In a previous post (“How long does RCIA take?”), I wrote about the initial discernment process and said: “If you find out you are dealing with a biblical scholar who has been living as a faithful Lutheran for 40 years, the training process can be very brief.”
That prompted a reader to e-mail me with an example of a seeker who had just recently showed up at her parish. He is a baptized Christian with a strong relationship with Jesus. He is already going to Mass in her parish. He seems excited to learn more about liturgy and the sacraments.
The reader’s question was, if full initiation is only allowed at the Easter Vigil, which is about eleven months away, how can this seeker’s preparation be “brief”?
Choose the right path and the right formation process
Most of our parishes experience similar situations. In fact, the vast majority of the seekers whom we “put through the RCIA” are baptized and have some relationship with Jesus.
It is often a shock to RCIA teams to learn these people — the baptized candidates — do not belong in the RCIA. At the back of the RCIA is an appendix titled, “The National Statutes for the Catechumenate.” Paragraphs 30-31 of the National Statutes read:
Those who have already been baptized in another Church or ecclesial community should not be treated as catechumens or so designated…. Those baptized persons who have lived as Christians and need only instruction in the Catholic tradition and a degree of probation within the Catholic community should not be asked to undergo a full program parallel to the catechumenate.
An exception to the rule
There is an exception to this. Baptized candidates who have no relationship with Jesus “may participate in the elements of catechumenal formation so far as necessary and appropriate.” But even if they are hanging out with the catechumens during formation, the baptized candidates “should not take part in rites intended for unbaptized catechumens” (National Statutes, 31).
When do we do the RCIA?
If you do not have any unbaptized candidates who are seeking initiation right now, you are not — cannot be — “doing RCIA.” The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a rite of initiation for those who have not yet been initiated into Christ. If your baptized candidates have been initiated (validly baptized) and have some relationship with Jesus, there is nothing in the ritual text that applies to them except the “Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church.” And their reception normally happens at a Sunday liturgy, not at the Easter Vigil:
It is preferable that reception into full communion not take place at the Easter Vigil lest there be any confusion of such baptized Christians with the candidates for baptism, possible misunderstanding of or even reflection upon the sacrament of baptism celebrated in another Church or ecclesial community, or any perceived triumphalism in the liturgical welcome into the Catholic eucharistic community. (National Statutes, 32-33)
If your candidates were baptized Catholic and are only seeking confirmation, the ritual that we celebrate with them is found in the Rite of Confirmation, not in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. And these baptized Catholics would ordinarily celebrate their confirmation at a time other than the Easter Vigil (see National Statutes, 26).
So we would only “do the RCIA” when we have unbaptized seekers. And, by pastoral exception, when we have baptized seekers who have had no Christian upbringing and no relationship with Jesus. But even then, we would only be doing the formational aspects of the RCIA with them, and not the rites meant for the unbaptized.
Everybody needs formation
If you have no unbaptized seekers right now, that does not mean you have nothing to do. Everybody needs formation. But, as I said in “How long does RCIA take?”, the type and length of formation is going to vary for each person, depending on how faithfully they are already living a Christian life. It cannot be possible that every seeker who wants to become Catholic or be confirmed will require the exact same nine-month preparation process. So what you could be doing, instead of the RCIA, is discerning the appropriate type of formation for each of your seekers and creating a plan for each of them.
I think in many of our parishes it might be more helpful to rename ourselves as “Adult Faith Formation Teams” instead of “RCIA Teams.” That is usually a more accurate title for what we do (or should be doing).
Conversion starts with us
If you have been using the RCIA structure to form baptized Christians, changing to a new, adult faith formation structure may seem difficult. But it is actually easier. It doesn’t take as long; there are no rites, other than Reception or Confirmation, to plan for; it’s easier to find sponsors. The hardest part is changing our mindset from “the way we’ve always done it.”
It might help to remember that no matter what kind of seeker we are dealing with, we are constantly challenging them to conversion. The best example we can give them is if we are willing to undergo conversion ourselves.
What do you think?
Are most of your seekers already baptized? How are you (or how will you start) designing an appropriate adult faith formation process for them?
15 thoughts on “Should we stop calling ourselves “RCIA” teams?”
We are trying something like this in our Parishes. In fact, we are considering adding Adult Confirmation into the mix as well. We find that there are often better formed seekers who present themselves to us as RCIA Candidates than Adult Confirmation candidates. The typical AC candidate has not had any formation past First Eucharist, and might need more time to develop the relationship to Jesus than a Candidate.
Thank you. Excellent resources! AFF team member. Sister miriam
I am so fortunate to have come through an RCIA that paid attention to the Rite! I came as an ex-staffer with Campus Crusade for Christ and Fellowship pf Christian Athletes, youth minister, women’s retreat speaker – you get the picture, very much dedicated to Jesus for nearly 30 years. And – thanks to the recommendation of Amazon – read and loved the Catechism. I had a lot of knowledge about the Eucharist and the Pope and Mary, and all the things Protestants stumble over. What I did not have and thought I did, was an experience of community as Catholics mean it. It took months I did not want to spend in formation to finally come to accept and believe how critical that is. If i had not had that time, I do not think I would have understood and embraced that. I hesitate to hurry other formed Christians because of my experience. I think that discernment and careful prayer with each one is very important, and appreciate this article. Unfortunately, our new (old) pastor does not see things this way, and everyone has to come into the Church at Easter Vigil, ready or not unless there is a marriage case. That has been hard. Coming here is encouraging and reminds me what is meant to be. Thank you.
Should we stop calling ourselves “RCIA” teams? Hard to answer.
When I entered RCIA I had done a lot of reading and studying about Catholicism. I knew much more than most of the students in my class. Yet, I could not “prove” baptism (no paperwork or witnesses). So I went through RCIA – twice. Since I had originally started “late” (in early December) it was decided that I had to continue into the next year of classes even though my knowledge should have indicated I was as far along in formation as those who started earlier than I did.
However, that said, ultimately I was glad I went through 18 months of RCIA. I stayed with RCIA as a team member. My experience so far, from both sides of the fence, is that everyone coming in to the Church needs some sort of formation, no matter how much they may know and regardless of whether or not they are baptized. There might be a few (very few) exceptions to this.
I know there is usually a strong desire by people to get through formation quickly, but I think it’s an important process to go through in an orderly way. The beauty of the Easter Vigil is not lost on anyone who has had to spend a year in RCIA! So, Should we stop calling ourselves “RCIA” teams? I would say no.
Fortunately our parish plans a time when baptized Christians can be confirmed other than Easter. However, in the past, we’ve also had them confirmed at Youth Confirmation when appropriate.
When I started ministry in my current parish of St. John/Blessed Sacrament 16 years ago, our pastor and I decided not to include Profession of Faith at the Easter Vigil. Instead we began to look at the various life experiences of individuals who were baptized and seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. We began to separate the Rite of Acceptance and Welcome and offer the Profession of Faith at various times throughout the year. This has been so powerful over the years and the parish on a whole now appreciate those being welcomed into the Catholic Church upon their Profession of Faith.
It has given us the opportunity to work with the individuals where they are at on their faith journey. The more we do it, the more it becomes apparent that we should not mix the two groups. However, we still combine the groups for sessions but separate them several weeks before they go through the Rite so that we can prepare them to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and prepare to celebrate their Profession of Faith. There are usually four to six sessions and an evening of Reflection before the celebration of Profession of Faith.
This has been a gradual process. It did not happen over night. Every year we see more and more the benefits of separating the groups.
I would not know if the name should be changed or not; I am a relatively new “Catholic come home” after 34 years out of the faith after becoming a convert as a teen. I do know that it meant a lot in my faith walk/conversion that the Bishop came to the ICU to confirm me, as I had sought this Sacrament for over 50 years and a group of priests related this to our Bishop. I do not recall but bits of the actual rite that took place, but Jesus stopped the internal hemorrhaging and I survuved to get my teens of the second family I was raising, witness them recieving the Sacrament with their peers. At 72 this last winter I attended the RCIA program at our Parish and learned more things I had missed and maybe another year I might be asked to be a part of the team for new ones. My last teen at home has a boyfriend of two years now who has been attending every Mass we go to and says he desires to join into the Catholic faith from his Lutheran back ground. I believe even though he has been baptized and somewhat attended his church, it would be good for him to go through the RCIA to help get a relationship going like my two teens have. The late teen or young 20’s age group often talk the talk first and then work into actually doing the walk where along with some maturation, continuing in the Sacraments and Mass attendance, a deep relationship starts.
I would deeply appreciate some feedback from you/others if you think I am understanding and guiding my family/friends in a right direction. I belong to the community of Cursillo and the carism given by the Holy Spirit is make a friend, be a friend and bring that friend to Christ.
It doesn’t matter what it’s called. My parish has only one way that adults can seek any initiation sacraments – RCIA. When I talk to seekers, regardless of baptismal status and levels of catechesis, I don’t even call it RCIA. I explain that it’s the Rite that we follow, depending on their needs. And I attend to the individual needs of the people even if they are all meeting in the same session. Most baptized, catechized people want to learn more than they probably need, which is fine with me. I can usually tell when they’ve reached their goals, because they start asking when they will receive sacraments.
In my parish, about 1/3 of all adults who come to RCIA are unbaptized, and the other 2/3 are baptized in another Christian faith and somewhat catechized. Of the children in RCIA, all of them are unbaptized and somewhat catechized. Those children are mostly Hispanic, whose families are Catholic and they have that cultural understanding of being Catholic but not much else.
I am preparing to begin what my pastor and co-workers are calling Hispanic RCIA (much to the discomfort I feel at that title). Basically it is catechesis for baptized Catholics who speak only Spanish. They need to either First Communion or Confirmation, or both. So I refer to it as Hispanic Sacramental Preparation, and remind my pastor and co-workers that it isn’t RCIA until we have an unbaptized Spanish-speaking adult. Eventually they’ll get it. Or I will get tired of repeating myself. My job is to coordinate the catechesis with bilingual catechists, direct interviews with a translator/interpreter.
Excellent, Excellent, Excellent article! These are very relevant points that everyone in this ministry needs to consider. As our own program has progressed, we’ve come to see the RCIA as a sub-set of what we do in the larger arena of Adult Faith Formation.
Should we continue to call ourselves RCIA Teams? That depends on the size of your parish and the makeup of your ministry team. If you have a person or team dedicated to just RCIA, then by all means, keep the name. But if your parish is like ours (and I suspect many are), where the same team is working with all these different candidates, then I feel better referring to ourselves as “Adult Faith Formation.” This covers a multitude of needs, including Adult Sacrament Prep, Adult Confirmation, Formation for converts, AND those in the full RCIA process.
Not only does this help us as catechists understand the different people and situations to which we minister, but it helps the candidates themselves understand where they fit in the process they’re going through, especially those who are not, by definition, RCIA candidates. Many times our sessions are combined (because we’re all following the Lectionary as the basis of our session), but as appropriate we can separate candidates into smaller groups based on their needs. This all leads us to an “individualized” process where candidates are received or initiated as appropriate instead of following a “group” or “cohort” mentality that assumes everyone is welcomed at the Vigil.
Our scholarly Lutheran in the example does not, nor should not have to wait until the Vigil… a pastor has the faculties to accept this candidate into full communion at any time upon completion of any needed formation. In fact, the Vigil would normally not be the occasion to celebrate his profession of faith.
The problem is, Baptism is not the only Sacrament of Initiation. There are three Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. So if a person has not been Confirmed, they have not completed their Sacraments of Initiation. Also, if a person has not received Catholic Communion, they need to be properly prepared for this essential Sacrament. Finally, for those who attend just to learn more about the Catholic faith, the title is still appropriate since they are learning “about” the Sacraments of initiation even if they are already Catholic or just wanting to understand what the Rites are all about. The latter, may decide to become Catholic while attending the class (this happens a lot!). So, I don’t see a need to be too persnickety about the title.
There are Rites in the RCIA for those who have been Baptized, and it is completely appropriate to use them.
I agree with Lawson. Just because they are book-learned doesn’t mean that they have no need of formation in Catholic culture and practice, nor that the Catechism classes that accompany the RCIA would be irrelevant or uninteresting to them. I also agree with Daniel. An appropriate period of formation is required for Confirmation and First Holy Communion, as well as for Baptism. And everyone needs preparation for their First Reconciliation, even though this isn’t addressed in the Rites very much.
In our diocese any priest who is going to confirm at times other than at the Easter Vigil needs special permission from the Archbishop and our previous Archbishop was not always willing to give that permission. Someone doing a Profession of Faith on a Sunday outside of the Easter Vigil normally also needs to be confirmed. If they are ready why make them wait until another date in the future? Fortunately our diocese also recognizes the many adults who only need the sacrament of Confirmation so that is a time we can have these Profession of Faith people complete their sacrament of initiation. It would be great to do things individually for each participant which would mean only a few would be left for their initiation at the Easter Vigil and that would be the unbaptized.
This article is very informative and helpful to what I do. I belong to a small parish, and it took 2-3 years to develop an “appropriate” program which has become more “appropriate” as I learn all the aspects concerning people in different stages of initiation and formation. The Diocese provides the information, but like most learning, the process has to be experienced and then the teaching is enhanced. I guess that’s why “experienced teachers” are the best teachers. I am the only member of our team, thus far. I know now to separate my students and so I run 3-4 separate classes during the week, during the year. I couldn’t do it if I were not retired. I schedule during the day, in the evening, and at night. It is difficult, but very rewarding. The Diocese is very helpful with expertise and resources. The Diocese also schedules confirmation celebrations every three months at two different locations in the diocese to make it easier for those who have to travel. This last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, one location had 110 candidates confirmed, and the other had120 candidates. I had two in February and one this past Sunday and three currently in class which hopefully will end in November. The criteria for the separate classes is to tag the student as 1. not Christian, not catechized, looking; 2. baptized, regular church attendance, not confirmed; 3. baptized, no church attendance — might first communion and confirmation or just confirmation. The people who are baptized and attend church regularly are on a fast track — about 12 weeks, and at most, 24 weeks. I have to use my judgement for the other two categories, but it has become easier to discern the “change of heart” as the students become more excited about the Catholic faith. The “real” RCIA category requires two years and I let the students know that up front. Sometimes some of those students are ready sooner. I am still learning. Some of my students have expressed interest in “helping” me, but are not ready to become the catechist. Your work in this ministry has kept me going, and for those two people (one young and one older) who have gone through my class who want to help, I will begin them on your webinars and I will teach them what I have learned in the last several years. I am in a hurry. I am already 72 yrs. old. Thanks for all you do. It’s been a beautiful journey and you have been my good friends.
The group I worked with this year agreed that RCIA was not a word that needed to be on the front of the bulletin or used to describe the process. One young woman even thought it was off-putting…a little creepy referring to something as initiation. One of the people gathered suggested: Becoming a Catholic. Perhaps a combination. Adult Faith Formation: Becoming a Catholic. This would allow the rest of our parish to use the term Adult Faith Formation for the continuing ed. catechesis we have going on and tell everyone else this is a subset of that formation. I am still wrestling with it but bound and determined there will be new words in place very soon. Thanks for your help. Blessings
Thank you for your article and the discussion it has generated in the comments. Unfortunately, I believe your proposals/statements are not followed by many parishes. RCIA as I have experienced it is a cookie cutter process presented as the only option for anyone who is not RC, baptized or not. I had one Deacon defend/explain the need to accept the 11 month delay because “it is much better than what used to be followed in the church – hundreds of years ago.” It was a sad take on the common phrase, “But we’ve always done it it this way.” My experience with the RCIA gauntlet was terrible. My RCIA class leaders and sponsor were wonderful, but the process was brutal. Thankfully, and happily, today I am Catholic. But I am committed to working to encourage dissemination of your points. On the Internet, I have only found one parish that presents an on-going, year-round process of entering into the Church that takes into account the individual and their situation and faith. In the modern world with the Catechism available on Amazon, with the Internet and with EWTN programming, it is more than high time for the Church to adjust its RCIA practices. I have written about my experience and encountered many who have experienced similar situations. I would love to share these encounters with those who are involved with RCIA and are receptive to accepting input. I have no intent to be rude or to denigrate anyone’s program. But your points need to have a wider exposure and to be adopted broadly throughout the Church. Thank you, again, for your article!