Most Catholics trace the roots of their faith to their baptism as an infant into the Catholic Christian community. They grew up in Catholic families and, after proper preparation, came to share in the full life of the church through the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation. Baptized Christians of other traditions and unbaptized adults enter into the Catholic church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, a period of formation in the teaching, spirituality, and life of the church.
What is the RCIA?
The RCIA offers more than the "instruction" classes that we had just a few years ago in the church. While RCIA is still relatively new to us, its roots reach back to the 3rd and 4th centuries after our Lord's Ascension, when initiation of adults was an important part of the daily life of the Catholic Christian community.
The goal of the RCIA is to foster or deepen one's conversion, within the community of the church, to Jesus Christ and to the kingdom He proclaims. Sponsored by Catholics in your local parish, it includes prayer, worship, teaching the gospel, catechesis (handing on the traditions of the church), and dialogue with the community. The RCIA is a spiritual renewal, not only for those seeking to become Catholics, but also for the welcoming community.
Who Is the RCIA for, and how long does it take?
The RCIA is not a program. It is the means for the church to minister to those who seek membership, and it recognizes that some will need more time than others to prepare for the lifetime of commitment that comes with initiation into the church. The usual length of preparation is from one to two years. In all cases, the Easter Vigil is the time of initiation.
The Journey of the RCIA
The RCIA describes initiation as a "spiritual journey." This journey from autumn through spring guides you through five stages:
Inquiry Period: During this time, the basic message of the Gospel is proclaimed, and inquirers are encouraged to reflect on their lives in the light of the message of Jesus Christ. This is the time to ask questions about Jesus and His church. It is a time of crossroads in a person's life, of decision whether he or she wants to enter the church via the catechumenate.
Catechumenate: This is a period of"apprenticeship" in Christian living during which catechumens change their minds, hearts, and lives through lessons, liturgy, and scripture. With the help of a sponsor and members of the parish community, they experience the church as a community of the faithful: its spirit, work, prayer, creed, and mission.
Period of Purification and Enlightenment: This period coincides with the season of Lent in the spring and involves the final preparations for the sacraments of initiation at Easter. Together, the elect and the parish community journey toward Easter by deepening personal commitments to the Lord and praying to overcome any obstacles to spiritual growth.
The Sacraments of Initiation: During the most elaborate and joyous celebration of the church year, Easter, the sacraments of initiation - baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist - are conferred on the elect. Those elect who were already baptized enter into full communion with the church through confirmation and Eucharist. The entire community of the faithful joyfully welcomes the new members and joins in a renewal of their own baptismal vows.
Mystagogia, or Post-baptismal Catechesis: This period lasts from Easter to Pentecost and completes the initiation. It is a festive season for the church. The new members penetrate the deeper meaning of the Easter sacraments and begin thinking about how they will share in the mission of the church through service. It is, finally, a reminder to everyone that conversion is a life-long journey.