An Introduction to the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults
Any conversation about the Catholic Church must begin with the life, teaching and sacrifice of Our Lord, Jesus Christ; and so it must be when discussing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
In Chapter 28 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commissions his Apostles:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Also in Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John, Jesus further defines the mission of his disciples:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Of primary importance to Christ was the teaching mission of His Church – a responsibility which has been passed down through the centuries to first the Apostles, then to the bishops of the Church, and finally to all Catholics, who by the grace of God and their words and deeds are called to be witnesses to God’s covenant of charity and mercy.
From its earliest days, the Church has used the word catechesis to describe the means by which Christ’s teaching mission is fulfilled. This instruction, which usually took place over a period of years, ensured those inspired to seek the full truth of Christ were as committed and prepared to accept the revelation of God as taught by Jesus as possible.
In its simplest sense, catechesis is defined as oral religious instruction especially that handed on in preparation for Christian baptism or confirmation. More broadly, catechesis can also be viewed as the way our Catholic community is instructed in the essential truths of Word of God. And just as it was in the first century of the Church (and every century since), this community includes those persons, moved by the Holy Spirit, who seek to be fully initiated into the Body of Christ.
The teaching authority of the Catholic Church, called the Magisterium, lies with all of the bishops who are led by the pope and guided by the Holy Spirit. With the growth of the Church into all corners of the world, the Apostles and their successors created geographical areas called dioceses and ordained worthy men to become the chief shepherds of these regions. Within each Catholic diocese, the diocesan bishop – for those of us who attend St. Monica Catholic Church this is Bishop Kevin Farrell – is its principal teacher. Priests, including St. Monica’s, ordained deacons, and dedicated lay persons who desire to help people believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Source of Eternal Salvation, assist Bishop Farrell in this catechetical mission.
In light of God’s revelation in and through Christ, as well as the experience and teaching of the Church, the RCIA process is the Church’s means forming new disciples of Jesus Christ. It is the normal way by which non-baptized adults and baptized Christians are fully initiated into the Catholic
Church. Since the time of the Apostles, the Church has used a catechetical period to impart to its newest members a life of discipleship in Christ Jesus. Through a gradual and comprehensive training program in the Christian way of life, the Inquirers come to know Jesus Christ through the Catholic Christian community and they learn to live as Jesus’ disciples. Then, as disciples, they continue the mission of Jesus Christ in the world today.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process is at its core a communal journey of spiritual and educational formation for adults who seek to become full members of the Roman Catholic Church. The process is open to all persons, regardless of religious background or philosophical persuasion, who genuinely seek, by God’s grace, to live their lives in the distinctive Catholic Christian faith.
During the Easter season, the neophytes (newly initiated) gather to deepen their grasp of the great paschal mystery into which they have just been incorporated. The Church uses the period of mystagogy to help the neophytes understand and live out their new lives as part of the Body of Christ. Mystagogy comes from the ancient Greek word, mystagogia, which signifies a period of deepening understanding of the mysteries of our faith.
Not surprisingly, this is where the RCIA journey started, mystagogy is about mission. During this period of Easter joy, our RCIA classes will meet to reflect on what has been experienced and discuss how to look to the future. That is how we can all share in the mission of Christ who came to bring salvation and life to the whole world. This period of time reminds the whole church that life in Christ is a constant conversion. From the Easter Vigil on, Christ constantly calls us to grow and to look for new ways to live the life of grace, personally and together.