Sacraments of Initiation
Part 3 The Rite for Adults and Children

Chapter i31 Introduction

Preliminary Questions


The RCIA "Process"

Converts and Conversion

Converts and Candidates

Basic Ecclesiology

Overview of the RCIA

Components of the Faith Journey

Knowing and Doing

Periods and Stages on the Journey

The Four Periods of the Journey

Roman Catholics Joining Other Churches

General Introduction: Commentary

Normative Nature of the RCIA

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

The Second Vatican Council took Baptism "out of the attic." What does baptism mean?

What has been your experience of the RICA?  Have you studied the Rites for Christian Initiation?  Have your participated in an RCIA program?  Have you had "on the job" training?

Have you ever been a member of a Church or ecclesial communion other than the Roman Catholic Church?  If so, how would you describe your reception into full communion with the Catholic Church?  Do you have a friend who was in this situation? How would they describe their becoming a Catholic? What liturgical rites were used? What did they mean? How did it feel?

Imagine these four people becoming Roman Catholics: a) a woman baptized Roman Catholic but raised in a completely non-religious environment and who only hears of Jesus for the first time in College; b) a Jew; c) a Byzantine Catholic; d) a Lutheran.  How do these four cases differ? What liturgical rites should be used in each of these four cases?

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Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 59-71.

The Rites of the Catholic Church, Volume I (Third edition). Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0-8146-6015-7. $19.77

The Editio Typica Latin of the Praenotanda   :

Maxwell Johnson.  The Rites of Christian Initiation:  Their Evolution and Interpretation.  Liturgical Press. ISBN 0-8146-6011-8. $26.37

Code of Canon Law, canons 849-878; CLSA Commentary, Pp 614-631.

R. Cabie. "The Celebration of Initiation After Vatican II," pp 84-96 in A. G. Martimort (editor). The Sacraments. Volume III of The Church at Prayer. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, new edition 1987. ISBN 0-8146-1365-9. [Updates of the lecture notes from my master's level courses at the Institut Catholique.]

Murphy Center for Liturgical Research.  Made Not Born.  University of Notre Dame Press. 1976. $4.95. ISBN 0-268-01337-3.

Aidan Kavanagh.  The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation.  1978. $8.95. New York: Pueblo Publishing Co. 1860 Broadway, New York, NY 10023. ISBN 0-916134-36-9.

The plan proposed by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is on the web at

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The RCIA "Process"

Frequently we hear the phrase "the RCIA process." [You have probably read it in the assignment posting. Perhaps you have used this phrase yourself; I know that I have.]  It is important to know that the RCIA is not a process.

When we pronounce the title in full [instead of the acronym RCIA] and speak of The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, we realize that the noun is "Rite."   The RCIA is a rite -- liturgical prayers and actions which accompany one's faith journey during their conversion process.    As Aidan Kavanagh has so aptly said:  The RCIA are "conversion therapy."   The RCIA are therapeutic rituals intended accompany conversion. 

(Evidently a faith community [parish] will want to have a "process" or "program" in place for celebrating these rites with the converts:  a program which will include formational, intellectual, and ministerial elements besides these ritual elements.)

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Converts and Conversion

Top of the iceberg -- Definition of Terms  

Convert   The National Statutes for the Catechumenate approved by the USCCB on November 11, 1986 state: 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. (National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 2.)

Catechumen   A person admitted to the Catechumenate, one seeking formal entry into the Church. The National Statutes for the Catechumenate approved by the USCCB on November 11, 1986 state: The term "catechumen" should be strictly reserved for the unbaptized who have been admitted into the order of catechumens.  (National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 2.)

Under the iceberg -- Unconscious Attitudes

How we use the words convert and catechumen is important because of what they might tell us regarding our un-articulated attitudes and understandings.  Does our use of the word "convert" when speaking of those who are validly baptized but who are not Roman Catholic imply that we do not really believe that non-Roman Baptism is "real Baptism" and therefore people who are baptized with this "fake baptism" are not really Christian?   We would never, of course, think this "consciously" (on top of the iceberg) but what attitude does it reflect? 

This reminds me of the old joke about the Lutheran couple who died and went to heaven. St. Peter was giving them a quick tour of the various areas and suburbs where they might want to have their heavenly mansion.  As St. Peter was showing them around heaven, they frequently caught sight of a big wall that seemed to enclose one section of the heavenly Jerusalem.  Curious about this, they ask St. Peter: "What's behind that wall?"  St. Peter smiled and replied, "Oh, that's where the Catholics live.  They believe that they are the only ones up here."

On the other hand, if we truly believe that there is one baptism which unites us to the Body of Christ, we will never call a Christian who comes into full communion with the Catholic Church a "convert."

We might say that we are simply using the word in a different sense and that in our heart we do not intend to imply that they are in need of "conversion."  I remember one day a student alerted me to the fact that I had failed to use gender inclusive language.  I said: "Even though I may not always speak correctly, I certainly believe in gender equality."  The student said to me: "If it's not on your lips, it's not in your heart!"

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Converts and Candidates

Many parishes run one program for both the baptized and the non-baptized who are seeking to become Roman Catholics.  The non-baptized are called "Catechumens" and receive the water bath at the Easter Vigil, but for the most part, everything else is the same for the two groups.   Consider these two scenarios.

Scenario One: Betty Johnson  Betty Johnson joins St. Anthony Parish. 

During the 10 o'clock Sunday morning Mass on October 14, at the conclusion of my homily, I say to the congregation: "Mrs. Betty Johnson has been living the Christian life for many years and for the past few months she has been praying with us here at St. Anthony's.  She has expressed her desire to formally join our parish and will do so this morning:  I say to Betty:  "Betty, please stand."  (She stands in place.)  "Betty do you wish to join our parish and to become a member of the Catholic Church?"  Betty says: "I do."  I say to the congregation:  "Let us all stand and with Betty profess our Catholic faith.  "I believe in God..."  When the creed is finished, I ask:  "Betty do you believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God?"  Betty replies:  "I do." "Betty, I welcome you into the Catholic Church.  The members of St. Anthony Parish look forward to sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord at this table today and in the years to come.  (The parish gives their approval  with applause.) 

In the General Intercessions which follow, mention is made of the Methodist Community which for many years nurtured Mrs. Johnson's faith, for example:  "We pray for all of the members of the Methodist Communion.  May the Holy Spirit strengthen them that they may continue to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to serve the poor, we pray to the Lord." 

At the kiss of peace, I leave the altar, to to Mrs. Johnson and give her the kiss of peace, as do several other members of the parish community.  At Communion time,  Mrs. Johnson comes to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord; the distribution of Holy Communion continues as usual.  Friends greet Betty after Mass.

[The whole process adds perhaps 10 minutes maximum to Sunday Mass.]

Scenario Two:  John Sack  John Sack joins St. Paul Parish

Mr. John Sack has been living the Christian life for many years.  He was baptized Lutheran.  Fifteen years ago he married his wife Maria (a Catholic) in the Catholic Church and since that time has attended Sunday Mass each week with Maria and their family.  All of the children had been baptized in the Catholic Church and have been raised Catholic.  Now, John wishes to enter into Full Communion with the Catholic Church.  He speaks to me, the pastor, and I send him to the parish DRE, who gives him a schedule for the RCIA process.  Next fall he joins with the inquirers and attends the weekly sessions of Catholic instruction.  In December during Mass he signs a paper along with other candidates and catechumens stating his intention to enter fully into the Catholic Church.  On the first Sunday of Lent, he drives the three hours with the catechumens to the cathedral for the Rite of Election.  At the Easter Vigil he joins with the catechumens and, after their baptism, he received with them the Sacrament of Confirmation (he had been Confirmed once as a Lutheran) and receives Holy Communion for the first time (licitly) in the Catholic Church. 

[The whole process takes about a year.]

Most parishes employ "Scenario Two."   Have you ever seen "Scenario One"?  [ I celebrated it in a parish a few weeks ago.]

Rite for the Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church

Note that the very first paragraph of the Rite for the Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church states:

473.  This is the liturgical rite by which a person born and baptized in a separated ecclesial community is received, according to the Latin rite, into full communion of the Catholic Church.  The rite is so arranged that no greater burden than necessary (see Acts 15:28) is required for the establishment of community and unity.  [Acts 15:28  "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials."]

Which of the two scenarios above (Betty Johnson or John Sack) imposes "no greater burden than necessary" on the one coming into full communion?   If you answer that scenario one is closer to "what has seemed good to the Holy Spirit" why then do most parishes employ scenario two?  I do not mean this as a "rhetorical question."  It is a question you should be able to answer.

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Basic Ecclesiology

1. We are an "ordered" community. (order/structure/offices, etc.) Currently the Church has five orders: Catechumens, Faithful, Deacons, Presbyters, Bishops.  ["Lay" and "cleric" are ecclesiological, legal categories.]  The term "Faithful" is used in two senses; in its more proper and technical sense -- as  when speaking of the Order of the Faithful" -- it means the baptized who are not Deacons, Presbyters, or Bishops.  In its more generic sense it refers to all the baptized (i.e. all those who have professed their faith in Christ, i.e. all Christians.  In this sense Deacons, Presbyters, and Bishops would be included among the "faithful."

2. The five Orders are different and distinct.  One can move from one Order to another.  In the years before Vatican II's Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, when the pyramid of Saint Robert Bellarmine  was the ecclesiological model, we employed ascending and descending language.  Contemporary ecclesiology avoids this type of language [e.g. phrases such as "raised to the Order of the Presbyterate" or "reduced to the lay state"].

3. The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council were not just ceremonial reforms but an effort to express more clearly the nature of the Church.

For the liturgy, "making the work of our redemption a present actuality," most of all in the divine sacrifice of the eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church." (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 2)

4. Some of the liturgical reforms, e.g. 1) the restoration of the Order of Catechumens, 2)  the restoration of the Order of the Deaconate as a permanent order in the Church, 3)  the abolition of the minor orders, were not merely liturgical reforms, but reforms which made the structure of the Church more clear and evident.  Lex orandi legem credendi constituit.

5. The Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults (and children of catechetical age) are the rites which accompany one from non-belief to belief.

6.  In the late 1970's I was on the worship commission for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. At that time we were working on a way to introduce the RCIA (very new at that time) into the archdiocese. We had our plan prepared and met with the Archbishop (Joseph Bernardin) to present the project. He listened attentively, taking notes, and when we finished he said: "If I understand you correctly, this new RCIA is not just about sacraments, it is about initiation into a worshiping community." We all smiled and nodded.  He was getting the point!  And then Bernardin continued, "I have only been archbishop here for 2 years, but I have visited each of the parishes of the archdiocese.  It seems we have lots of parishes but not many worshiping communities!"

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Overview of the RCIA

The following table is adapted from Ron Lewinski, Welcoming the New Catholic, (revised edition) Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1983, pp 12-13.

Period 1

Period 2

Period 3

Period 4


Precatechumenate and evangelization


Purification and enlightenment

Post baptismal catechesis or Mystagogia






Length of time

Unlimited, according to need of inquirer

An extended period, may be several years


Easter time


Establish trust between inquirers and ministers: foster initial conversion

Thorough formation; maturity of faith; candidates live a Christian life

Intense spiritual preparation for Easter sacraments; examination of life

Integration into the community; enlivening the community


Inquirers' background and their questions; proclamation of the gospel

Emphasis on the scriptures; formation through catechesis, community life, worship, and Christian service

Lenten Sacramentary and Lectionary; prayer, fasting, almsgiving

Easter time gospel and Eucharist, works of charity


Prayers suited to the inquirers, none specified

Celebrations of the word (especially Liturgy of the Word at Sunday Eucharist), minor exorcisms, blessings

Scrutinies and exorcisms, presentations of Creed and Lord's Prayer.

Sunday eucharist, Eucharist with the bishop



Transition 1

Transition 2



Inquirer decides whether to change one's life to follow Christ as a Catholic Christian

Catechumen and ministers discern readiness for sacraments of initiation

Immediate preparation: fasting on good Friday; fasting and preparatory rites on Holy Saturday.


Ministers determine inquirer's intention and readiness

The Church calls catechumens to Sacraments of Initiation

The Church receives new members


Celebrated in: Rite of becoming a catechumen

Celebrated in:  Rite of election (enrollment of names)

Celebrated in: sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil.

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Components of the Faith Journey

Each period and stage of the journey has the following four components:

1. The Intellectual Component.  To know what Catholics know.  Most important: to know Jesus.  Scripture is the basic text (lectionary based catechesis).

2. The Moral Component.  To act as Catholics act.  Implications of knowing Jesus.

3. The Liturgical Component.  To pray as Catholics pray.  Implications of ritual prayer

4. The Ministerial Component.  To evangelize as Catholics evangelize.  Baptism is the primary sacrament of ministry

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Knowing and Doing

Is Christianity more about "knowing" or "doing"?  Is it a matter of intellect or a matter of will?  Of course it is both.  But it seems that today we are heavy on the "knowing" side of the balance whereas Jesus was big on the "doing" side.

When we examine the programs which parishes employ to bring new members into the faith, do we find that the major emphasis is on the "intellectual component"?   What language is employed?  (e.g. do we speak of "classes" and "lessons" etc.?) 

Is the reason that we have baptized Christians participate in the "catechumenate classes"  is because they have to know Catholic teaching before they can be Catholic?

Jesus, on the other hand, seems to be big on the "doing" side.  "I was hungry and you gave me food..."   Do we put as much emphasis on living as Jesus wants us to live as e put on "knowing doctrine."   How much of our preparation time is spent on "conversion"?   [And we might ask:  "Who needs this more, the Candidates and Catechumens, or the Catholics in the pews?"]

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Periods and Stages on the Journey

Periods: times of maturation marking the initiation process:

a. period of evangelization and pre-catechumenate;
b. period of catechumenate;
c. period of purification and enlightenment;
d. Period of post-baptismal catechesis.

Stages: the steps through which the catechumen moves forward to full initiation. The process of adult initiation includes three stages:

a. when a person is accepted as a catechumen by the Church;
b. when a person becomes one of the "elect" and begins the more immediate preparation for the sacraments of initiation;
c. when a person receives the sacraments of initiation.

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The Four Periods of the Journey

1. Pre-Catechumenate -- Inquiry
a. Purpose: Awareness of basic meaning of Christianity -- (sympathizers)
b. No rites prescribed
c. Various blessings possible

2. Catechumenate
a. Purpose: Catechesis / introduction into Catholic life and faith
b. Conversion Therapy
c. Rites of entry: Entrance into the Order of Catechumens
d. Presentation of a cross
e. Rites during: ?

3. Enlightenment -- Lent -- Election
a. Purpose: 40 day retreat as immediate preparation for sacraments of initiation at this year's Easter Vigil.
b. Rites of entry: Election or Enrollment of Names
c. Rites during: Scrutinies
d. Rites during: Presentations
e. Culmination: Easter Vigil Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist
f. Pass from "the Elect" to "Order of the Faithful"

4. Mystagogia / 50 Days of Easter
a. Continuing Post Baptismal Catechesis (Full Experience. Honeymoon period). Purpose: continuing new communion with Church and Eucharist.
b. Meeting with Bishop
c. Eucharist with Diocesan Church

For a helpful "Picture" of the process (complements of Nick Wagner and Team RCIA) click here

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Pastoral Sensitivity

1.  What is the best "time frame" for the RCIA?

A)  The school year?  In the USA many parishes are on a school year and the RCIA starts in the fall with the start of school.
a. September, October, November for the pre-catechumenate -- Rite of Entrance into the Catechumenate on the First Sunday of Advent.
b. December, January, February for the catechumenate -- Rite of Election on the First Sunday of Lent
c. March, April for the period of purification -- Initiation at the Easter Vigil
d. April, May for the period of Mystagogy.

B)  Problems with "the school year" time frame.   After some experience: Many parishes found this timing does not work well
a. The pre-catechumenate is too short
b. The First Sunday of Advent needs its own identity and the addition of the Rite of Entrance into the Catechumenate is too much symbolism for one day. [This is not the case with the First Sunday of Lent and the Rite of Election which are made for each other.]
c. Three months is not long enough for the catechumenate.

C)  Continuous   Development: many parish now have a year round pre-catechumenate and a catechumenate running simultaneously.
a. This takes more ministers, etc.
b. This gives special meaning to the Rite of Election (some of the catechumens are elected/elect to enter the period of purification.

2.  Faith is more than intellectual assent.  Conversion is a journey of faith, not just a journey of the intellect.  How many Catholics believe all the Church teaches? What does this mean? Is formation more than information?  Are we still in the days of Father Smith Instructs Jackson?   (Is Abraham our "father in faith" because he could answer all the questions in the Catechism?)   What about those people who refuse to believe what you tell them the have to believe?  Baptize them anyway?   In the program you outline, what room do you give for intellectual dissent? 

3.  Rite  The RCIA is not a RCIA Group, or the RCIA Program. The R stands for Rite.   Read the Rite carefully. Know the structure and elements of the various rites of initiation, e.g. the rite of election.   For example is there a difference in the group meetings for the elect during the "40 day retreat" before their Initiation? 

4.   Vocabulary   Are Sacraments things or actions, nouns or verbs. What vocabulary do you use: receive the sacraments, administer the sacraments, give holy communion, etc.  Also, be precise in your use of terms, e.g. what does "fully baptized" mean?  Who is a "convert"?

5.   Eucharist    Sharing Eucharist is more than receiving Jesus!  We are the Body we receive.  At the vigil the neophyte is for the first time part of that body to be received!  Eucharist:  table union.  Family meal sharing.

6. The San Andreas Fault and the RCIA    Reflect on the difference the catechumenate makes in Church structure.  What happens when we have an educated laity?  ("Knowledge is power.")

7.  "Baptism takes away all sin"   If baptism takes away all sin, why is it impossible for those who are in "irregular marriages" to be baptized? 

8.  Initiation into a community   Note:  It is difficult to initiation someone into a community unless there is a community to be initiated into?  How many of our parishes are actually faith communities and how many are just individuals who go to Mass on Sunday?   How is the who parish involved in the reception of the new parish members?  Are the rites celebrated at each of the scheduled Sunday Eucharist so that all can welcome the new members or only those at the 8:00 am Mass, or the 11:00 am Mass?  How are the new members involved in the larger Church (e.g. diocese)?  Is there any time during the formation journey they come into contact with this larger Church?  With the bishop?  

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Roman Catholics Joining Other Churches

The growth of Protestantism in Latin America rapidly assumed the center stage of the bishops' meeting and in the Mexican press. Reports from the Mexican bishops' conference say nearly 20 million Mexicans, or one-fourth of the population, are now Protestant. The reports say that between 1990-95, an estimated 40 million Latin Americans left the Catholic church to join Protestant churches, the more fundamentalist of which are commonly referred to in the region as "sects." Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and independent evangelical groups were named as drawing the most new members. (From an article in The National Catholic Reporter, Summer 1996.)

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Normative Nature of the RCIA

(Aidan Kavanagh, "Theological Principles for Sacramental Catechesis" Living Light. From the talk on the "professional update" given at the East Coast Conference for Religious Education, February 1987)

Some recent authors have attempted to maintain that there are presently two sovereignly different norms of Christian initiation, one for adults (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and one for those -- far more numerous -- who were baptized in infancy. . . But such a view is untenable in light of the facts. One such fact is that the initiatory reform after the Council began consciously with adult baptism rather than infant baptism. In 1964 the Concilium charged with implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy approved the following protocol on this matter:

In the case of adults is most clearly shown: (a) the character of baptism, in that it is a sacrament of faith according to the theology of the sacraments accepted in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (art. 59); (b) the unity of Christian Initiation as in article 11 of the Constitution; (c) the coordination of baptism and the paschal celebration, which is mentioned in article 109 of the Constitution. . . . The entire rite of infant baptism however reformed, will have its roots in the adult rite from which it will have been derived, and not vice versa.

The rite for adults had already gone through four drafts by 1966 when the rite for infants, which would go through nine drafts in constant reference to the evolving adult rite, was begun. Similarly, reform of the rite of confirmation began a year later, in 1967. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults thus served as the paradigmatic norm, for the reform of the other two rites, even though the three rites came to be published in reversed order: the rite of infants in 1969, the Rite of Confirmation in 1971, and the rite for adults in 1972.

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To Think About

1.  Degree of "difficulty"   Just how hard is it to become a Catholic?  How many practicing Catholics in your parish know the things that the catechumens are expected to know in the proposed plans and schedules?   Is the RCIA only for college graduates? 

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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 07/05/16 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at