If someone feels led to join and become a member of the Church Jesus founded (the Catholic Church), must they always go through the process known as RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults)? In order to answer that question, let us first take a look at what RCIA is.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, RCIA for short, is a process within parish life designed to welcome new members into the Church and/or to open every Catholic parishioner to deeper belief and renewal of his or her Christian faith. For adults and children (RCIC) who have reached the age of reason (age seven), entrance into the Church is governed by this Rite. This Rite leads them to the sacraments of initiation which include Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation. Generally the classes instruct the person on what the Church teaches and is there to help guide them in their journey towards entrance into the Church. This process begins with the inquiry stage, in which the unbaptized person begins to learn about the Catholic faith and begins to decide whether to embrace it. It helps the person who is not sure if they want to convert, but is seeking answers to their questions while in this discerning mode.
The roots of the RCIA extend far back into the early centuries of Christianity. By the end of the second century the community of Jesus’ followers initiated new members through a single celebration of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. This dramatic celebration of initiation took place once a year during the hours of darkness before the dawn of Easter Sunday morning – the morning commemorating Jesus’ resurrection. Today, the Church celebrates this initiation on what is known as the “Easter Vigil Mass” on Holy Saturday.
For the person wanting to convert, their entrance into the Church and the process by which one becomes a Catholic can take different forms. A person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at that moment. One’s initiation is deepened by confirmation and the Eucharist, but one becomes a Catholic at baptism. This is true for children who are baptized Catholic (and receive the other two sacraments later) and for adults who are baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist at the same time.
What about those who have been validly baptized outside the Church? Well, they become Catholics by making a profession of the Catholic faith and being formally received into the Church. This is normally followed immediately by confirmation and the Eucharist. But before a person is ready to be received into the Church, whether by baptism or by profession of faith, preparation is necessary. The amount and form of this preparation depends on the individual’s circumstance. The most basic division in the kind of preparation needed is between those who are unbaptized and those who have already become Christian through baptism in another church.
Although RCIA is the most common way many people convert to the Church, it is not the only way. In fact, having a priest or deacon give an individual private instruction and then be received into the Church is actually preferred for non-Catholic Christians. But, since many Church parishes are short-handed, it becomes hard to do. RCIA’s primary purpose is to catechize and sacramentally initiate those who are unbaptized. But many parishes lump adult catechumens (non-Christians awaiting baptism), candidates (non-Catholic Christians awaiting confirmation), and adult confirmants (Catholics seeking confirmation) into the same RCIA program for practical reasons.
I personally think the use of private instruction should be offered and given more frequently to the non-Catholic Christian who has been faithfully worshiping at Mass with their spouse for 20 years or more. I think many of these individuals feel the need to convert, but are hesitant to go through a formal process like RCIA. In fact, many of these people are more Catholic than the average Catholic that is sitting in the pew next to them.
Until next time, God bless.