The Rite Of Christian initiation of Adults

By Patricia McNally

ROOTS OF RCIA  ‘The Second Vatican Council prescribed the revision of the rite of Baptism for adults and decreed that the catechumenate for adults, divided into several steps, should be restored’ (Decree of the congregation for Divine Worship 1972)
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has its foundation stone in the ‘catechumenate’ of the ancient church when Jesus disciples shared his message and brought people into the faith community. Becoming a Christian then meant making the break with the old life of paganism and entering into new life with Christ. People who wanted to be baptized came from either pagan or philosophical backgrounds. They searched for meaning and struggled with questions of faith. 
 By the beginning of the third century a new process for the integration of new members into the church was developed, as this helped take people on the conversion journey from a God-less mind frame to the revealed Christian God. In the fourth century, Christianity’s status changed from persecution to tolerance and eventually then it was recognised by the state. The interest in becoming Christian increased. Baptism tended to take place later on in life and in some cases even near the end of one’s life. 

Local churches took on this process for the initiation of new Christians.  This catechumenate process took place in stages and members of the community helped the new Christian on their conversion journey. There was a decline in adult converts in the period from the sixth to the fifteenth century so the initiation process declined. One of the factors for this was the growing practice of baptizing infants. Baptisms took place quite quickly after birth as there was a high infant mortality rate and the main emphasis around baptism was the removal of original sin from the soul. A shift in mind set had taken place because of this as there was no longer a ‘journeying’ to baptism. Baptism was fast-tracked.

 After the sixteenth century a great missionary effort among Catholics saw the restoration of the initiation process through catechesis and community building. In 1965 the Second Vatican Council restored the catechumenate and put specific steps in place for the initiation of adults to the faith. Conversion was viewed as a journey, a step by step process, and community- centered. Vatican II gave the RCIA a new focus, a new lease of life, and brought the attention back to the traditional process in order to drive it forward.
The RCIA journey  The four steps of the RCIA journey are: pre-catechumenate, (period of enquiry) catechumenate, lenten purification and mystagogia. Along the way are key rites of acceptance, election and initiation. Let us look at the four stages of this path and then we will explore the insights it gives us.  

1.The pre-catechumenateThe journey has begun for the catechumenate when they first decide that they want to find out more about becoming a Catholic. In fact the inner journey has probably begun before this as something they heard or witnessed from a friend, a co-worker, family member etc must have moved them to the inquiry stage. The person will more than likely present themselves to their local parish church where they will then receive the relevant information for moving on to the next stage. Once the inquirer has experienced an initial conversion to Jesus Christ they celebrate the first major liturgical ritual of the initiation process – the Rite of Acceptance.The Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens completes the first stage or period of the initiation process and opens the door to the second period of the process, the period of the catechumenate. 

2.The CatechumenateThis second stage of the initiation process is the extended period of time when those to be initiated receive their more formal training in the Christian way of life. There are two groups. The catechumens are those who are unbaptized. Other candidates for initiation are those who are already baptized, either in a Catholic or Protestant Church, but who are not fully initiated. During the catechumenate stage, those to be initiated learn more about the sacred Scriptures and the doctrines of the Church. In addition to the study of the Scriptures, the candidates participate in sessions that help them to understand the doctrinal teachings of the Church. The candidates also learn about the prayer and worship life of the Church.

They learn how to live and serve others in apostolic witness. And they develop their relationship with the Catholic Christian community. When they have experienced a true conversion to the Christian way of life (which the Church says is at least one year for the unbaptized), they celebrate the second major ritual in the process of initiation.  Rite of Election. The second major ritual of the RCIA usually occurs on the First Sunday of Lent.
The catechumens have been elected (chosen) by God to receive the sacraments of initiation. The Church gives voice to God’s election and calls each one of the catechumens by name to sign the Book of the Elect.  

3.Period of Purification This final period of preparation is one of intense, spiritual recollection that usually coincides with Lent. It is a period of purification and enlightenment. It is a time for reflection and prayer more than teaching. The candidates, now called the elect, purify their minds and hearts by celebrating several rituals. The three purifying rituals, known as the Scrutinies, strengthen the elect and help to complete their conversion.

The Presentation of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer enlighten the minds of the elect in the final weeks of their preparation for the Sacraments. Lent ends when the sacred Tridium of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter begins, at sunset Thursday of Holy Week. Finally, some preparatory rites on Holy Saturday morning serve as the elect’s immediate preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation, which will be celebrated that night at the Easter Vigil.  Sacraments of Initiation.At the Easter Vigil after sunset on Holy Saturday, the elect and possibly some previously baptized candidates celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism (for the unbaptized),Confirmation and Eucharist. The elect are plunged into the waters of new birth and come out of those waters reborn in Christ. They are then configured to be more like Christ through the sacred chrism of Confirmation. Finally, the culmination of their initiation happens when they receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. So, too, some of the baptized candidates may make a profession of faith, be confirmed and receive the Eucharist in this most holy of all the Church’s liturgies.

 4.Period of Mystagogy The process of initiation continues even after the Easter celebration, during the Easter tide  period of mystagogia. The word comes from an ancient Greek word signifying a deepening of the understanding of the mysteries of our faith. During the Easter season, the newly initiated gather each week to deepen their grasp of the great paschal mystery into which they have just been welcomed.

These new Christians have received the Body of Christ and have become part of the Body of Christ through their Baptism. The Church uses the period of mystagogy to help the newly initiated understand and live out their new lives as part of the Body of Christ. Mystagogy is about mission.  New Christians, now part of Christ’s Body go forth with us to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. That’s where the whole parish, indeed the entire Church comes in.  Insights that flow from RCIA ‘The insights taken up in RCIA are insights not about a programme or strategy, but about a path of deepening of faith, of conversion and of an ongoing realisation of what it means to be part of a living, praying and loving body of Christ’ – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (June 2009). Faith is not about a series of isolated moments. It is a continuous journey and the RCIA process gives us this insight, a realisation that we are ‘pilgrims on a journey’. Let us explore the various Sacramental journeys that take place. The journey of Initiation begins at the enquiry stage and then leads to the catechumenate stage. The Journey to Reconciliation with God and with others, begins with feelings of isolation from being away from the Lord’s table, feelings of remorse and then, by the Sacrament of Confession, the person arrives at the place of reconciliation. The Sacrament of Marriage is arrived at after court-ship and an engagement period. The Sacrament of the sick is given after illness, which leads either to recovery or death and bereavement. The Sacrament of Holy Orders comes after the person has lived a good Christian life and enters the seminary. The Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation come after a preparation programmes now widely used in Catholic schools.There are parish programs also for Baptism preparation and programmes for the preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage. The Sacraments are moments of celebration. They are very special moments but they are not isolated moments, as a journey has been travelled to, to reach them, and a journey continues after they are received. The newly converted Catholics live life in a new way and are called not only to nurture and grow their own faith but to reach out to others and evangelize in whatever their vocation is in life and give witness to the Gospel. Evangelisation is an action of the church and it is an ‘ecclesial reality’ (Archbishop Diarmuid Martin). Following the Sacrament of Confession the person has been given forgiven and is welcomed back to the Lord’s table. When a couple are married they begin a new life together and a newjourney begins for them. They each have new vocations as husband and wife. After an illness, recovery or death follows. Health is celebrated or grief is endured. Again, another stage of life’s journey begins for the person or their family.

A newly ordained priest is called to a new vocation in his ministry. In all of this, a death of the old way of life occurs and new life in Christ begins. ‘The RCIA requires a multitude of different ministries: sponsors, god-parents, the bishop, priests, deacons, catechists, liturgy co-ordinators, hospitality and those who accompany the catechumens on their reflection on the Gospel. But this is not just a check-list of who you need to do an RCIA programme. It is a description of what a parish community should look like’ – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin We as a church community are the Body of Christ, we are fellow pilgrims on life’s journey and we are called to evangelize, to give witness to the Gospel and to embrace the teachings of Vatican II so that God’s word be brought alive for all with whom we encounter. We are called to be signs of faith, hope and beacons of the light of Christ.  The words of the song ‘ Make me a channel of your peace’ – by St. Francis of Assisi, are a beautiful reflection of how we should travel together on life’s journey. Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred let me bring your love. Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord And where there’s doubt, true faith in you. Oh, Master grant that I may never seek So much to be consoled as to console To be understood as to understand To be loved as to love with all my soul.  Make me a channel of your peace Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope Where there is darkness, only light And where there’s sadness, ever joy Make me a channel of your peace It is in pardoning that we are pardoned In giving to all men that we receive And in dying that we’re born to eternal life. Each one of us make up the whole body of Christ. We are journeying together. We are a community of believers and the Sacraments are activities of the whole community. Each one of us, because of our Baptism, is called to discipleship and called to build up the Body of Christ, the Church, in whatever our Vocation in life is. We are called to ‘Evangelise at all times and sometimes use words’ – St Francis. 

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