Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA)
Many adults are welcomed into the Catholic Church each year through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The RCIA is also known as the Catechumenate, an early Church term that recognises a Catechumen as a non-baptised person preparing for Baptism and initiation into the Catholic Church.
The Sacraments of Initiation in the Catholic Church are Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Baptism is the first step of initiation and Eucharist and Confirmation complete the process.
The RCIA is also the accepted form of preparation for adults already baptised into another Christian Church and now seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. They are welcome to participate along with catechumens in the RCIA in the process of learning about the Catholic faith and being formed in that faith.
The RCIA Process
The RCIA offers a way to grow in knowledge of Christ and the Catholic faith in company with others on a similar journey.
The RCIA has several distinct stages.
Stage 1: ENQUIRY
This is a ‘getting to know you’ stage. As a person expresses interest in the Catholic community, parishioners respond to the enquirer’s questions and share something of their own experience of being Catholic. This period involves no formal commitment. It is a time of initial exploration as the enquirer, with the help of the parish community, decides whether or not to undertake the journey towards Baptism in the Catholic Church. If yes, the enquirer enters the next stage – the Catechumenate.
Stage 2: THE CATECHUMENATE
During this phase, a person becomes more deeply acquainted with the people, teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. He/she is no longer called an ‘enquirer’ but a ‘catechumen’. This is the longest period of the initiation process and involves weekly reflections and regular attendance at Sunday liturgies. When ready, the catechumen enters the next stage – the Period of Enlightenment.
Stage 3: PERIOD OF ENLIGHTENMENT
This is a short period of final preparation before Baptism. It normally coincides with Lent, which is a six-week period of repentance and renewal for Catholics and ‘catechumens’ alike. The weekly reflections continue, with heightened focus and a number of small ritual steps taking place at this time.
Stage 4: FULL INITIATION
This is the culmination of the whole process! A Catechumen is welcomed into full membership of Church during the Easter Vigil Mass, receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.
For catechumens who are already baptised, the Catholic Church recognises their Baptism and therefore does not re-baptise. Rather, the ceremony involves a solemn profession of faith in the presence of the congregation. The new Catholic then receives the acrament of Confirmation and is welcomed to the table of the Eucharist. Most often this ceremony is also celebrated at the Easter Vigil.
Stage 5: PERIOD OF MYSTAGOGY
Even after Baptism, the newly baptised continue to meet for 2–3 weeks to reflect upon and ‘unpack’ the experience of their initiation and all that has happened on their journey of conversion. This period is called Mystagogy (‘reflection on the mysteries’ in Greek) and has a particular focus on the call to mission.
Support Along the Journey
Becoming a Catholic is a communal experience!
A person preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation is assigned a sponsor, i.e. a parishioner who walks with them on their journey. The sponsor is an encourager and guide. Friends, relatives, parishioners and priests also play a support role in this journey of faith. The whole parish community participates though prayer, worship and various rituals along the way.
A small group of parishioners (the RCIA Team) are entrusted as catechists, mentors and sponsors for those who have approached us. Through their constant support and willingness to share their faith, they are living witnesses of the Good News and of life in Christ.
As the Baptism draws closer, the ‘catechumen’ will be asked to nominate a Godparent.
The RCIA Schedule
Usually the process of preparation involves meetings over a number of months. In our Parishes of Camberwell, Balwyn Deepdene and Surrey Hills Wattle Park, we begin around August or September. The group of enquirers, catechists and sponsors meets regularly to share faith, pray, and participate in various activities of the parish community.
At the beginning of Lent each year, those in the group who wish to enter the Catholic Church enter into an intense period of preparation, culminating in the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.