RCIA has begun again, 25th year

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

September 9, 2010

(Fr. Peter Daly reflects on the RCIA, Journey in Faith, which he is doing for the 25th time.


            RCIA has begun again. I’m glad.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the process by which people come into the Catholic Church. In our parish we call it the “Journey in Faith.” This will be my 25th time “on the journey.”

In the last 30 years, the way adults “convert” to the Catholic Church has changed. When I was a kid, adults would probably go to the rectory for a few private lessons with a priest. They might be given a book to read. After a few sessions, the adult would be privately baptized. Then they would just start coming to church.

No one outside their family would know anything about it. There would be no introduction to the parish.

The parishioners would never be asked to invite anyone to become a Catholic. There would be no call each year to invite adults to come into the Church. No sense that we are all evangelists.

Then, in the 1950s, Pope Pius XII re-instituted the Easter Vigil. Before the late 1950s the Easter Vigil had almost disappeared. It was celebrated almost privately by the priests of the parish on Holy Saturday morning. There was no congregation present. I can remember helping with this “hidden vigil” as a boy.

Pius XII restored the Easter Vigil to parish life. It was celebrated in Latin. We blessed the “Easter water” and lit the Easter candle. But there were still no baptisms of adults. That did not come until after Vatican II.

In the early 1970s the Church declared a revival of the “rites” of initiation that had been practiced in the ancient church. We brought back the Rites of “Catechumens” and of “Election” (or enrollment of names). But it was not until the 1980s that parishes really began the RCIA. My parish began in 1984, two years before I was ordained.

The important thing about the “journey in faith” is that it is a process not a program. We do it in stages. And we do it in communion with the Church.

First there is the period of “evangelization” or the pre-catechumenate. This can go for a few weeks or years. In this time people are searching.

Then, when they are ready, they declare their desire to enter the Catholic Church. In the Rite of Catechumens, the first week of Advent, they stand before the parish and say they want to become Catholics.

Catechumens are “hearers.” In the ancient church they could listen to the scripture and the homily, but they had to leave before the Eucharist.  

Then, at the beginning of Lent, there is the Rite of Election. Now the Church says, “Come join us.” The bishop calls them to the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist.

Finally, at the Easter Vigil, they receive these sacraments in a public celebration. It is the high point of the year for the parish.

After Easter they unpack all that has happened in a time called the Mystagogia, the study of the mystery.

What I like about this “journey in faith” is that it unfolds gradually. We get to tell our individual stories. The Church gets welcome them to the faith little by little.  

Since every life and every story is different, the process never gets old.

They come to know the Church not as a series of intellectual concepts to be learned, but as a faith community to be part of and a life to be lived.

It is a journey worth taking. Even for the 25th time.