The Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) is the process of becoming Catholic. It starts by visiting a local parish or priest and expressing a desire to be received into the church. The steps of this process will look something like this:

1. Evangelization and Inquiry

The person then joins some others in exploring answers to questions they’ve always had about the Christian faith and the Catholic Church. This part of the process can happen anytime and for as long as needed.  When a person and their local parish believes that they are ready to take a more formal step, the unbaptized person is invited to celebrate a ritual called the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of the Catechumenate.  After this ritual, they are now known as a catechumen, which means “one in whom the Word of God echoes.”

The person who is already baptized in another Christian denomination is invited to celebrate a ritual called the Rite of Welcome. They are now a “candidate.” In both situations, the person is publicly declaring his or her intention to enter into a formal relationship with the Church, learning its ways and participating in its lifestyle.

2.       Catechumenate/Candidacy

During this period, the person is accompanied by his or her sponsor. He or she participates in the Church’s prayer on Sundays and other special days, meditates on the weekly Bible readings, is introduced to the members of the local parish, and is invited to actively participate in social and service opportunities. At Sunday Mass, the catechumen prays with the community and hears the scripture readings and homily. Then the catechumens are blessed and sent to pray more deeply with the scriptures they have just heard.  The catechumens do not participate in the Liturgy of Eucharist until they have been baptized.

This part of the process does not have a set amount of time, but should last at least one full year so the catechumen will experience the life of the Church and its cycle of celebrations for the whole liturgical year.  A candidate, or one who is already baptized, may need a shorter time of preparation.

The pastor, the sponsor, the catechists (teachers) as well as the catechumen or candidate discern their readiness to take yet another step when he or she celebrates the Rite of Election or the Call to Continuing Conversion. The Rite of Election takes place at the Cathedral with the Bishop at the beginning of the season of Lent. This rite marks the final turning point in the catechumen’s preparation for baptism. They are given a new title—Elect—because God has elected or chosen them to become a child of God through the waters of baptism.

3.       Period of Purification and Enlightenment

This part of the process usually takes place during the season of Lent, about forty days before Easter. During this time, the elect, godparent, and the whole Church community begin an intense preparation for Easter through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (works of charity and justice). 

  1. Initiation and Mystagogy

At the Easter Vigil, the night on which the Church commemorates the resurrection of Jesus, the Elect are asked to renounce Satan and profess their faith in God. Before the whole community, they are baptized with water and anointed with the oil of Chrism, and for the first time they participate in eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ. The Candidates make a profession of faith, are anointed and also join us at the table of the Lord.

For the next fifty days of Easter, the newly baptized (now called “Neophytes” which means “new”) gather on Sunday with the Church for the Eucharist. Through special preaching at Mass and prayerful discussion throughout the week, the Church tries to uncover the deep meanings or mysteries of what happened to the Neophytes. This is called “mystagogy” or a getting “under the mystery.” This is a time to “unpack” the initiation experience.  It is a time to understand how it has changed you and to help you connect it to your everyday life.   

 

The rest of the Church is called to practice mystagogy their whole life. The process of “becoming Catholic” really doesn’t end at baptism. Becoming Catholic is a process we do our whole lives as we continue to grow deeper in faith and love for God and his people.