Major Rites and Stages of the RCIA Process
The catechumenate is an extended period during which the candidates are given suitable pastoral formation and guidance, aimed at training them in the Christian life. In this way, the dispositions manifested at their acceptance into the catechumenate are brought to maturity. [RCIA 75]
The Period of the Catechumenate embodies the first stage of commitment leading to full membership into the Catholic Church. During this period, the initial conversion is deepened the person comes to know more and more deeply the love of God in their own lives and in the midst of the Church community. The faith of the catechumens is deepened through prayer, reflection and through the Word of God. Catechumens gather with the Catholic community on Sundays for the first part of the Mass, (the Liturgy of the Word). After the homily, catechumens are dismissed, and with their Catechist, continue a process of reflection and application of the Scriptures to their own lives.
In this period, Catechumens receive anointings, participate in prayers of exorcism and blessings to assist their conversion of heart and mind to God.
The duration of the catechumenate will depend on the grace of God and on various circumstances … By means of sacred rites celebrated at successive times they are led into the life of faith, worship, and charity belonging to the people of God. [RCIA 76]
This period, too, lasts as long as the person needs it to last, from a few months to several years, if necessary. For the unbaptised, this phase must normally last 12 months.
The Archdiocese of Perth recommends three forms of catechesis are offered over the catechumenate that is: Lectionary, Liturgy and Instructional catechesis.
The Rite of Election
The Church believes that no one comes to faith without being called by God. God initiates, God calls, God converts. The Archbishop of the dioceses, speaking for the Church, articulates God’s invitation and election to those electing to become full members of the Catholic faith.
The Rite of Election is a major step in the faith journey of catechumens and candidates in the RCIA process, as well as for the whole Archdiocese. In this Rite, which normally occurs on the First Sunday of Lent, the Church makes its ‘election’, i.e. chooses the catechumens who, up to this point, have spent much time in formation to move on to the sacraments of initiation at Easter. Those baptised Christians who are seeking to complete their initiation into the Catholic Church are also welcomed by the Archbishop, where the faith community shows its support for all who are being called into the life of the Church.
The unbaptised catechumens and those candidates baptised in other Christian denominations will be introduced to the Archbishop by their sponsors. Their names will be inscribed in the Book of Elect for the Catechumens (unbaptised) and the Book of Recognition for the Candidates.
The Rite of Election is celebrated at the Cathedral, where all those preparing to become Catholic at Easter share in the one ceremony.
The Period of Purification and Enlightenment corresponds to the time known in the Catholic Church as Lent, the six-weeks of preparation for Easter. This period becomes a prayerful time for catechumens and candidates, who are now known as the Elect, as they prepare for the moment of welcome as full members of the Catholic Church.
Throughout Lent, special prayers are offered at the Sunday Eucharist for the catechumens and candidates; they are called scrutinies. These prayers for strengthening in grace and virtue and for purification from all past evil and from any bonds which hinder them from experiencing the love of God. Throughout this period, the Elect are invited to join with the whole Church in a deeper practice of works of charity and in the practice of fasting.
During this period, the common reflection on the Scriptures continues; the readings of Lent were chosen with the themes of continuing conversion in mind. Toward the end of this period, the Church continues the custom of ‘handing over’/entrusting to the Elect the Creed (the summary of our faith) and the Lord’s Prayer.
At the conclusion of the period, the catechumens and candidates are initiated into the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil.
The Sacraments of Initiation
When we were baptised we joined with Jesus in death so that we might walk in the newness of his life.
The Sacraments of Initiation are celebrated at the Easter Vigil. At the Easter Vigil, the Elect are Baptised, Confirmed and received their first Holy Communion. marking full membership in the Church. Candidates enter into full communion with the Church through a Profession of faith, Confirmation and receiving Holy Communion. From this time the newly initiated are known as neophytes for the first year of their new life in Christ.
This is the time for the community and the neophytes together to grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their daily living through the meditation of the Gospel, sharing in the Eucharist, and in doing works of charity. [RCIA 234]
The fourth stage of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is called “mystagogy.” The newly baptized are now called “neophytes,” from the Greek words meaning “new plant,” because the faith has been newly planted in them. This is a period in which the community is called to accompany the new Catholics as they discover what it means to fully participate in the sacramental mysteries of the Church.
Even though their catechetical preparation has been completed, they still have much to learn about what it means to live as Catholic Christians. The neophytes need the ongoing support of the community so that the faith newly planted in them can grow deep roots.
Traditionally the stage of mystagogy extends throughout the Easter season, until the feast of Pentecost. However, is is strongly encouraged that the Godparent(s) continue to walk with the neophytes for at least one year after their initiation, inviting them to become active in the life of the parish.