The letters “RCIA” stand for the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults," the document flowing from Vatican II that guides the process by which adults are initiated into our Roman Catholic community. The RCIA describes a process in which men and women are guided and cared for as they awaken in faith and are gradually introduced to the Catholic way of life.
The RCIA process is a series of carefully planned stages, marked by liturgical rites in the presence of the whole community, in which new Catholics embark on and join us in a continuing and deepening conversion into faith and discipleship. The RCIA takes the distinctive history and spiritual needs of each person into account, differentiating between the baptized and the unbaptized, the catechized and the uncatechized. The needs of mature, practicing Christians from other faith traditions are considered on an individual basis.
The RCIA draws its model from the “catechumenate” of the ancient Church. Becoming Christian in the early days of the Church involved a sharp break with the surrounding culture. New Christians entered into the joy of new life and a life-sharing community of faith, but they also entered into a way of living which demanded deep commitment and entailed great risks. In the modern world, our faith also demands deep commitment—our beliefs and the beliefs of our society are often in tension. The Church revived the catechumenate—embodied in the RCIA —because new believers in the modern world need careful preparation and caring support as they enter into the mysteries of Christ and the commitment of Christian living.
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During the first period of the journey, the inquiry period, seekers ask hard questions about Christianity and receive truthful, life-sharing answers from Catholic Christians. This is a time of introduction to the gospel of Jesus Christ and of reflection on one’s own life in the light of the values of the reign of God. It is an unstructured time of no fixed duration for questions and an opportunity for the beginnings of Christian faith. The informal discussions during the inquiry period help the seekers link their personal life stories to the Good News as witnessed and lived by the Roman Catholic community. As each inquirer desires to continue the conversion journey within our faith community, he or she is invited to experience the first major rite of the RCIA process, the Rite of Acceptance. Several times each year at Sunday Mass, inquirers enter the second period of the journey, the catechumenate, by being marked with the sign of the cross on the ears, eyes, lips, heart, shoulders, hands and feet—a symbol of both the joys and the costs of Christian discipleship.
The word catechumenate means “time of serious study," and inquirers who become catechumens—those who have not been baptized—or candidates—baptized Christians who have not been confirmed as Roman Catholics—join us at Sunday Mass during the Liturgy of the Word, after which they move to the Parish Center to continue reflecting on the Scriptures. The length of the catechumenate varies according to individual need. The norm is a year or more.
Our catechumens and candidates do not travel alone during this period. Sponsors are chosen from the parish community to act as spiritual companions who provide personal support, share the experience of Christian life, and help the catechumens and candidates feel “at home” with Catholic religious practice.
The period of purification and enlightenment is a time of final preparation for initiation. The period is one of prayer, fasting, and reflection for both catechumens, now known as the Elect, and candidates. During this period, the Elect experience scrutinies and exorcisms, special rites which seal their break with evil in preparation for baptism.
The candidates and the Elect are initiated through the third and consummating rite of the RCIA process, the Sacraments of Initiation, at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. On that night, when light drives out darkness, joyful sounds fill the silence, and we proclaim and renew our resurrection hope, the Elect culminate their long journey to initiation in the waters of Baptism—then, with the candidates, the newly baptized are sealed with the oil of Confirmation and share the bread and wine of the Eucharist as full members of the Roman Catholic community.
Initiation begins the fourth period of the RCIA journey, the mystagogia, which means “leading into the mysteries." The newly initiated meet weekly between Easter and Pentecost to explore and confirm the Easter experience. From Pentecost until the following Easter, mystagogia continues with intermittent meetings. Mystagogia is the final stage of the RCIA process, but it is in turn the beginning of a pilgrimage of lifelong, continuous conversion in full communion with the Roman Catholic community of Christians.
For each of us, Catechumen, Candidate and Catechist alike, RCIA is a very unique and individual journey. On this page several of us who have madethis journey of faith share our personal thoughts.
RCIA was a thoughtful, intelligent, provoking process. Clearly, I took my time…was it two or actually three years in the end? Taking that time was certainly good for me. This decision would affect my whole family. As I wrote to Russ somewhere along the line, my husband and I dated for six years. Why wouldn’t making this kind of spiritual commitment take any less time?
What kept me committed to the process from the first day of RCIA and ultimately helped me through the unfortunate timing that put our confirmation right in the middle of this enormous crisis in the Church? The lay people involved in the process. The family of St. Catherine’s. It was the honesty and integrity of the people I met that made it possible to ask the questions I had and, in the end, understand from a lay person’s perspective just what it meant and means to be Catholic. (And quite frankly, it wasn’t so different, for me anyway, from being Protestant.) Through months of discussion, the RCIA process cleared away the mysticism I had created in my mind about the Catholic Church. And it was in the end the acknowledgement that I was not leaving my prior faith experience behind but rather, growing it, maturing it into something new that made it possible to follow the process through to confirmation. At the rite of the election we were welcomed into the Church with an affirmation of bringing our prior faith experiences into the Church to help bring everyone in the Church to a more full and complete experience of faith.
I did not expect to receive this kind of openness. I’m not sure Catholics everywhere would even understand the RCIA process for there is a history of strictness in some areas of the Church. But what matters to me is that there is this process of acceptance and education. I feel comfortable now in the Church, but I’m not so sure I feel particularly Catholic. That is perhaps something that happens over time. I still feel don’t know all the Holy days; I’m sure I don’t know exactly some of the doctrines my child may be taught in Sunday school; and I still sometimes forget to cross myself at the appropriate moments during Mass; and I will always want to sing every verse in a hymn! On the other hand, I do like to bless my children with the Holy Water as we enter and leave church, and I did feel awkward not crossing myself at a recent Protestant memorial service I attended…so it is truly something that grows on you over time!
Two things that helped me work through some of my doubts were a book I’m (still) reading that Mike lent to me, Why Be Catholic?, and feeling confident that there really is one faith (one holy catholic and apostolic faith). The RCIA process gives you the opportunity to answer some questions…and come up with a whole lot more…but that is all part of the journey. And realizing that it is in fact not only acceptable but encouraged as part of the process, to question and test a belief system that make it more tenable.
RCIA is not CCD, which is good and bad. As an adult, you come to this choice from a different perspective, so discussion and spiritual journey drive the process. But there are so many prayers and sacred rituals which children come by through a lifetime of learning that an adult still feels like they’re missing some of the details. The RCIA day at St. Michael’s in Andover was a great help toward that end. I would suggest several of those opportunities throughout the RCIA process. Here was a chance to begin to understand the Rosary, or some of the Saints, and the entire Mass was walked through to explain the meaning of how it is put together. I would attend this day again if I could! Also, St. Catherine’s has it’s own adult education classes, which I hope to participate in now and certainly over the years. It might be helpful for the RCIA catechists and catechumen to specifically tie into some of these classes. Of course, everyone has different schedules and time limitations, but if RCIA planning could know dates in advance or be looking for particular programs and really inform and encourage attendance, it would only augment the process.
The RCIA process at St. Catherine’s is a very positive one and I am glad I now have the associations and a place to begin as we begin this journey with our children. I think that may be an important point to help people understand because it really is only the beginning. My conversion is going to have a great impact on our children. I can honestly say that without my children involved I probably would not have explored the Catholic tradition. I had a great experience growing up in the Protestant tradition and always felt rather stubborn about all the rules and regulations as I saw them in the Catholic Church. I did, however, always like the ritual and sacred-ness of the Mass. It wasn’t until a very good friend of mine (a Catholic woman) challenged me as we discussed what sort of faith experience we wanted to share with our children…she was surprised knowing I was married in a Catholic Church. Surprised that I hadn’t “decided” what we were going to do. (I felt very obstinate and stubborn about complying with a promise I never felt was reasonable to even ask of someone.) “But,” my friend reproached me, “you made a promise. How will your child ever respect a promise if you don’t hold true to yours?” I have to confess, this statement had a great impact. (And,she reminded me that I really didn’t even know what it was I was so “against” seeing as all my negative experiences with the Catholic church were really only second-hand through others.) Well, I had to agree with her.
Many of my issues about the Church, some of which were more supported after my experience at Emmanuel College, were the male hierarchy and the “man-made” rules as I saw (and still see!). Combine that with this horrid scandal and I do oftentimes feel awkward at having chosen this faith in this “modern age.” But I believe the bottom line is our experience with Jesus and God. And if there is any age that we need faith, and particularly a faith that comes through asking some really tough questions and expects some discipline out of its disciples, then surely this is it. I didn’t feel right “shopping around” for a faith that felt “comfortable” as much as the idea did appeal to me at one point. I don’t believe that great faith is very comfortable or easy in the making.
The process I found at RCIA was actively one of open-mindedness, of education, of challenge. It was both personally introspective and socially concerned. It didn’t answer all of my questions or allay all my doubts. But it confirmed a process toward which I could work through and be honest to my faith. And it opened a door to a community of people all working toward that same end! –Pam
The Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process held at St.Catherine’s Church fulfilled my journey of faith. I was baptized into Catholocism as an infant but never completed the rites of initiation. The RCIA program gave me an opportunity to deepen my faith and learn more about Catholicism. The process allows you to explore the depths and details of the Bible in a comforting and enjoyable atmosphere. I think that having the ability to discuss the gospel with a diverse group of adults provides an advantage from those that learned the faith as a child. It allowed me to connect the gospel to my everyday living. I found the most valuable asset to the program is found within the teachers. They include members of the clergy, deacons, and parishoners and offer their own personal and inspriational experiences to develop a candidate’s understanding.
I would highly recommend that interested people take advantage of the RCIA process. The process will allow you to learn far more than you expect and offer more than simply attending weekly mass. -Ryan
When I first decided to go through the RCIA program, it was for the sole purpose of having my family be the same religion so we could all attend church together. My husband was Catholic and he wanted our boys to be raised the same. Once I started classes, I discovered there was so much more that I was looking for and that I needed from this program. I learned more about me and my relationship with God, and what He expects from me than I ever imagined. I relaly found a nice, quiet “inner peace”that has helped me through some difficult times.
I think it has helped me appreciate my children more (although I still constantly ask God for more patience). It has helped me be more giving of myself to friends and family. I see it has helped in many areas of my life, and it still continues to grow and evolve.
The catechists in the program were so knowledgeable, giving of themselves and supportive that it made the program very enjoyable. I would recommend to anyone who wants to know more about themselves and their relationship with God to attend a class and see what it can do for their well-being. –Karen
I have had an extended spiritual and religious journey throughout my life. I believe everyone is always on a spiritual journey. I was raised in a household of mixed Protestant religions, and we were not regular church-goers. But we were Christian, and the members of my family are all spiritual in our own ways. I married a Catholic, and we’ve raised our two children in the Catholic tradition. Until RCIA, I had always been a Christian, and I found many parts of the Catholic faith to be appealing, but I was searching and unsure.
Becoming part of St. Catherine’s in 1996 began to make me feel more comfortable in church. The community, the music –all of it made my religious experience more complete. But I was still searching, as we all are. I heard about the RCIA program during mass, and quietly considered it as a logical next step. I had been married to a Catholic for 10 years, but we all know that the searching goes on forever! I had not been “ready” up to that point, but I saw RCIA as a way to see for myself if I was ready to take the next step.
The RCIA experience itself was trememdously rewarding. The learning and depth of inquiry were invaluable. All of my fellow candidates were craving insights, and the wonderful catechists provided direction and knowledge. We eagerly participated in our Sunday conversations, and studied and shared the faith with keen interest. I learned a lot, and made good friends. Most importantly, the RCIA experience made me feel comfortable and at home in the Catholic faith. Taking the next step into full communion with the Church then came very naturally. –Steve
Before I began with the RCIA program, I had attended Mass with my husband for almost 10 years. Every year, I would consider taking part in RCIA, but would decide for one reason or another that it didn’t make sense for me. I finally made the decision to give it a try, and I’m extremely glad that I did. The group of people that lead the meetings are very enthusiastic, caring, knowledgeable people. The entire process was very rewarding, and every week I looked forward to our meetings. I would recommend to those considering it that you go to a couple meetings and try it out. There is no pressure to stay if it is not the right time for you. –Sandy