Each Holy Saturday, the Catholic Church in the United States receives tens of thousands of men and women in the Church. Parishes welcome these new members through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and a ceremony bringing men and women into full communion with the Catholic Church. Listed here are some questions and answers related to these events.
What is the RCIA?
The RCIA, which stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, is a process through which non-baptized men and women enter the Catholic Church. It includes several stages marked by study, prayer and rites at Mass. Participants in the RCIA are known as catechumens. They undergo a process of conversion as they study the Gospel, profess faith in Jesus and the Catholic Church, and receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist. The RCIA process follows the ancient practice of the Church and was restored by the Second Vatican Council as the normal way adults prepare for baptism. In 1974 the Rite for Christian Initiation for Adults was formally approved for use in the United States.
What are the steps of the RCIA?
Prior to formally beginning the RCIA process, an individual comes to some knowledge of Jesus Christ, considers his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and is usually attracted in some way to the Catholic Church. This time period is known as the Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate. For some people, this process involves a long period of searching; for others, it is a shorter time. Often, some contact with people of faith and a personal faith experience leads people to inquire about membership in the Catholic Church.
After conversation with an advisor or spiritual guide, the person, known as an “inquirer,” may decide to continue the process and seek acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. The inquirer stands in the midst of the parish community and states that he or she wants to continue the process and become a baptized member of the Catholic Church. The local parish assembly affirms his or her wish and the inquirer then becomes a “catechumen.”
The period of the catechumenate can last for as long as several years or for a much shorter time. It depends on how the person is growing in faith, what questions and obstacles they encounter along the way, and how God leads them on this faith journey. During this time the catechumens consider what God is saying to them in the Scriptures, what changes in their life they want to make to respond to God’s inspiration, and what membership in the Catholic Church involves. Catechumens have a special connection to the Church and even though they are not yet baptized, they also have certain rights in the Church.
When a catechumen and the parish team working with him or her believes the person is ready to make a faith commitment to Jesus in the Catholic Church, the next step is the request for baptism and the celebration of the Rite of Election. This rite includes the official enrollment of names of all those seeking baptism at the coming Easter Vigil. On the first Sunday of Lent, the catechumens and their sponsors and families and members of the parish gather at the cathedral church and the catechumens publicly request baptism. Their names are then recorded in a special book and they are then no longer called catechumens, but “the elect.” The days of Lent are the final period of purification and enlightenment leading up to the celebration of initiation at the Easter Vigil. This Lenten season is a period of intense preparation marked by prayer, study, and spiritual direction for the elect, and special prayers for them by the parish communities.
The third formal step is the Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation, which takes place during the Easter Vigil Liturgy on Holy Saturday night when the catechumen receives the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist. Now the person is a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church and will continue to live out his or her response to God as a member of this faith community.
After the person is initiated at the Vigil, another period of formation and education continues in the period of the postbaptismal catechesis which is called “mystagogy.” This period continues at least until Pentecost and often longer. During the period of mystagogy the newly baptized members reflect on their experiences at the Easter Vigil and continue to learn more about the Scriptures, the sacraments, and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In addition they reflect on how they will serve Christ and help in the Church’s mission and outreach activities.
What is meant when people refer to men and women coming into “full communion with the Church”?
Coming into full communion with the Catholic Church describes the process for entrance into the Catholic Church for men and women who are baptized Christians but not Roman Catholics. These individuals make a profession of faith but they are not baptized again.
To prepare for this reception, the people, who are called “candidates,” usually participate in a formation program to help them understand and experience the specific teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. Some of their formation and preparation may be with catechumens preparing for baptism, but the preparation for candidates is very different since they have already been baptized and committed to Jesus Christ, and many of them have also been active members of other Christian communities.
How many people will be Baptized Holy Saturday?
In 1997 there were 75,645 adult baptisms, an increase from the 69,894 baptized in 1996. On the first Sunday of Lent this year when the Rite of Election was celebrated, many dioceses reported that their numbers had increased from last year.
How many people will come into full communion with the Church on Holy Saturday?
In 1997 there were 85, 970 received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
What is the Holy Saturday rite like?
The Holy Saturday Liturgy begins with the Service of Light which includes the blessing of the new fire and the Paschal candle which symbolizes Jesus, the light of the World. The second part consists of the Liturgy of the Word with a number of Scripture readings. After the Liturgy of the Word, the candidates are presented to the members of the community, who pray for them and join in the Litany of the Saints. After the Litany and prayer for the elect, the presider blesses the water placing the Easter or Paschal candle into the baptismal water. Those seeking baptism then renounce sin and profess their faith after which they are immersed into the baptismal water three times with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In some situations the water may be poured over the head of each candidate.
After the baptism the newly baptized are dressed in white garments and are presented with a candle lighted from the Paschal Candle. The newly baptized are then confirmed by the priest or bishop whose imposes hands on their heads, and invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit. He then anoints them with the oil called Sacred Chrism.
The Mass continues in the usual fashion. Now the newly baptized participate in the general intercessions, in bringing their gifts to the altar, and they share in the offering of Christ’s sacrifice. At the Communion of the Mass, each of the newly baptized receives the Eucharist, Christ’s body and blood, for the first time.
What does the white robe symbolize?
The newly baptized are dressed in a white garment after baptism to symbolize that they are washed clean of sin and that they are to continue to walk in this newness of life.
What does the candle symbolize?
A small candle is lit from the Easter candle and given to the newly baptized as a reminder to them always to walk as children of the light.
What does the Sacred Chrism symbolize?
The Sacred Chrism, or oil, is a sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit being given to the newly baptized. It is also a sign of the close link between the mission of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who comes to the person with the Father in baptism.
Why was this ancient rite restored?
It was restored in the Church to highlight the fact that the newly baptized are received into a community of faith, which is challenged to realize that they too have become different because of this new life in the community.
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