On Holy Saturday, the Catholic Church throughout the United States will receive tens of thousands of men and women into the Church. We will be among those parishes who will welcome new members at a ceremony bringing men and women into full communion with the Catholic Church. The RCIA (which stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is a process through which non-baptized men and women become members of the Catholic Church. The RCIA inquiry process in our parish usually begins in September and runs through the following Easter season. It includes several stages marked by study, prayer and rites at Mass. Our current director of the program is Deacon Rusty Skinner, who, some years ago, also was received into the Faith by this process. His phenomenal work here has helped so many to come to learn about Jesus Christ and deepen the faith of others, too.
Participants in the RCIA are known as catechumens. They undergo a process of conversion as they study the Gospel, profess faith in Jesus and the Catholic Church, and receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. The RCIA process follows the ancient practice of the Church and was restored by the Second Vatican Council as the normal way adults prepare for baptism. In 1974, the Rite for Christian Initiation for Adults was formally approved for use in the United States.
Often, contact with people of faith and a personal faith experience lead people to inquire about membership in the Catholic Church. Prior to beginning the RCIA process, an individual comes to some knowledge of Jesus Christ, considers his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and is usually attracted in some way to the Catholic Church. This period is known as the Period of Evangelization and Pre-catechumenate. For some, this process will involve a lengthy period of searching; for others, a shorter time. After conversation with an advisor or spiritual guide, the person, known as an “inquirer” may decide then to seek acceptance into the “Order of Catechumens.” The inquirer stands in the midst of the parish community and states that he or she wants to become a baptized member of the Catholic Church. The parish assembly affirms this desire and the inquirer officially becomes a “catechumen.”
The period of the catechumenate can last for as long as several years, or for a shorter time; it depends on how the person is growing in faith, what questions they encounter along the way, and how God leads them on this journey. During this time, the catechumens consider what God is saying to them in the scriptures, what changes in their life they want to make to respond to God’s inspiration, and what membership in the Catholic Church involves.
When a catechumen and the parish team working with him or her believes the person is ready to make a faith commitment to Jesus in the Catholic Church, the next step is the request for Baptism and the celebration of the Rite of Election. This rite includes the enrollment of names of all those seeking baptism at the coming Easter Vigil.
On the first Sunday of Lent, the catechumens and their sponsors gather at the cathedral and the catechumens publicly request baptism. Their names are recorded in the Book of the Elect, and they are called “the elect. ” The days of Lent are the final period of purification and enlightenment leading up to the celebration of initiation at the Easter Vigil. Lent is a period of preparation marked by prayer, study, and spiritual direction for the elect, and prayers for them by the parish communities.
The third step is the Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation, which takes place during the Easter Vigil Liturgy when the catechumen receives the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. Then the person is a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church. Those already baptized receive the other two mentioned sacraments.
After the person is initiated, formation and education continue in the period of the post-baptismal catechesis, which is called “mystagogia.” This period continues at least until Pentecost. During this period, the newly baptized members reflect on their experiences at the Easter Vigil and continue to learn more about the scriptures, the sacraments, and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In addition, they reflect on how they will serve Christ and help in the Church’s mission and outreach activities. Our role is to welcome them and help them to become more familiar with those teachings of the Church, so that one day we may all worship together and lead more to Christ by our good deeds.
Thank you to all the wonderful people who attended the recent Parish Lenten Retreat. Msgr. George Majoros, our spiritual director and homilist for those six talks, presented some very beautiful and inspiring presentations and helped uplift many hearts and souls to God, bringing many of them back to the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. May he continue to do so after being reconstituted as a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis in Rome this April. Thank you, Msgr. George!