Several rites are held during the year which mark entering a new stage of the RCIA journey. When a person first contacts the church, wanting to know more about becoming a Catholic, they are called an inquirer, and the beginning of their journey is known as the Period of Inquiry. After several weeks of learning more about the church and the Catholic faith, if they feel that they wish to continue their RCIA journey, they are invited to partake in the first rite.
Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens and the Rite of Welcoming
These rites occur during Mass. At our parish we usually do this in November, on the Feast of Christ the King. The inquirers express their desire to become members of our faith community and we accept and welcome them into our community. Part of the Rite includes the signing of the senses.
Those who have never been baptized are then known as catechumens, and those who have been baptized in another Christian faith are then known as candidates. This marks the beginning of the Period of the Catechumenate, during which they continue to learn more about the church and her teachings.
Rite of Sending
The Rite of Sending is held at Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. At this time, the sponsors and the parish affirm that they feel the catechumens and candidates are ready to proceed to the next stage of the journey, and approve of sending them on to the Rite of Election and Continuing Conversion.
Rite of Election and Continuing Conversion
The Rite of Election and Continuing Conversion is held on the afternoon of that same day. This is an opportunity for RCIA participants from the entire diocese to come together at one parish. The catechumens and their sponsors come forth to meet the Bishop and the catechumens sign the Book of the Elect. The candidates and their sponsors are also called forth to meet the Bishop, but do not sign the book. This signals the beginning of the Period of Purification and Enlightenment, during which the catechumens and candidates take their faith journey to a deeper level.
During this period, there is a series of three Scrutinies which are held during the Mass on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sundays of Lent. These contain special prayers which are said for the catechumens. If there are no catechumens, there will be no Scrutinies, but there will be a Penitential Rite held for the candidates. During this period, the catechumens and candidates will also be presented with the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, representing the basic beliefs of the church, and the prayer which Jesus taught us, and at some point they will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
This leads us to the Easter Vigil, which is the night on which the catechumens and candidates are brought into full communion with the church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
But this doesn’t end their journey. There are two more weeks of gathering sessions called the Period of Mystagogy. During this time, the newly initiated Catholics reflect on what they have learned and experienced, and look forward to ways in which they can continue to grow in faith and in service to their parish and their community. The journey goes on.