The RCIA is a process of initiation into the Christian way of life, specifically in the Roman Catholic tradition. The very first document approved by Vatican II mandated the restoration of this very ancient process used by early Christians. It is an order of rites celebrated within our church community and combined with spiritual instruction and formation (the nourishment of our spiritual longings). It strives toward a conversion of heart and mind that take place at the candidate’s own pace and according to his or her needs. The rite involves the participation and support of the church community, whose members, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, come to find their own faith and baptismal call renewed and refreshed. finds Practicing Catholics are welcomed to attend sessions for spiritual enrichment.
There is a great need for catechists (teachers), sponsors, and companions (who accompany a particular candidate or may be present for, and available to, the entire group during the journey of faith). We are looking for a team of helpers to assist coordination of this process, even if it is just to help carry materials from the Rectory to the Senior Center and set up for a session, or run the copy machine, or greet candidates as they enter for their session. Please consider if you are called by God to help in this wonderful ministry.
The RCIA at St. Jerome Church
Sometimes it is a quiet inner urging. Sometimes it feels like a powerful need. It may seem very clear, or it may be a tentative questioning full of uncertainties or even anxieties. You may have some questions about becoming Catholic, or perhaps you are exploring different faiths and it’s time to check out the Catholic faith.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios?
Wherever you are in your faith journey, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE AT ST. JEROME. You will not be pressured to join, nor will you be inundated with a great amount of “homework” in the RCIA. Our hope is that you will find a guided walk in faith, supported by the companionship and prayers of our church community.
What is the RCIA?
The RCIA is a process of initiation into the Christian community. It recognizes that it is the Holy Spirit who brings about each person’s conversion of heart and mind. The RCIA, therefore, is not meant to be a “program” or a “class,” because those kind of structures are static and do not cause the conversion that takes place during a person’s faith journey.
R-C-I-A stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is a process that also accommodates the Christian initiation of children six or seven years of age and older. Mrs. Adrienne Toth, who is our Director of Religious Education, oversees the RCIA for children. Mrs. Hortense Bradley, Coordinator of the RCIA and Adult Faith Formation, oversees the process for adults.
The RCIA actually is a series of rites or rituals that date back to the earliest Christian Church. The early Church invited people who were interested in Christianity to join the community on a journey of faith. Those who accepted the invitation became candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.
Joining the early Church was not an easy choice, because Christians were being ridiculed, persecuted, and killed. Moreover, becoming a Christian meant you put in about three years of study, prayer and fasting before being allowed into the Church.
The Church today remains true to the spirit of this ancient rite of initiation by recognizing that some people may need to undertake the initiation process for several years before they are comfortable with committing to Christianity, while others’ journeys will take much less time. Once a non-baptized inquirer decides to begin the process of spiritual formation and learning, it is expected to take at least one liturgical year of attending the sessions before receiving the sacraments of initiation. The important feature is that you will have ample time to explore and grow and make a personal decision at your own pace.
FOUR STAGES IN THE RCIA PROCESS
There basically are four periods to the RCIA. Anyone who has not been baptized and is seeking information about becoming a Christian in the Catholic tradition is considered an inquire or seeker. This first phase is called the period of Inquiry, or the Precatechumenate. A person previously baptized in another valid Christian denomination also may join in this phase.
Think of it as similar to investigating a new job, when you ask questions to find out more about the job offering before you agree to take it. (By the way, catechumenate is an actual term pulled from the ancient rite.)
Inquiry sessions are held the fourth Monday of every month, at 7:30 p.m., in the rectory dining room. Light refreshments are served. The sessions are open to all.
Once you decide this is what you want to do and you see that you already are living as a Christian, though you are not yet a full member of the Church, there is a ritual where the parish community welcomes you to the second and longest phase of the RCIA process: the Catechumenate. Those who have not been baptized are now called catechumens. (By the way, catechumen is an actual term pulled from the ancient rite.)
While it must be remembered that the RCIA is specifically for those who have not been baptized and who want to become members of the Church, a person already baptized in another mainstream Christian church also may participate in the phases of the Rite in a slightly different way. Those who have been previously baptized and want to become Catholic are called candidates. (The term candidate may also refer to both the non-baptized and previously baptized together in the general.)
The length of the catechumenate period depends on the personality and individual spiritual needs of each catechumen and the judgment of readiness by the community. It can last from approximately one year to three years. During this time, catechumens and candidates are instructed in the faith, participate in community activities, join with the community in prayer and worship, and work actively with the community in the life of the Church.
The third phase of the conversion process is marked again by a ritual and coincides with the Lenten season immediately preceding the catechumens’ reception of the Sacraments of Initiation at Easter Vigil. This period is called one of Purification and Enlightenment, and catechumens become the elect. It is a short but intense period of prayer, deeper reflection, and conversion. The church community offers prayers for healing, that the catechumens will withstand evil and remain pure and free from sin as they journey toward the Easter celebration and continued maturing faith. There also are several short rituals that can take place during the Period of Purification and Enlightenment, for both catechumens, now known as the elect, and candidates.
The climax of the initiation process comes at Easter Vigil, when the elect are fully initiated into the Christian faith and receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist. Previously baptized candidates may be received into full communion with the Catholic Church, receiving the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist and making a profession of faith, at any time they are ready (with the exception of Easter, which is reserved for initiation of the elect).
That is not the end, however! IT IS ONLY THE BEGINNING! of life as a Christian being Jesus in the world----and sessions for the newly baptized, now called neophytes, continue. The transformation process is not over. Being Jesus in the world is a life-long journey of faith.
The fourth and final phase of the initiation process is called Mystagogy. The term comes from the Greek word for mystery. In the early Church it was the time when the community explained the mystery of the sacraments the elect just received at Easter Vigil. Mystagogia coincides with the 50 days of Easter that concludes with Pentecost. BUT IN REALITY THIS PHASE OF YOUR FAITH JOURNEY CONTINUES FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Mystagogy sessions continue after Easter, usually once a month, until you mark your first anniversary of your baptism. There always is more to learn about growing in relationship with God. We continue to explore and experience more deeply the mysteries of our faith.
Each session begins at the 11 a.m. Mass.
Every Sunday, with few exceptions, the catechist (catechist is teacher, who aids in faith formation and delivers knowledge of the faith to catechumens and candidates), catechumens and candidates sit in the front pew, on Mary’s side of the church. The rite recognizes and encourages the role the community plays in companioning with the candidates. Our parishioners, also, grow in their faith as they witness your participation and desire for God.
Candidates and catechist participate with the assembly (congregation) in the first part of the Mass. After the homily, persons in the RCIA stand and go to the front of the altar where the catechumens (and candidates) will be dismissed with a prayer and blessing from the celebrant (priest saying the Mass).This is called Dismissal.
After the priest says a prayer, the catechumens, candidates and catechist process out as the assembly sings an appropriate song. The Mass then continues with the Profession of Faith, Intercessions, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, while the candidates reflect upon the Scriptures they have just heard.
Again, this ritual dismissal was restored from the earliest Christian initiation rites. (Because of great persecution in the early Church, Masses were conducted in secret and catechumens were not permitted to witness the Liturgy of the Eucharist; it was kept secret from them until they were accepted into the Church.) After hearing the Scriptures proclaimed and the homily, the candidates leave to break open the Word, to reflect upon and discuss what they have heard proclaimed and how it relates to their lives.
After dismissal, the group proceeds to the meeting room above the parish hall.
The sessions last between one-and-a-half and two hours—the time goes quickly. They start with rereading that day’s scriptures, followed by discussion that explores and relates the readings to every day lived-faith experience. Then there is a catechetical (instructional) period where topics of doctrine, drawn from the readings, and Catholic culture and putting faith into practice are taught and discussed.
There is no fee for the program. Materials will be provided. Participants are asked only to bring with them The New American Bible. If possible, choose one with lots of footnotes and supplementary information, e.g. glossary, introduction to each biblical book, essays….
There is no obligation to convert or become Catholic. The purpose of this process is to help discern whether you wish to become a Catholic.
We do ask that you make attendance a priority, to receive full spiritual benefit of the rite.
Each person is asked to choose a sponsor. The sponsor is someone who is already a practicing Catholic in good standing and can be a resource person to you for your questions. He or she preferably should come from the parish community and is a companion for you during this faith experience. Catechumens also will need a godparent at the Easter Vigil. We ask that sponsors join their catechumens and candidates in the sessions after Mass as often as possible. Sponosrs almost always discover that the sessions nurture their own faith experience and growth.
Sponsors attend the rites that occur during the initiation process.
Catechumens and candidates also will be asked to pick a confirmation name if their first or middle name is not one of a saint. You may choose a Confirmation name (saint’s name) even if your name already is that of a saint.
What does it mean to be a sponsor in the RCIA?
Being a sponsor in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is like being a good friend. You become a companion to a prospective member of the church as he or she takes a personal faith journey to becoming Catholic. A sponsor extends our parish’s and universal Church community’s welcome and support in a personal way. As companion or guide, your job is to be a good friend whom the candidate can trust and with whom she or he can talk things over.
The RCIA teaches us that the entire community is responsible for the formation and the welcome of new members. It’s obviously difficult, however, for an entire community to engage an individual in a personal relationship that can effectively support, guide, and challenge. It is through the sponsor’s companionship that the spirit of the community is passed on informally. That is why the role of sponsor is so important.
A person being sponsored in the RCIA is either a catechumen—an unbaptized individual who seeks full initiation into the church to receive Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist—or a previously baptized candidate who wishes to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church and be Confirmed and receive Holy Communion. The term candidate also is used to refer generically to both unbaptized and previously baptized persons in the initiation process. The candidates come with differing degrees of spiritual development and varying religious experiences, so sponsors are asked to be patient, sensitive, and understanding. One observation commonly made by sponsors and worth noting is that the joy and lively faith of new members is contagious! The candidates’ personal stories, struggles, and insights have a way of stirring up within the sponsor a renewed sense of belonging to the church.
Sponsors experience first-hand the challenge new members face. You share with them some of your own life and faith as an active member of the church, and in doing so probably will uncover new personal dimensions of being a Catholic Christian. Your Catholic faith is nourished, and you may find a transforming stirring within. After all, being Catholic means dying to self and being born again, and again, and again, in a conversion of heart to Jesus. It’s an ongoing formation of faith. This is the very central and unifying principle of the initiation Rite: conversion.
Sponsors also are witnesses. You will be asked to assist the RCIA pastoral team in assessing a candidate’s progress, of course taking great care to keep confidential anything the individual may request. You also will be asked to attend a few rites. For example, if you are sponsoring a catechumen, at the beginning of Lent you will be asked to participate in the Rite of Election. In this rite, catechumens are solemnly invited to celebrate the sacraments of initiation at Easter, and they are expected to reflect a conversion and sufficient knowledge of Christian teaching and a sense of faith and charity. When the catechumens come before the bishop or his delegate in this rite, the sponsors are asked to witness to the catechumens’ worthiness to receive the sacraments of the Church. The bishop says, “As God is your witness, do you consider these catechumens worthy to be admitted to the sacraments of Christian initiation?”
For people who are already baptized and are candidates for Confirmation and Eucharist, there is a Rite of Calling Candidates to Continuing Conversion. The sponsors for these candidates exercise a role similar to that of sponsors for the catechumens in the Rite of Election. Because candidates for reception into full communion are already baptized and may have been active Christians for many years, the nature of their conversion and spiritual formation may be significantly different from that of catechumens. Nevertheless, their sponsors are asked, “Do you consider these candidates ready to receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist?”
And please relax—you are not being asked to be perfect and know all the answers! The RCIA pastoral team, which includes Monsignor Norm and Fr. Samuel, always is accessible for any questions you may have or want to refer.
The following are a couple of good traits of a sponsor:
A sponsor prays. He humbly recognizes that he is an instrument whom God uses to support the candidate. In prayer the sponsor learns to be open to the Lord’s will and to rely upon the Spirit for guidance. As a sponsor you may be asked to introduce a catechumen or previously baptized candidate to some of the many forms of prayer in the church. The RCIA team also has materials available for your reference.
A sponsor listens. She knows how to listen well to the stories of others. Every person comes with a unique story, a life story that is like the gospel stories that reveal the living Christ. We must learn to listen well to the stories of others, or we will fail to recognize Christ working in them.
A sponsor respects the candidate as a person and reverences what he hears. He learns and values a candidate’s religious background through genuine interest and openness.
The RCIA team provides orientation and materials for sponsors. If you are interested or would like more information, please use the contact form below or call the rectory and ask for Hortense.