The Rite of Christian Initiation
What is RCIA?
1. The initials R.C.I.A. stands for the "Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults." (RCIA) The RCIA is the means by which the Catholic Church, answers the questions of those who are inquiring about the Catholic way of life. Primarily geared to adults, it accepts teenagers who are mature enough to participate in the RCIA.
2. There is also a program for children called the "Rite of Christian Initiation of Children," or RCIC. This process is intended for those age seven and up.
The History of the RCIA
Since the days of the Apostles, becoming a Christian has been accomplished by an initiation journey that happens over several stages. This journey could be covered quickly or slowly, but by tradition essential elements always had to be present: (1) the proclamation of the Word, (2) acceptance of the Gospel leading to a conversion of heart, (3) a profession of faith, (4) the Sacrament of Baptism itself, (5) the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation, and (6) admission to Eucharistic communion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1229)
The initiation of believers into the Catholic Faith has had a diverse history. In the third and fourth centuries, Christian initiation saw substantial development. The RCIA process covered a long period of time (often a minimum of three years). It included a series of "rites", liturgical milestones that marked the seekers progress along the path. All seekers had sponsors who accompanied them on their journey, helping the seekers aprrentice to this new way of life. The process was completed when the Sacraments of Christian initiation were celebrated, generally at the Easter Vigil. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1230)
Over time, the communal and liturgical dimensions of the RCIA were lost. “Converts” either had little or no preparation or in more recent times, met with a priest for a series of conferences on the teachings of the Church. However, in 1972 Rome restored the RCIA to general practice. The Magisterium went so far as to say that the RCIA would become the norm for Christian initiation. Once again the communal and especially the liturgical dimensions were renewed and since then much has been done to develop this vital ministry in the church.
Today the RCIA is a four-stage process:
THE INQUIRY PERIOD – This provides time to ask questions and receive an overview of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Apostolic Tradition. This gives one time to explore the big picture.
THE CATECHUMENATE - Marked by the liturgical rite known as, The Entrance into the Catechumenate, celebrated in the parish Church, those in the RCIA make a formal commitment to continue the journey towards baptism and/or full communion into the Catholic community with the reception of Eucharist and Confirmation. The catechesis during this period of the process is grounded in liturgical celebrations, primarily the Liturgy of the Word heard proclaimed as a member of the Sunday assembly. The catechumens and candidates, along with their sponsors and the RCIA catechetical team, engage in discerning the Christian way of life and actively participating in the Church’s apostolic mission.
The Period of Purification & Enlightenment - At the beginning of Lent those who are ready to take the next step and participate in the Rite of Election, celebrated at the Cathedral. They enter a time of intense spiritual preparation marked by participating in the rites known as the Scrutinies and the Presentations, both of which are celebrated in the parish church and lead to the reception of the sacraments at Easter.
MYSTAGOGIA – The final step of the process really never ends, it just brings the process full circle. The newly initiated (called neophytes) join the Christian community and reflect on what it means to live the gospel in the here and now. The Word proclaimed in the midst of the community, the Eucharist they share, and the apostolic mission to which they are called, provides the substance for their personal and communal reflection. As they share their faith with each other, the mystery of God’s presence unfolds in their midst. The ways in which divine love, mercy, justice and peace can be shared, multiply like the loaves and fish and each and all are nourished and nurtured, in order that they may go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
For more information contact:
Mary Jane Shields, Pastoral Associate/DRE