.
It is also during this time that final decisions are made regarding non-canonical marriage situations.
PURIFICATION AND ENLIGHTENMENT
The third period is called “Purification and Enlightenment” which begins with the 1st Sunday of Lent at the Rite of Sending (held at the parish) and the Rite of Election (held at the Cathedral in Hartford with the Archbishop) both on the same day. This rite begins the most intense time of preparation to receive the sacraments. During this celebration of the Rite of Sending, which is held at the parish, the pastor calls forth all the catechumens and the candidates, along with their sponsors, and asks again if they believe in Christ and the Church. Then they are sent off with the parish’s blessing to the Cathedral (the Archbishop’s Church) where Archbishop will receive them as well as hundreds more catechumens and candidates from the entire archdiocese in the name of His Holiness, Pope Francis. Now, they are getting closer in becoming full members of the Catholic Church.
During the other Sundays of Lent, (3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent) the Catechumens and Candidates, along with their sponsors, are presented to the entire parish again for special prayers or public exorcisms (called Scrutinies). These prayers are to empower them to live out the Christian life full of love and virtue and to declare to the church that the Lord has chosen these elect/candidates to become full members of our Catholic community. They also profess their faith in the Creeds of the Church and demonstrate their acceptance of those beliefs by reading the “The Apostle’s Creed and the Our Father” This is to remind them that they will overcome evil in their lives with faith and belief.
Holy Week begins the most intense time of preparation, since by this time the candidates and catechumens have already made their decision on whether or not they want to continue with the process. Holy Week is an important time for prayer, fasting and penance for the entire church, but especially for those making the sacraments and their sponsors. They are not only expected to attend all Holy Week services but they are expected to fast, pray and do acts of mercy. They will make their 1st confession during this time as well, and, through the help of their sponsors, they will come to appreciate and understand the Holy Week celebrations of our Faith. The 3rd phase of the Catechumenate ends at the Easter Vigil when they receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
The fourth and final phase is called mystagogy, where they gather together, although not as frequent, to discuss their new found faith in Jesus and in the Church. They have informal get togethers until Pentecost where they are reminded that they are now empowered to do God’s work in the Church. Now, they stay for the entire Liturgy. They even get to read, serve as ushers and are actively engaged in the Eucharistic celebration. Many times during this period, they newly initiated members of the Church (now called Neophytes) will continue to meet and to discuss ways of helping their new faith community. Some will even continue attending Bible classes as well.