FIRST STEP: Period of Inquiry
How someone comes to consider joining the Catholic Church is unique to each individual. Years of marriage to a Catholic spouse, conversations with a Catholic friend or coworker, or even something written or viewed in the media can move an adult toward membership in the Catholic Church. Informally, this can go on for years!
At some point, the person may contact a Catholic parish and begin to meet with other adults who are also inquiring about the Catholic faith. These adults, with members of the RCIA team, will tell their own stories and connect them with the faith stories found in scripture.
SECOND STEP: Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens and the Period of Catechumenate.
Some of the inquirers become firm in their desire for initiation and decide that they would like to begin a more formal study of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. They are admitted into the next step through a special ceremony called the Rite of Acceptance into the order of Cathechumens or if already baptized, become Candidates for membership. In this ritual the Church symbolically claims these men and women for Christ by signing them with the cross.
This is the first time that the inquirers publicly declare their faith before the parish community. Because no one likes to do something like that on their own, each inquirer is accompanied by a sponsor. Sponsors may be chosen by the individual or provided by the parish. Sponsors provide support and companionship for the rest of the RCIA process.
After this Rite, the inquirers are called catechumens or candidates. This name indicates that they are learning the teachings of the Church and beginning to accept Catholic tradition and practices.
Even though they are not yet permitted to receive the sacraments, the catechumens and candidates do enjoy other important rights. They have a right to assistance as they grow in faith by learning about the teachings of the Church and participating in works of service in the parish. They also have a right to be married in the Church and receive a Christian burial.
THIRD STEP: Rite of Election/Call To Continuing Conversion, and Period of Purification and Enlightenment
The period of the Catechumenate ends when the catechumens discern, with the help of their sponsors and the parish RCIA team, that God is calling them to receive the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist) at the next Easter Vigil. Before they can be initiated they must be officially called to the sacraments by the bishop or someone designated by him. This “Rite of Election” is celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent in the diocesan cathedral. After the Rite of Election, they are no longer called catechumens, but The Elect of God.
Similarly, those already baptized, called candidates, cross this threshold when they discern that God is calling them to complete their initiation by receiving the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist. This is formalized by the “Call to Continuing Conversion” before the entire congregation.
On Holy Saturday, the parish assembles for the Great Easter Vigil. The Church has always recognized that in baptism we die to sin in Christ’s death so that we may rise to new life with him. The Easter Vigil is the primary celebration of our Lord’s resurrection and is, therefore, the most appropriate occasion for the Elect to celebrate their baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist. Those who have been preparing alongside the Elect celebrate the sacraments of confirmation and first Eucharist.
For the newly initiated, now called neophytes, the time between Easter and Pentecost is a special opportunity to reflect on the commitment which they have made to the Lord, to the Church, and to the local parish community. This time of unfolding the meaning of the initiation sacraments is called mystagogia.
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