What is the Catechumenate and RCIA?

The Catechumenate is a process of Christian formation offered to those who seek to become members of the Catholic Church. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) refers to the liturgical rites belonging to the Catechumenate, and includes an adaptation for children.

The Catechumenate, also known simply as RCIA, is offered to those who have never been baptised, as well as to those who have been baptised.

How long will it take?

Becoming a Catholic is a big step; it is literally a life changing experience, and one which shouldn’t be entered into lightly, nor should anyone ever feel pushed or coerced into becoming a Catholic because their fiancée is Catholic, or their in-laws expect it, or because it is easier to enrol children into Catholic schools. Like any family, it is always exciting and a great privilege to have new members arriving! There is no doubt that you are welcome, but this needs to be something that you believe God is calling you to, and should also be something that you desire for yourself as well.

First Period: The Pre-Catechumenate

The pre-Catechumenate has no fixed duration and is the least formal and structured of all the phases. The main purpose is to give the inquirer an opportunity to question and explore many different aspects of the Catholic faith, while introducing some of the Gospel values. Within this phase, the beginnings of Christian faith start to become evident.

First Ritual Step:

Once initial conversion is experienced, and the unbaptised inquirer is interested in making a more formal commitment to systematically learning about the Catholic faith, then the inquirer is accepted in to the Church as a catechumen. This is done through a public rite called Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. The inquirer expresses the interest and the Church accepts their intention to respond to God’s call to follow the way of Christ.

Second Period: The Catechumenate

This is by far the longest and most formal part of the process. During this phase the catechumen is expected to participate with the whole Catholic community in their Sunday celebrations. The catechumen participates by sharing in the Liturgy of the Word. Through prayer, learning and coming to know other Catholic Christians, catechumens discover the love and power of God in their lives and in the church.

This phase is meant to be one not only of intellectual and faith formation, but also one of great delight and opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the parish community. The focus clearly is on a conversion of heart, through prayer and good works, but also of conversion of the mind, in which we start to see through the eyes of God, to think, perceive and act as Christ desires. During this time, catechumens receive annointings, participate in prayers of exorcism and blessings, which assists this conversion.

Second Ritual Step:

The Rite of Election is an acknowledgment on behalf of the priest, the RCIA team, and the sponsors, that the catechumen is adequately formed and ready to receive the Sacraments of Initiation. It is a formal acceptance on behalf of the Church.The catechumen too, formally declares that he / she has believed and accepted all that was presented to them during the Catechumenate. This is a formal declaration that it is their desire to become a fully active participant within the Catholic faith community. This Rite takes place during the first Sunday of Lent and from this time, until they are baptised, the catechumens are called the elect.

Third Period: Purification & Enlightenment

This phase takes place during Lent, and is marked by 3 community celebrations known as Scrutinies. During this period, the elect and the parish community together focus on conversion, scrutinize their lives in light of the gospel and celebrate the presentations of the Creed and Lord’s Prayer. These scrutinies coincide with the 3rd, 4th and 5th Sunday’s of Lent, and they ask God for healing and forgiveness of the elect.

Third Ritual Step:

This is the most important of all transitional Rites because it is when the elect are fully incorporated into Christ and the Church by Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. The elect become full members of the Body of Christ, the Church. From this time until the end of the period of mystagogy, they are known as neophytes, “new sprouts.”

Fourth Period: Post-baptismal catechesis (Mystagogy) & Neophyte Year

This is an important period of reflection by the newly initiated with their parish community. The formation and teaching continues during this time, in order to help the neophytes become incorporated into the full life of the Christian community.

It is important to note that the fourth stage may be the end or final stage of the RCIA process, but it is only the first stage of the rest of their lives as a fully active and participating member of the Catholic Church.

Who will accompany you on the Journey?

The whole parish has a responsibility for the gathering and nurturing of new members.

The Archbishop as part of his overall pastoral care of the diocese, personally and actively promotes the Catechumenate and normally welcomes the new members himself by presiding at the Rite of Election and at a Mass of Thanksgiving after Easter.

The priest plays a special role in ministering to the pastoral and spiritual care of those on the journey and those accompanying them.

A team of catechists is responsible for guiding the formation process of the members of the group. As those in formation share their experience of God in their own lives, catechists guide them to a deeper reflection on the Word of God and greater understanding of the faith of the Church.

Sponsors are delegated by the parish family to take an active and supportive role as companions, witnesses and guides for those seeking to join the Catholic Church.

During your time of faith formation in the RCIA, it is important to have a godparent who will be there for you as you continue your new life as a Catholic. Godparents also play a special role in the ritual steps of the RCIA journey.