The Catholic Church can seem like an exclusive club.
I mean. Only confirmed Catholics can receive the Eucharist (except in extenuating circumstances).
Even when I was Anglican and I believed in almost all of the Catholic dogma and traditions, I could not participate fully at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by receiving the True Body and Most Precious Blood of Our Lord.
After being a traditional Anglican for four years, I was offended that I was not welcome to receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Church. (It’s worth mentioning one of my favorite priest quotes here: “The Humble Are Never Offended.”)
I mean, I believed in transubstantiation and (mostly) everything that Catholics profess as the truth of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! It was just that pesky Papal Supremacy thing I couldn’t come to terms with.
I soon sought counsel as to why only confirmed Catholics are permitted to receive the Eucharist. The answer was clear and poignant: the Church ensures those receiving the Eucharist believe it is truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ (which I did).
The Church also requires the faithful who receive to profess ‘amen’ after receiving. This “amen” signifies that the communicant truly agrees with everything the one True Church teaches dogmatically.
Now I finally understood: The Catholic Church’s dedication to maintaining the sanctity of the Eucharist is incredibly important to the thriving of the faith. Without barriers to receiving the Eucharist, many people would accidentally (or purposefully!) be bringing judgment upon themselves as St. Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29:
 Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.  But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice.  For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.
After learning I needed to be catechised through RCIA so I could be united with the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, it was a no-brainer for me to join the classes!!
This blog post summarizes how my RCIA process went, (the 2018-19 RCIA class at St Mary’s Catholic Church in College Station). Many people have very different experiences (better or worse) in RCIA. Personally, I wish the Church would emphasize priestly formation over lay formation for Catechumens, but I’m not in charge…
Catechumens and Candidates Becoming Catholic Through RCIA
Before being confirmed in the Catholic Church, “Catechumens” (unbaptized person) and “candidates for full communion” (those baptized in another Christian denomination) undergo an educational process known as the Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA).
RCIA informs those who wish to be confirmed what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ–the Catholic Church established by Christ Jesus.
Though after completing RCIA, we do not know everything there is to know about the Gospel and God’s revealed wisdom, its purpose is to open the participants’ eyes to his divinely inspired scripture and jumpstart them on a journey of faith and relationship with Him.
For somebody raised in a different religion or in a protestant denomination (like me), the Catholic Church’s rich tradition is often very intriguing.
The doctrines first proclaimed thousands of years ago remain consistent and continue being proved by miracles to this day (just Google “Eucharistic miracles🍞” if you don’t believe me!)
People from all religious backgrounds inquire about the Catholic faith at RCIA:
- Cradle Catholics (those raised as Catholics since babies) who want to learn more about the liturgy and worshipping God
- Protestants who see truth in Catholics’ understanding of Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth
- Even people who know nothing about Christianity or have been hostile to the faith.
The beauty of RCIA is the community in which the inquirers are able to ask questions and learn at their own pace.
Why Did I Join RCIA?
After being Anglican for four years, I began doubting the legitimacy of the church because of the schism hundreds of years ago–the English Reformation.
Though many Catholic dogmas are also believed by Anglicans (or at least the ‘Anglo-Catholics’ in the Episcopalian Fort Worth diocese where I worshipped), there is no true central authority for Anglican beliefs.
I mostly agreed with the doctrines of the flavor of Anglicanism I practiced. Pro-life, pro-natural marriages, no female priests, belief in transubstantiation, venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary…it really was CatholicLite.
But, in my quest for knowledge, I eventually learned enough about Church history that I could no longer overlook. For example, the entire Church of England (Anglicanism) was created because of King Henry VIII’s corrupt political and personal priorities (including divorcing his wife to marry his mistress😶).
My doubt coincided with my decision to begin dating a Catholic man (my now-husband), Caleb.
He encouraged me to do some research into what an RCIA class would teach me. To learn more, I talked to the RCIA director, Kevin, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in College Station a couple of weeks before school started.
He shared the class syllabus, answered my questions about the differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism, and most importantly told me that there was no obligation to join the Church after attending RCIA classes.
My talk with Kevin gave me the push I needed to join the class. What did I have to lose?
I was (and still am) incredibly interested in theology, Mariology, and the history of the Church thanks to the traditional Anglican summer camp I attended the previous 2 summers.
I knew I could trust the Catholic speakers and priests guiding us at RCIA, so I signed up.
A Typical Schedule for RCIA Classes
When I arrived at St. Mary’s for the first night of RCIA, I was not sure what kind of atmosphere to expect. I was delighted to find that there was free food and dozens of round tables set up for us to find a small group.
I sat down with some friendly-looking folks and got to know the table leaders and participants who joined our table. The kickoff of RCIA and (almost) every subsequent meeting went like this:
- Begin by picking up your nametag and a snack/dinner.
- Once everyone was seated in the parish hall, Kevin or another RCIA leader led us in prayer.
- The speaker (either a laymen, a religious sister, or Catholic priest) of the evening gave an hour-long talk about religious/societal/moral topics.
- Next, there was time to ask the speaker questions about their talk.
- Then we had time to discuss in our small groups.
- Then we’d end with a closing prayer.
Even though I already knew about most speakers’ topics from an Anglican perspective, my favorite part of the RCIA year was learning new, beautiful truths from Catholic priests.
Hearing that many parts of my education in the Anglican faith were correct was encouraging! The foundations of my faith cultivated from my protestant upbringing were mostly true.
Since I had already accepted most of the common objections to Catholicism–the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sacrament of Confession, & the Saints–all I really needed to come to terms with was the hierarchy of the Church.
Specifically, the Papacy. I didn’t actually know how Rome worked, so I assumed that I didn’t agree with it! After various RCIA class talks on the Church, I went to Father Greg at St. Mary’s to discuss the role of the pope, how he is chosen, and how Jesus instituted the office of the Pope and Apostolic Succession.
We discussed the Anglican church’s schism and the status of the validity of their priestly orders. After our long conversation (and a LOT of questions), I finally felt sure that God was calling me to join the Catholic Church.
The RCIA Process
When taking the RCIA classes, there are four separate ‘periods’ and three rites those discerning confirmation participate in.
1. The first period is the Period of Inquiry.
This includes the “inquirer” (those participating at the beginning of RCIA) learning about the Catholic Church and (hopefully) taking an interest in joining.
Often, the inquirer will meet with a priest or the RCIA director to discuss what the process is like and ask any preliminary questions they have (like I did!)
For those discerning conversion to Catholicism, I highly recommend asking as many questions as you have. There’s a lot to the Catholic faith (which is exactly how God wants it!)
Kevin (RCIA Director at St. Mary’s) compares the Period of Inquiry to the inquirer thinking about dating another person. They want to know enough about the other party (the Catholic Church) to decide whether they should enter into a relationship with them or not.
If an unbaptized inquirer decides they wish to become a baptized member of the Catholic Church, they undergo the Rite of Acceptance.
That inquirer is now called a “Catechumen.”
(If the inquirer is already baptized, they do not need to go through that rite, and are called “candidates for full communion” or just “candidates”).
By the time I went through RCIA, I had been validly baptized in the Presbyterian church and confirmed Presbyterian and Anglican.
Most Protestant baptisms are valid because they have retained the form prescribed by Jesus Christ in the New Testament:
With water: “And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. ” (Matthew 3:16).
And in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19).
At this point, in the RCIA as a relationship metaphor, the Catechumens and candidates are dating the Catholic Church.
Through RCIA instruction, questioning, and small group discussion, inquirers learn the teachings of the Church.
This second Period of the Catechumenate can last for years as the person learns about the Church and grows in their faith.
Many RCIA programs deem their participants fully-instructed in two semesters’ worth of weekly classes, but there is no requirement for a Catechumen or candidate to join the Church until they are ready.
(Spoiler alert: the way RCIA classes are run nowadays is not always the most beneficial. There are a lot of Catholics that are quite fruity in their traditions. There are also many RCIA courses that do not cover the more controversial subjects.☹)
Once the participants and their advisors are confident they are ready to make a faithful commitment to God’s Church, they celebrate the Rite of Election.
A very informative page on the US Conference of Catholic Bishop’s site describes this rite more succinctly than I can:
“The Rite of Election includes the enrollment of names of all the Catechumens seeking baptism at the coming Easter Vigil. Typically, on the first Sunday of Lent, the Catechumens, their sponsors and families gather at the cathedral church.
The Catechumens publicly express their desire for baptism to the diocesan bishop. Their names are recorded in a book and they are called the Elect.”
The candidates and their decision to join the Catholic Church are also celebrated at this rite.
Now the Elect are engaged to the Catholic Church.
During Lent, the Elect undergo the Period of Purification and Enlightenment.
They are encouraged to take on Lenten disciplines such as abstaining from meat on Fridays (all Catholics are obligated to take on a penance every Friday–meat being the traditional abstinence) or giving up another worldly comfort to allow for more focused discernment and relationship with God.
A lot of Elect also choose a confirmation saint. I chose Saint Thomas More, an English Reformation Martyr! More on choosing your confirmation saint another time 🙂
The third rite is the Rite of Initiation on Easter.
The wedding day!
“The Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation takes place during the Easter Vigil Liturgy on Holy Saturday when the Elect receives the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. Now the person is fully initiated into the Catholic Church.”
Of course, if a candidate is already validly baptized in another denomination, they will just receive Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.
Those that began as inquirers are now finally full members of the Catholic Church! Huzzah!
This means they are now obligated to follow aaaaaall the rules established by Jesus Christ and His Church.
Formation continues in the Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis or ‘Mystagogy’.
Confirmed Catholics need to continue to learn more about the scriptures, grow closer to God through scriptural study and outreach into the community.
Learning theology from priests, speakers, and fellow participants at RCIA is a wonderful thing.
It is important to remember that the goal of RCIA is not only to educate Christians in the tradition, dogmas, and history of the Church but also to turn that knowledge gained about God into a deep, loving relationship with Him.
I pray that this post has shed some light upon RCIA, how it works, and what it is all about. If you have any questions about converting to Catholicism or dogmas or whatever, I’d be happy to share my experiences (and point you in good directions)!
I will end this post with a prayer from Thomas Aquinas:
“Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.”