People with Little or No Christian Background
Many adults who wish to join the Catholic Church have never been baptized. The Church offers unbaptized adults a process of formation in the Catholic Christian faith and way of life called Christian Initiation, or catechumenate. Christian Initiation is a gradual process; it begins somewhat formally. After the interested person contacts the local Catholic Church, he or she may be invited to meet with other people who are exploring the possibility of becoming Catholic. These people have the opportunity to ask questions about the Church and to hear about the message of Jesus Christ and how it is lived out in the Catholic Church. A person may continue to participate in these sessions as long as he or she wishes. No commitments are made or expected during this time.
If the person decides to pursue the process of becoming Catholic, he or she enters the catechumenate; unbaptized persons in the catechumenate are called catechumens. The catechumenate provides a structure for the proclamation of the gospel; catechesis (the passing on of the teachings of the Church); public and private prayer; spiritual direction; the observance of the feasts, fasts, Sundays and seasons of the Church calendar; direct contact with members of the parish community and participation in the work of the Church for justice and peace. During this time, each catechumen is paired with a sponsor who can serve as a spiritual companion and offer support and encouragement.
Though the various rites of the catechumenate, the Church marks a person’s journey to full membership. These rites reflect his or her spiritual growth and the community’s loving concern. The climax of the catechumenate process is the celebration of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharistic at the Easter Vigil, followed by a period for reflection on the sacraments and for integration into the life and mission of the Church. From the time an unbaptized person becomes a catechumen until that person celebrates the sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) usually takes at least one year. This allows the catechumen to experience one full cycle of the Church’s rhythm of feasts and seasons.
Adults that were baptized in a christian faith, but who have never been formed in the Christian life also participate the catechumenate process. As they prepare for acceptance into the Catholic Church, they are known as candidates rather than catechumens. Even though the process is the same, the Catholic Church takes care to respect the fact that these people truly are baptized. Only when there is a good reason to doubt that the person’s Baptism took place or was celebrated validly — a rare occurrence — will such a person be baptized before entering the Catholic Church.
Children who have reached school age, whether they are baptized or unbaptized, will participate in the catechumenate process adapted according to their age.
Baptized People Who Are Active Christians
People who have been active members of other Christian denominations seek membership in the Catholic Church for many reasons. Often they are attracted by the Church’s liturgies or by its stance on issues dealing with life or on issues dealing with justice and peace. Sometimes they are married or engaged to a Catholic. A person who has been an active Christian, who attempts to live in a way congruent with the teachings of Christ, who has actively participated in the worship and life of a Christian community can bring a lot to the (RCIA) Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program. This is the program used in most, if not all, Catholic parishes as a starting point for becoming a Catholic. Such a person needs an understanding of Catholic beliefs, the experience of participating in the Church’s liturgical life over an appropriate period of time and an acquaintance with the Catholic community to be able to make a lasting commitment to the Catholic Church.
Why does the Church have a program like this? Because when the Church receives new members who wish to become Catholic Christians, it has no idea what previous religious Christian instruction and education the individuals have, and, moreover, which misperceptions or misunderstandings they have received about the Church and what she teaches from the past. The RCIA process ensures that the new convert receives the fullness of the Christian Faith that can only be found in the Church. Each person’s situation should be evaluated and his or her needs met in an appropriate way.
What to do Next
If you are interested in enquiring about the Faith with a possible view to being baptised or being received into Communion with the Catholic Church, please contact the Parish Office. The RCIA Course begins in October and runs during term time until the following July. Those who decide to come forward will be received at The Easter Vigil.