Sacraments of Initiation
Part 2 History of Initiation

Chapter i30 Christian Initiation Today

Preliminary Questions


Johnson Chapter 9

Johnson Chapter 10

Five Gifts from Vatican II

Lex Orandi, Legem Credendi
Ten Major Changes in the Theology of Initiation

Tip of the Pistol Changes

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

RCIA causes paradigm shift.  Dismissal of Catechumens. Tension between two systems of Initiation. 1983 Code First Reconciliation of children & delaying infant Baptism. Dioceses begin restoring sequence BCE. RCIC. 

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Johnson, Chapter 9: Christian Initiation in the Churches Today.
Johnson, Chapter 10: Back Home to the Font: The place of a Baptismal Spirituality and its Implication in a Displaced World.

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Johnson Chapter 9

Maxwell E. Johnson Chapter 9: Christian Initiation in the Churches Today

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Johnson Chapter 10

Maxwell E. Johnson Chapter 10: Back Home to the Font:  The Place of Baptismal Spirituality and Its Implications in a Displaced World

Johnson makes eight points for the call to a recovery of a baptismal spirituality that could guide the third millennium Church:

1. Baptism is an equalizer.

2. We should re-evaluate the relationship between baptism and confirmation: Gerald Austin stated that confirmation is the gift of the Spirit tied intimately to the water-bath that prepares one for the reception of the body and blood of Christ as a full member of the church.. (pp. 456-457)

3. We should advocate for the practice of Communion of all the Baptized

4. We should renew the stance against creeping Pelagianism. We are Christians because God surprised us. Jesus' story becomes our story. (p. 464)

5. We should renew the sense of the Baptismal Focus at the center of the liturgical year. The liturgical year of the church celebrates the presence of the already crucified and risen Christ

6. We should renew the sense of both lay and ordained ministry

7. We should renew the sense of and zeal for ecumenism

8. We should renew the sense of all Christian life as living out of baptism.

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Five Gifts from The Second Vatican Council

The following is a copyrighted article which first appeared in Deacon Digest, December 2012, Christian Initiation: Five Gifts from The Second Vatican Council,
by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D. 

The Second Vatican Council gave us five wonderful "gifts" with regard to Christian Initiation.  As Roman Catholics have been experiencing these gifts for nearly 50 years, I wonder if people who have enjoyed these gifts their entire lives realize how wonderful these gifts really are!

I began my ordained ministry in a Church without these gifts.  As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, I would like to describe these wonderful gifts for those of you who may have never known a Church without them. 

Gift #1: "Initiation"

The first gift of the Council is the word itself!   Fifty years ago we didn't speak of "Initiation".   You won't find the word in the Baltimore Catechism nor was it in any of the textbooks I studied during my seminary days.  Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation were three separate and distinct sacraments.  Baptism washed away our sins; Eucharist was the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary; and Confirmation made us soldiers of Christ.

"Initiation" is not just a new word but a new way of thinking.  Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist are no longer three unrelated events; their meaning and purpose has been enriched tremendously by placing them in relation to one another in the context of Christian initiation. 

The General Introduction to the revised rites begins:  "In the sacraments of Christian initiation we are freed from the power of darkness and joined to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.  We receive the Spirit of filial adoption and are part of the entire people of God in the celebration of the memorial of the Lord's death and resurrection."   The enriched understanding of these sacraments is truly a gift.

Gift #2:  The RCIA

This "gift" of the Council  --  The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults  --  has become so popular that it is recognized simply by its initials:  RCIA. 

The RCIA has radically changed the way non-baptized persons become Catholic.  While there are some visible changes that Catholics experience at Sunday Mass  --  the dismissal of the catechumens and the scrutinies, for example  --  the heart of this "gift" is the new way of thinking about initiation.

Conversion is not just a "moment"; conversion is a process -- often a difficult process.  The RCIA is intended to accompany this process.  The introduction to the revised ritual states: "The initiation of catechumens is a gradual process..." (#4)  "The rite of initiation is suited to a spiritual journey of adults that varies according to the many forms of God's grace..." (#5)  Coming from "unbelief" to "belief in Christ" is a journey; the RCIA acknowledges this "faith journey" of each individual and is designed to strengthen and assist the converts.  The RCIA is indeed a gift, not only to the catechumens but to all of us.

Gift #3:  Rite of the Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church

This rite is another wonderful gift of the Council.  Here again, there are both external and internal aspects of the gift. 

Fifty ago when a Protestant came to me and wanted to be a Catholic, I used the rite for the "Reception of Converts."   The ritual began by speaking of "the conversion of heretics..." and consisted of a long and very detailed profession of faith and abjuration of heresy.  How different our current rite!

But here again, the heart of the gift is not merely a change in the ritual prayers, but in the underlying understanding of who we are as Church.  The Constitution on the Church states that: "the one Church of Christ ... constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church." (#8) The two are not simply identical.  The Decree on Ecumenism says that protestants who "believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect."  "The Catholic Church embraces them as brothers, with respect and affection."  (#3)

Consequently the Rite of the Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church "is so arranged that no greater burden than necessary (see Acts 15:28) is required for the establishment of communion and unity."

This change in thinking has influenced our way of speaking.  These people are already Christian; consequently, they are not "converts".  The National Statutes for the Catechumenate approved by the Bishops of the United States (November 11, 1986) state that "the term 'convert' should be reserved strictly for those converted from unbelief to Christian belief and never used of those baptized Christians who are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church."

Gift #4:  The Rite of Baptism for Children

Formerly there was no baptism ritual designed specifically for infants and young children.  Fifty years ago when I baptized an infant I used a ritual that was adapted from the baptismal rite for adults in danger of death.  The prayers presumed that the one being baptized was an adult.  Whenever I asked a question the ritual directed me to "address by name the one to be baptized."  For example, I would ask the infant: "N., do you wish to be baptized?"  Of course the infant didn't answer; the sponsors answered: "I do." 

What a gift to now have a ritual in which I can speak to the parents, the godparents, and the worshiping community rather than pretending to speak to the baby!  It is so much more authentic to use prayers that acknowledge that those to be baptized are, in fact, infants.  I now ask the parents what they ask for their child, and ask if they intend to teach their child to follow Jesus by their words and example; and ask the godparents if they are willing to help the parents in this task. 

Gift #5:  Confirmation

The fifth gift of the Council that I want to mention concerns the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Council returned Confirmation to its proper place in the initiation process and restored the Eucharist as the culmination of initiation.

In the early Church, anointing with oil was a common practice following bathing. The water bath of Baptism became symbolic of washing off sin and the anointing with oil following the bath was seen as the strengthening of the Holy Spirit. Of course, these two actions occur simultaneously, as do washing off dirt and getting clean. 

About the fourth century in the Roman Church, due to a shortage of pastor-bishops, the anointing with oil became separated from water bath of Baptism and in the succeeding centuries, the anointing became the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Second Vatican Council restored the traditional order Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist for adult converts and children of catechetical age.   Today in the Roman Church Confirmation is separated from Baptism only for those Catholics who were baptized as infants.

As the experience of the RCIA sequence of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist began to be seen as normative, a number of bishops directed pastors to Confirm children at the Mass in which they would receive Holy Eucharist for the first time.  In these dioceses, even though Confirmation and Eucharist were separated from Baptism by several years, the order of the sacraments was restored.

Today many catechists feel the need for a celebration of Christian adulthood  --  some kind of Catholic bar mitzvah  --  for adolescents.  Confirmation was moved from the first years of grade school and delayed until high school so that it could serve this purpose.   In this case, even though Confirmation remains separated from sacramental Baptism, the Second Vatican Council suggested that the Sacrament of Confirmation be preceded by the renewal of baptismal promises and take place during the celebration of the Eucharist. (See:  Constitution on the Liturgy, 71).  Consequently, even in this case we now see the normative sequence: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. 

Dying with Christ in the baptismal tomb and rising to new life from the womb of mother Church (Baptism), being filled with the gift of the Spirit which transforms us into the image of the Spirit-filled Messiah (Confirmation), and then led to the Eucharistic table in which we share the food that transforms us into the very Body that we receive in Holy  Communion  --  I am convinced that this vision of Christian Initiation is the result of these five wonderful gifts which we have received from the Second Vatican Council.

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Lex Orandi, Legem Credendi
Ten Major Changes in the Theology of Initiation

1. Introduction of the word "initiation"

2. New insight into original sin and the purpose of baptism

3. Recognition of a more dynamic understanding a person and conversion as "process" and "journey"

4. Appropriating forgotten parts of our rich history (e.g. the Order of Catechumens) by the introduction of the RCIA

5. Composition of an entirely new ritual for infants

6. Official recognition of the sequence Baptism Confirmation Eucharist, with Eucharist being the culmination of Christian Initiation

7. A greater appreciation of the diverse ways in which God calls us to salvation, and a sea change in ecumenism, resulting in a new "Rite for the Reception of Baptized Christians into Full Communion with the Catholic Church", and the official recognition that these people are not, in any way, "converts".

8. A rediscovery that the sacraments are public acts of worship, and are not merely for the individual but for the Church as a whole. (Rediscovery of the Anabatic dimension.)

9. A rediscovery of the teaching dimension of the sacraments resulting in a recognition of the importance of rich, abundant symbols and expressive ceremonies.

10. A movement away from the scholastic reification of sacrament into seven individual "things" to a more dynamic understanding of sacraments as events, indeed, as manifestations of the one Great Event, Jesus Christ.

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Some "Tip of the Pistol Changes" in Period 10

1.  The migration from nouns to verbs.

2.  Grace = God's loving relationship with the human race; God, God's Self.

3.  Original sin as something long ago or something we do now.

4.  Babies are baptized more for what baptism gives than for what it takes away.

5.  Baptism and Eucharist are not separate events;  Eucharist is the repeatable part of baptism.

6.  BaptismConfirmationEucharist is one event.

7.  Baptism and Confirmation are one sacrament, even when celebrated several years apart.

8.  Infant baptism isn't just for the infant; it's for the parish! 

9.  The switch from marriage (or: having a child; or ordination; or religious profession; or being elected president;...) as the most important event in my life to baptism as the most important event in my life. 

10  From: "Ordination makes one Alter Christus (Another Christ)"  to  "Baptism makes one Alter Christus (Another Christ)"

11.  From "Christian" as a state of being to "Christian" as a process / journey.

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To Think About

How has the changes in the rituals for Initiation changed our way of understanding and explaining the sacrament?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 05/15/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at