The journey of an adult into the Church is seen as a process of conversion, formation, and a gradual entry into the whole life of the Church -- spiritual, liturgical, and communal ...
Three years? To become a Catholic? Three years?
That would have been the minimum amount of time that one would spend in preparation or formation for initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil. That was, of course, a long time ago, but it was the standard for the first several centuries of the Church's life.
Now if someone seeks initiation into the Church, a call is made to a parish, an initial interview will be conducted, and the process presently called RCIA will likely be started.
Compared to the early Church, this process will be noticeably "truncated." Often it will be conducted in less than a year and it will somewhat parallel the academic year. None of that is either foreseen or specified in the actual liturgical book -- The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
The journey of an adult into the Church is seen as a process of conversion, formation, and a gradual entry into the whole life of the Church -- spiritual, liturgical, and communal -- the latter including participation in the works of justice and charity, which are to be hallmarks of all of us in the life of faith. We might say the whole process consists of the words and deeds of the Catholic community that provide the formation in word and deed of the new Catholic. That time frame could be different for each one seeking initiation.
Everything in the formation process leads up to the reception of the Easter sacraments of Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist, preferably at the Great Vigil of Easter. Along the way, various stages or steps of the process are marked by liturgical celebrations. You may see these at Mass during the Lenten season, especially on the later Lenten Sundays.
At the beginning of Lent, preferably in the cathedral church of a diocese, the bishop celebrates the election of the catechumens, this is a second step as the catechumens have already been undergoing some initial stages of their formation in their respective parishes.
This meeting of the catechumens, their sponsors, and those engaged with their formation is most important because it is a dramatic expression of the Church into which the catechumens will be admitted. While it is true that the initiation sacraments are usually celebrated in a parish church, one enters the "Church of God" through the parish church. Indeed, through baptism, we enter the Church, which we confess (or is confessed for us if children) is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. That Church we enter is through the bishop of our diocese and through him the Church universal. An easy way to remember this is that every Catholic really has two parishes: the cathedral of the diocese where you live and the parish where you worship or live. Your bishop links you to the church beyond him to all the churches of the whole Catholic world.
The RCIA is the pattern for initiation. We'll see in the next column how this pattern is followed but adapted for infants and children below the age of reason -- usually seven. Children who are aged seven or older are equated to adults in initiation and the general law of the Church requires them to be formed in an adapted version of the RCIA -- there is no such thing as an RCIC.
Next -- and this may be controversial, but it is right there in that RCIA ritual book -- all catechumens aged seven and over are to receive all three of the Easter sacraments at the Great Vigil of Easter.
The whole process of Christian Initiation is guided by its own General Introduction to Christian Initiation at the beginning of the present RCIA ritual book. This text is crucial for our understanding of what happens when someone enters the Church and how it happens. This is a great text for all of us to review occasionally, as it summarizes the basics of who we are in faith, in practice, and in prayer. It reminds us that we are a chosen, priestly, and royal people. We are sent each in his or her way selected by God in Christ, joined to Christ in his prayer of praise to the Father, and made servants, of one another and of the world.
The RCIA has been revised by our bishops and those of the English-speaking world. The revised translation has been approved by the Holy See and is being prepared for new publication. It will have a new title: Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA). The table of contents will be substantially the same, but the prayers which we will be praying will be newly translated. When the new texts are published, likely next spring, we'll revisit this great success story of the conciliar reform.
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