Some Common Misunderstandings Of RCIA
The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is not a “program.”
According to Paragraph Nos. 1 and 2 of the ritual, the RCIA is a “sacramental ritual of Christian initiation … which includes not simply the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist, but also all the rites belonging to the catechumenate.” Catholics are now familiar with the “major” rites celebrated within the context of Sunday worship – “The Acceptance into the Order of the Catechumens,” “The Rite of Sending,” “The Rite of Election” presided over by the bishop at the Cathedral, the three Lenten “Scrutinies,” and, on Holy Saturday (for children over the age of reason), the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
The other rites that are seldom celebrated in our parishes are the “Minor Exorcisms,” “Blessings of the Catechumens,” and “Anointing of our Catechumens,” which may be celebrated at the closing of the catechumens’ faith sharing sessions. The “Presentation of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer,” and the Preparation Rites on Holy Saturday are to be celebrated in the presence of the Church community. We have not yet grasped the meaning and need for these rituals for our catechumens.
Another common misconception is that the RCIA’s main purpose is to teach our new members the truths of the Catholic faith.
While not overlooking the beliefs of the Catholic Church that an individual must integrate into his or her life, Vatican II instructs us that “The catechumenate means not simply a presentation of teachings and precepts, but a formation in the whole of Christian life and a sufficiently prolonged period of training; by these means the disciples will become bound to Christ as their master. Catechumens should therefore be properly initiated into the mystery of salvation and the practices of gospel living; by means of sacred rites celebrated at successive times, they should be led gradually into the life of faith, liturgy, and charity belonging to the people of God” (Vatican II’s “Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity,” no. 14).
The ritual reminds priests and RCIA ministers that after inquirers hear Christ proclaimed, they “enter the way of faith and conversion as the Holy Spirit opens their hearts” (Par. 1). The RCIA is not so much the passing on of information as it is nurturing the transformation of our new members’ minds and hearts in Christ. During the RCIA, our new members are to “commit themselves sincerely to Christ… who is the way, the truth, and the life fulfills all their spiritual expectations, indeed infinitely surpasses them” (par. 36). They “feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love” (par. 37) and begin to “change their lives and to enter into a relationship with God in Christ … experiencing the first stirrings of repentance, a start to the practice of calling upon God in prayer, a sense of the Church, and some experience of the company and spirit of Christians through contact with a priest or with members of the community” (par. 42).
During the Catechumenate, their “initial” faith and conversion (which began to occur during the Inquiry) are deepened. This happens through a solid catechesis according to the liturgical year, supported by celebrations of God’s Word (par. 75.1). This catechesis leads them “not only to an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate” (par. 75.1). They also “learn to turn more readily to God in prayer, to bear witness to the faith, to keep their hopes set on Christ, to follow supernatural inspiration in their deeds, and to practice love of neighbor... Thus formed….they set out on a spiritual journey… which brings with it a progressive change of outlook and conduct” (par. 75.2).