At St. Frances the process usually begins when a person inquires about becoming a Catholic. Although this process is for those adults who are preparing for the sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) and who will be called Catechumens, these steps can be adapted and used for those baptized, but un-catechized Catholics, who wish to receive Confirmation and Eucharist, and baptized-Christians who are asking for full communion into the Catholic Church and who will be called Candidates.
Precatechumenate/Period of Inquiry
This period is best understood as a time for asking questions and sharing faith experiences in the context of scripture. The gatherines are held in a comfortable parish setting where inquirers are free to ask questions and search for understanding from the parish community team who share their faith experience, making known God’s activity in their lives (Rites n.42). “It is the life of the Community which evangelizes and supports inquirers as they come to the first faith and initial conversionwhich is the goal of this period” (RCL 6).
The RCIA team share the “Good News” of Jesus’ message of God’s love shown in parable after parable by his unconditional mercy and forgiveness. The inquirer hears repeatedly the offer Jesus makes to each person, the offer to follow him as a disciple. From the very start of the inquirer’s journey the entire parish is involved. This is very important because it is through their actions, especially with the most vulnerable and broken, that the true meaning of discipleship is revealed.
Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
The RCIA process is punctuated at each step by a corresponding ritual. In the ceremony of the Rite of Acceptance, those desiring to continue the journey are claimed for Christ by being signed with the cross. During Sunday Mass the inquirers for teh first time publicly declare their intention before the parish community. As their names are called, they stand so the entire congregation can meet them. Following the Rite the community offers their promise of support by their applause, and the Catechumens return to their pews. After the homily, they are called forward again to be dismissed.
The Catechumenate has several segments. It can last several months to three years, and is determined by the individual’s personal needs, and by the community. “During this time, catechumens are instructed in the faith, join with the community in prayer and worship, and participate in community activities” (DeGidio 4). Each catechumen and candidate has a sponsor who journeys with him/her. “Sponsors provide personal support for the catechumens, share the Christian life with them and help to make them feel at home. [For more about sponsor, go to the menu and click on Sponsors.]
There are three important segments in this period.
1. Breaking-Open the Word
At St. Frances, the catechumens attend the Sunday liturgy, and sit in a reserved section at the front of the Church. Mass times vary so that as many parishioners as possible can come to know and support them on the journey. Their sponsors attend these liturgies and sit with them, but are not dismissed. After listening to the Sunday Scripture readings and the homily, the catechumens, accompanied by a catechist, are dismissed. They leave Mass to further ponder the meaning of the scriptures in their lives.
2. Monday Night Gatherings
Each Monday from 7:00 pm – 8:30pm, the catechumens with their sponsors, come together with their team to learn about the life of Jesus and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Prior to each session, the catechumens/candidates receive material to read relating to the evening’s content. The evening begins with a prayer and scripture which helps connect the Sunday experience with Monday’s gathering. Prayer is an important part of the journey, for the catechumens/candidates must continue to build a relationship with God, one that will deepen and grow throughout their life. The leader for the evening helps the group to integrate teh content through discussion and faith sharing. Hospitality follows, and the evening closes with the Our Father.
3. Community Experience
During the faith journey, the Catechumen’s/Candidates are invited to share in Community Activities, such as, a Sunday afternoon of “R&R” – Reflection and Refreshments hosted by the Small Christian Communities. In a relaxed and prayerful environment, the catechumens and candidates have an opportunity to come to know the parishioners, and the parishioners are able to meet those who are asking to be part of the community of the faithful. The event is both prayerful and fun-filled. Two other parish events they are encouraged to attend are The Film Festival and Parish Mission.
As Lent draws near, those ready to respond totally to God’s call in faith move into the next period of the process, that of, Purification and Enlightenment. This period is also marked by several Rites, presentations and anointing.
The Rite of Election
On the first Sunday of Lent, the parish celebrates the Rite of Sending to the Bishiop. The parish sends the catechumens to St. Agnes Cathedral to meet the Bishop for the celebration of the Rite of Election that Sunday, and the candidates to the Calling to Continual Conversion the following Sunday. Just as Lent calls all Catholics to intense renewal, conversion, and purification, the same is true for all those preparing to receive the Sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
At the Rite of Election the bishop formally recognizes the unbaptized completing the catechumenate as they sign their name in the Book of the Elect, signifying them as chosen for Initiation. No longer will they be called Catechumens, but the Elect. Because Lent is a time of prayer and penance, the Church offers special prayers for the Elect called Scrutinies, on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The Elect and candidates are also encouraged to attend the Parish Lenten Experience and to set aside Holy Week, especially, the Triduum as a time of reflection and prayer.
In this period of ‘purification and enlightenment’ the Monday night gatherings also take on a more prayerful form and are held in the Pastoral Center Chapel. In the context of prayer, the evenings revolve around the readings and symbols used at the Easter Vigil: light and darkness, water, and fire. As Holy Week approaches, the Passion and Stations of the Cross are prayed, and on the Monday of Holy Week they gather for their Retreat. The Elect and candidates are present for the Holy Thursday Liturgy, the Good Friday Service, and the Holy Saturday Morning Prayer and Rite.
Initiation and Mystagogia
At the Easter Vigil, the Elect and Candidates gather with the faithful of St. Frances parish who have prayed and supported them on the journey, and who now celebrate with them the Sacraments of Initiation. The Neophytes, as the initiated are called, are given at their baptism a white baptismal garment that they will wear at each Sunday liturgy during the Easter season.
After Easter, Monday gatherings take on the spirit of the season. It is helpful at this time of Mystagogy for the Neophytes to look back on their journey and to revel in its wonder. These evenings are set aside for savoring and sharing the experience with both the RCIA team and other parishioners who also have received their Sacraments of Initation at former Easter Vigils.
The feast of Pentecost brings to a close the Easter season and the RCIA journey. The Neophytes join the Adult Confirmation candidates who will receive their Confirmation at the Pentecost Vigil to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Family and friends join them in the Chapel for Pentecost Vespers, and a closing celebration. As all Catholics know, the journey of conversion, the daily dying and rising with Christ never ends; the journey is one that lasts a lifetime.