What is the RCIA?
By Frank C. Sokol
(Used with Permission)
THE RITE OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION OF ADULTS
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the process by which people become members of the Roman Catholic Church. The process is concerned with the total formation of the person into believing with the Church community (doctrinal formation), living with the Church community (practical formation), praying with the Church community (liturgical formation), and serving with the Church community (apostolic formation). This gradual development culminates in the celebration of the initiation sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist at Easter time.
The central and unifying principle of the Rite is conversion. By entering into the conversion journey through the RCIA, people join the paschal journey of Jesus Christ and are introduced to Church doctrine, life, liturgy, and apostolic work. The Rite thus broadens the practice of “convert instruction” to allow for an all-inclusive and ongoing formation in the faith. The gospel message of conversion is the reason for becoming a Catholic Christian and the reason for remaining one.
The Rite is designed primarily for those seeking baptism; that is, those not baptized previously. However, because of the nature of conversion as an ongoing reality, the RCIA can be adapted for those baptized in other Christian denominations, now seeking membership in the Roman
Catholic Church. As such, the RCIA is a flexible process which respects the faith development of each individual while maintaining the ideals and visions of the Catholic community.
The Rite of Christian Initiation can be likened to the “making” of a new family member. As the new member grows into the particular ways of a family's living, the various members share their values, beliefs, and visions. In this interaction the family creates itself anew; it creates its own identity. This “making” necessarily involves not only the formation of a new member, but the formation of the family itself.
By way of another example: in the making of an American, one applies for citizenship in a country defined by certain geography and given principles. In “becoming” a new citizen, one appropriates the “meaning” of America, and in the process, America realizes itself by the passing on and living out of its system of meanings. When Americans are “made,” therefore, so is America. In a parallel vein, when Christians are made, the Church is born again, by the passing on and living out of its system of meanings.
In a strict sense, the RCIA is the process to be followed for becoming a Catholic Christian as an adult. But in fuller sense, this process for becoming is also the model for remaining a Catholic Christian.