RCIA: Getting Back to Our Roots
On February 22, 2015, the First Sunday in Lent, Bishop Bergie welcomed those journeying through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process at the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Catechumens and candidates, along with their catechists and sponsors, came together for the first time as a diocesan Church. Many now have a new appreciation for what it means to be Catholic in the context of the larger community.
What is RCIA?
Many Catholics have seen the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults as one of those new fangled things that are a legacy of Vatican Council II. Before that the priest would instruct the convert for twelve sessions one on one and then the individual was quietly received into the Church.
In reality RCIA is a recovery of an ancient rite that goes back to the very roots of our Christian faith. For the first few hundred years the journey from the period of inquiry to the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil was a long and arduous one sometimes taking years to complete. As Christianity spread and second and subsequent generations of Christians were baptized as infants the process fell out of use and finally was lost altogether.
Let’s follow briefly the journey of a first century convert. First came a period of evangelization, what today we refer to as a time of inquiry. This was a time of no fixed duration for asking questions and an introduction to the gospel.
Upon expressing a desire to follow Christ the individual was accepted into the Order of Catechumens. The time spent in the catechumenate would have depended on the progress of the individual. Today we bring people into this order at the Rite of Acceptance, which is held in the parish.
When he or she was ready they went through a liturgical ceremony called the Rite of Election or the Enrollment of Names. Today this rite takes place at the cathedral on the first Sunday of Lent. The catechumens sign their names in the Book of the Elect and are called, from that time on, the Elect. The Elect then went through an intense period of purification and enlightenment leading up to the Easter Vigil at which time they receive the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. This is the same practice we follow today.
While RCIA is meant for the unbaptized, in our modern world some of those wishing to come into the Church are already baptized in another Christian denomination. The Church accepts all Trinitarian baptisms as valid and those persons are already considered to be members of the Body of Christ. They are generally referred to as “our separated brothers and sisters” and are seeking to come into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. These inquirers are called candidates and, after making a profession of faith, receive two sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, Confirmation and the Eucharist.
As you can see we have returned to our roots, but that is not merely an historical fact, it should also be a spiritual renewal. RCIA is a spiritual journey that calls for a radical conversion of not only the catechumens and candidates, but also the whole Christian community.
In the midst of our increasingly materialistic and secular society it is a call to say, “YES” to God with all that it implies. RCIA calls us all to a commitment of both time and talent to help bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
It is not easy. For many it means a radical change in priorities and lifestyle. To answer God’s call is to enter by the narrow gate, as scripture tells us. (Matthew 7:13-14)
RCIA is a lay ministry. Catechists and sponsors are drawn from the congregation with the pastor acting as spiritual director.
It is imperative that we, the laity, get involved in the life of our respective parishes. Say, “YES” to God’s call. Ask your pastor about RCIA. Let us offer our God-given gifts to our parish, not like the servant with one talent who buried it against his master’s return. (Matthew 25:24-27)