When unbaptized inquirers take the first formal step on their initiation journey, we celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens with them. The celebration of that rite changes their status within the community.
When baptized inquirers are ready to make a formal beginning, we have the option of celebrating the Rite of Welcoming the Candidates with them. This rite is optional because it does not confer any change in status on the candidates. They were and remain members of the priestly people of God.
Can parishioners tell the difference between the baptized and the unbaptized?
In the United States, these two rites are often combined into one celebration, and the distinction between the meanings of the the two rites often becomes blurred—even in the minds of veteran RCIA team members. Some long-time team members are not even aware there are two separate rites. (Presumably, this is less of a problem in Canada, where there is no official option for combining the two rites.)
The RCIA tells us in the introduction to the Rite of Welcoming the Candidates that the places, postures, and gestures for the rite are intended to emphasize the priestly status of the baptized:
The prayers and ritual gestures acknowledge that such candidates are already part of the community because they have been marked by baptism. (412; emphasis added. In Canada, see nos. 457 and 465.)
The RCIA marks insiders and outsiders
The first placement of the candidates is a great example of this intent. The rite takes place at a Sunday Mass, and Mass begins as usual with the candidates placed prominently among the rest of the baptized members of the assembly to show that the candidates are, in fact, already members. In the Rite of Acceptance in the the Order of Catechumens, the inquires are placed outside the church to signify that they are not yet members of the priestly people. However, in most parishes, the Rite of Acceptance begins with the catechumens inside the church so as not to inconvenience the parishioners by having them go outside. When that happens, the first symbol of distinction is lost.
The rest of the Rite of Welcome does not seem to make the same level of distinction between the unbaptized and baptized inquirers. I want to look at some of these places, postures, and gestures in future posts. In the meantime, however, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t read it recently, take a look at the optional Rite of Welcoming the Candidates, RCIA nos. 411-433 (Canada nos. 455-487).
How does your RCIA team do it?
If you have a moment, add your responses to these questions to the comments box below:
- In what ways does the Rite of Welcoming the Candidates make it clear that the candidates are already part of the priestly people of God?
- In what ways might the Rite of Welcoming the Candidates blur the distinction between the baptized candidates and the catechumens?
- How does the way you have adapted this rite for your parish either make clear or possibly blur the distinction between the baptized candidates and the catechumens?
7 thoughts on “Places, postures, and gestures in the RCIA Rite of Welcome”
At my parish we do celebrate a combined rite of acceptance and welcoming if we have unbaptized and baptized inquirers.
The baptized candidates are always seated in the assembly. The unbaptized are standing at the doorway from the foyer into the main worship space. Our entrance procession starts from a different location. After bowing to the altar, the servers, deacon and presiding priest go to the foyer entrance, and the Rite of Acceptance starts at this point. Then the priest, deacon, servers and catechumens all process to the front of the church, as the final verse of the entrance hymn is sung.
Here is my question. Should we sign the baptized candidates with the cross, as we do the catechumens?
I am excited as this is the first year that I have several unbaptized, both children and adults. The children are so excited, they are both 9. The adults, no so. Since we are still in the inquiry sessions I asked what drew them to Catholicism, the answers were (from the adults) my friends are all Catholic. OK, which Mass do you go to (since I had just finished faith formation registration and hadn’t seen any of them at any of the Masses.) The answer, Easter…which I guess is a good start. When we talked again about Mass attendance, I was greeted with I just don’t get why you people are so into attending church every weekend. Obviously all the Catholic friends aren’t attending church either. I presented Sunday Mass as a weekly Easter. I still haven’t seen them in church. Any ideas on what to do? Should I stop my “kinder, gentler approach?”
We celebrate the Rite of Welcoming with the Rite of Acceptance. All of the candidates are seated in the assembly at the start of mass. We have reserved pews for all the candidates and their families. We also have the catechumens seated in the assembly with their families in the reserved pews. As we begin the rites, we ensure that the catechumens are standing apart from those who are baptized. As the rites continue, the priest will first speak to all of the catechumens, asking them the appropriate questions. He then turns to the candidates to ask them their appropriate questions. The priest will then do all of the signing with the cross of the catechumens first. After completing signing of all catechumens, the priest will then sign all of the candidates. The priest always makes a clear distinction between the catechumens and the candidates. We have tried having the catechumens knock on the door from outside the church, but this seems to go unnoticed by the congregation. Perhaps we will try again and ask the priest to make it clear as to who is knocking and why.
Regarding the first posting. Tell your all of your RCIA inquirers to come to mass at the same time every Sunday, including sponsors who should be coming with them or waiting for them at the church door. Reserve pews for all of your inquirers AND THEIR FAMILIES. Most will come, just keep reminding them.
We at Sacred Heart celebrate a combined Rite of Welcome & Acceptance. But as has been said – the Candidates are already in church and after the priest has come in and begun, he moves to them asking their name, why they’ve come, etc as in the Rite. He’s very good about acknowledging their presence with us as they’re already part of the church by their baptism.
Then the Catechumens ‘knock’ on the door and the priest comes back to acknowledge them, what they want, etc and then the signing happens. I think ‘some’ parishioners get it, but we do make a clear distinction. We do the Rites several times of the year – or when Precatechumens/ Candidates are ready.
I think in the past 10 years we have used the combined Rites perhaps three times and they were all unusual circumstances, but we made the distinction very evident that the Candidates were already members of the faith community. Our practice is not to combine the Rites. We offer them whenever necessary throughout the year. For the most part I think our parishioners really get it.
For the Rite of Welcome our Candidates are seated in reserved seats toward the front of the church. It is one of the few times we have them seated in reserve seats and as I am writing this I am wondering why we do that. Maybe for the next Rite we will try having them sit among the community. Haven’t really thought this through, but why not? Any other time we have them coming forth from the community. We encourage them to sit toward the front of the assembly. Sometimes I can see that they are becoming good Catholics because they are tending to sit toward the back!!
Father is very clear that these Candidates are already one with us through Baptism. We do not always do the Rite of Welcome for Candidates, after all it is an optional Rtie. It depends on where they are at. Some are totally unchurched and benefit from the Rite of Welcome, others come from strong faith backgrounds and are received into the Church through the Profession of Faith after a short period of time, depending on their readiness.
We celebrate a combined rite 3 times a year, and never during Advent,Lent or any other season. Always in ordinary time. The catechumens are outside with their sponsors; and before Mass, the candidates, sponsors,and team all gather around the crucifix in our meditation garden,for a Prayer before the rite. Mass begins as usual, and after the greeting, the Director goes through the explanatory rite (mentioned quite frequently in the book)with the congregation. All are invited to follow the priest, servers and RCIA team outside to greet those seeking initiation. Catechumens are set to one side and directly addressed by the priest. The Candidates are on the other side, also directly addressed separately. But I think we may be discussing the possibility of, in the future, having the candidates pre-seated and also follow us outside. Our church seats 800 and normally about 400 come outside. We return after the initial dialogue and introductions and resume the signing portion of the rite after the homily. This enables all 800 to witness this part. Our choirs all have the reponses and refrains rehearsed and the emcee’s and altar servers are all very familiar with the rite. It works well for our parish and as they always say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.