The process of becoming Catholic is formally known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). It is a gradual process of spiritual formation that includes prayer, sharing, and study and occurs in the context of the parish community. It is intended for adults who:
1. are unbaptized and would like to be fully initiated and welcomed into the Catholic Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist
2. were baptized in another Christian community/tradition* and seek to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church through the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist
3. were baptized as Catholics* as infants/children but have not received the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist
*Proof of valid Christian baptism is required (by way of certificate or letter of verification from one’s pastor or church of baptism).
Discerning the call to become Catholic requires time, reflection, and prayer. Presuming at least a one-year commitment, RCIA is a four-phase process with special ceremonies between each phase. Participation in all four phases of the process is typical.
1. Precatechumenate (pre-cat-a-cume-men-et): Beginning in June, Inquirers who have decided on the path to becoming Catholic or completing their initiation in the Catholic Church meet weekly on Wednesday evenings with the Director of Faith Formation and a team of parishioners to continue to learn about and discuss the “basics” of Catholic life, prayers, teachings, and worship.
Rite of Acceptance Into the Order of Catechumens/Rite of Welcoming (occurs at a Sunday Mass in the fall months at the Cathedral)
2. Catechumenate: After three to four months, Inquirers begin to attend Sunday Mass as a group. During this phase, Inquirers who are unbaptized become known as catechumens. Inquirers who have been baptized become known as candidates. Following the homily, the group is “dismissed” to reflect on the Scriptures for that day, discussing their meaning as well as their real-life application. They also continue to meet on Wednesday evenings to spend more time with the Scriptures and to learn about Catholic teaching.
Rite of Election/Call to Continuing Conversion (occurs at a special ceremony on the first Sunday of Lent at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception)
3. Purification and Enlightenment: The six weeks of Lent are a time of more intense prayer and spiritual preparation for the liturgies of Holy Week, especially the Easter Vigil. Catechumens, now called the elect, and candidates continue to meet on Wednesday evenings and attend Sunday Mass as a group during this phase.
Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (occur at the Easter Vigil – the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday – at the Cathedral)
4. Mystagogia (mis-ta-go-gia): In the weeks following Easter until Pentecost, the newly initiated, who are called neophytes, continue to meet on Wednesday evenings to reflect on the experience of Easter, sharing and celebrating their new life in the Church and preparing for full discipleship in the Church.
RCIA Meetings: With only a few exceptions, RCIA meets year-round (June to June) every Wednesday from 7 to 9pm in the North Conference Room and weekly at Sunday Mass during the Catechumenate and Purification and Enlightenment phases. Consistent, regular attendance is expected. The RCIA process also includes other special blessings and prayers as well as retreats and opportunities for service and outreach.
Sponsors are vital to the RCIA process. Beginning in the Catechumenate phase, a Sponsor builds a one-on-one relationship with a catechumen or baptized candidate, serving as a companion, listener, mentor, and pray-er; sharing her or his own faith; and attesting to the catechumen or candidate’s faith, intentions, and readiness for reception.
Church law requires that a sponsor must be a fully initiated, practicing Catholic who is at least 16 years old and is in in good standing with the Catholic Church. Sponsors typically are assigned by the parish. It is recommended but not required that sponsors be St. Matthew’s parishioners. Catechumens and candidates may request that a Catholic friend or colleague be assigned as their sponsor, but parents and significant others/spouses may not serve as sponsors. At the Rite of Election, the sponsor assumes the role of godparent for one who is called to baptism at Easter. In a few situations, it may be another individual who becomes the godparent.
Sponsors are assigned early in the process and attend the special ceremonies of each phase of the process with their catechumen or candidate. Sponsors also are asked to be present at RCIA meetings on Wednesday evenings and at Sunday Mass with their catechumen or candidate as often as they are able.
St. Matthew’s invites parishioners to consider serving as RCIA sponsors or assisting the process in other ways (hospitality, prayer, dismissal and/or small group facilitation, etc.).
There is a separate process of preparation for active Catholics who received the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist as children and now as adults wish to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. This process occurs on four consecutive Thursday evenings during the Easter season with the celebration of adult Confirmations occurring at a special Mass on Ascension Sunday in 2013. Because of the brevity of this process, attendance is essential. People whose schedules will cause them to miss more than one session should consider participating in the process in a later year.
For more information about the RCIA program, contact Heather Kinney, Director of Faith Formation (202.347.3215 or hkinney [at] stmatthewscathedral [dot] org).