The RCIA, which stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, is a process through which non-baptized men and women enter the Catholic Church. (It is also for those baptized in a different faith tradition who wish to become Catholic, or baptized Catholic, but never confirmed) It includes several stages marked by study, prayer and rites at Mass. Participants in the RCIA are known as catechumens. They undergo a process of conversion as they study the Gospel, profess faith in Jesus and the Catholic Church, and receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist. The RCIA process follows the ancient practice of the Church and was restored by the Second Vatican Council as the normal way adults prepare for baptism.
STEPS OF RCIA
-Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate
This is also known as the Period of Inquiry. During this period, information sessions are held for people who are interested in learning more about the Catholic Faith. These sessions cover basic information about the Faith. There is no obligation involved in attending these meetings -- they are intended to help a person decide whether they want to continue learning about the Faith. Attendees at this stage are known as Inquirers.
-Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
The Inquirers who wish to continue now move onto the next stage, which is known as the Catechumenate (Study) Period. This Rite marks the transition between the Period of Inquiry into the Period of the Catechumenate. The Rite takes place when the members of the local Church (parish) are gathered together to celebrate Mass.
-Period of the Catechumenate
The Inquirers are now referred to as Catechumens [for those who are unbaptised] and Candidates [for those who have already been baptised]. During this period the Candidates and Catechumens spend time studying the Bible and the fundamental teachings of the Church. Meetings are held more regularly. The aim is for the Candidates and Catechumens to establish a spiritual and intellectual understanding of the Catholic Faith.
-The Rite of Election or Enrollment of Names
This is a very significant and important step in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is usually celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent at the local Cathedral, led by the local Bishop. All of the Catechumens and Candidates, their Sponsors gather together on this day. The Church formally ratifies the Catechumens' readiness for the Sacraments of Initiation, and the Candidates' readiness to be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church. In turn the Catechumens - from now on known as the Elect - publicly acknowledge their desire to receive the Sacraments of Initiation and to be received into the Catholic Church.
-Period of Purification and Enlightenment
This period tends to correspond with Lent and is intended to be a period of increased reflection and coming closer to God. The aim of this period is to eliminate what is weak and sinful; and affirm what is holy. During this period a number of Rites take place, including the Scrutinies and Presentations, in the local parish.
-Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation
At the Easter Vigil (Holy Saturday night), the candidates are baptised and are then considered full members of the Catholic Church.
-Period of Post-Baptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy
This period of unspecified duration involves the local parish community in providing opportunities for development and growth of the person's faith - as well as that of the entire community, though study and prayer.
HOLY SATURDAY RITE
The Holy Saturday Liturgy begins with the Service of Light which includes the blessing of the new fire and the Paschal candle which symbolizes Jesus, the light of the World. The second part consists of the Liturgy of the Word with a number of Scripture readings. After the Liturgy of the Word, the candidates are presented to the members of the community, who pray for them and join in the Litany of the Saints. After the Litany and prayer for the elect, the presider blesses the water placing the Easter or Paschal candle into the baptismal water. Those seeking baptism then renounce sin and profess their faith after which they are immersed into the baptismal water three times with the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In some situations the water may be poured over the head of each candidate.
After the baptism the newly baptized are dressed in white garments and are presented with a candle lighted from the Paschal Candle. The newly baptized are then confirmed by the priest or bishop whose imposes hands on their heads, and invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit. He then anoints them with the oil called Sacred Chrism.
The Mass continues in the usual fashion. Now the newly baptized participate in the general intercessions, in bringing their gifts to the altar, and they share in the offering of Christ's sacrifice. At the Communion of the Mass, each of the newly baptized receives the Eucharist, Christ's body and blood, for the first time.
Symbol of the White Robe
The newly baptized are dressed in a white garment after baptism to symbolize that they are washed clean of sin and that they are to continue to walk in this newness of life.
Symbol of the Candle
A small candle is lit from the Easter candle and given to the newly baptized as a reminder to them always to walk as children of the light
The Sacred Chrism, or oil, is a sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit being given to the newly baptized. It is also a sign of the close link between the mission of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who comes to the person with the Father in baptism.