Becoming a Catholic
Becoming a Member of the Catholic Family
We, the Roman Catholic Church, warmly welcome new members and try to provide appropriate spiritual formation according to each person's needs. In general, though, people who are becoming Catholic fall into three categories:
- infants and young children
- people who, whether baptized or unbaptized, have had little or no affiliation with or religious training in the Christian faith
- and baptized people who have been active members in other Christian denominations
Infants and Young Children
Children who are born or adopted into Catholic families usually are baptized as infants, a practice that began early in the Church's history. This makes sense because the children will be raised in a Christian environment, learning the ways of faith from their parents and other family members and eventually receiving formal religious training through their parish school or religious education program. For the same reason, children whose parents enter the Catholic Church before the children have reached school age also are baptized.
People with Little or No Christian Background
Many adults who wish to join the Catholic Church have never been baptized. They are known as catechumens, a Latin word meaning “one who is instructed.” The Church offers unbaptized adults a process of formation in the Catholic Christian faith and way of life called Christian Initiation, or the catechumenate. You will often here of the “RCIA,” which means the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.” This is the program used in most, if not all, Catholic parishes as a starting point for becoming a Catholic. It is a gradual process, just as it was for those catechumens during the ancient days of the Church. After the interested person contacts the local Catholic Church, he or she may be invited to meet with other people who are exploring the possibility of becoming Catholic. These inquirers of the faith are people have the opportunity to ask questions about the Church and to hear about the message of Jesus Christ and how it is lived out in the Catholic Church. A person may continue to participate in these sessions as long as he or she wishes. No commitments are made or expected during this time.
If the person decides to pursue the process of becoming Catholic, he or she enters the process called the catechumenate. The catechumenate provides a structure for hearing the gospel; catechesis (the passing on of the teachings of the Church); public and private prayer; spiritual direction; the observance of the feasts, fasts, Sundays and seasons of the Church calendar; direct contact with members of the parish community and participation in the work of the Church for justice and peace. During this time, each catechumen is paired with a sponsor who can serve as a spiritual companion and offer support and encouragement.
Though the various rites of the catechumenate, the Church marks a person's journey to full membership. These rites reflect his or her spiritual growth and the community's loving concern for them. Remember, being Catholic means belonging to a community, and the community celebrates the person’s journey of faith. The climax of the catechumenate process is the celebration of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharistic usually at the Easter Vigil. Then, after Easter, there is a period for reflection on the sacraments and for integration into the life and mission of the Church. From the time an unbaptized person becomes a catechumen until that person celebrates the sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) usually takes at least one year. This allows the catechumen to experience one full cycle of the Church's rhythm of feasts and seasons.
Baptized adults who have never been formed in the Christian life also participate the catechumenate process. As they prepare for acceptance into the Catholic Church, they are known as candidates rather than catechumens. Even though the process is the same, the Catholic Church takes care to respect the fact that these people truly are baptized. Only when there is a good reason to doubt that the person's Baptism took place or was celebrated validly -- a rare occurrence -- will such a person be baptized before entering the Catholic Church. Baptized persons are received into the Catholic Church, when they are ready, by making a profession of faith, receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and sharing in the Eucharist.
Children who have reached school age, whether they are baptized or unbaptized, will participate in the catechumenate process adapted according to their age.
Baptized People Who Are Active Christians
People who have been active members of other Christian denominations seek membership in the Catholic Church for many reasons. Often they are attracted by the Church's liturgies or by its stance on issues dealing with life or on issues dealing with justice and peace. Sometimes they are married or engaged to a Catholic. A person who has been an active Christian, who attempts to live in a way that reflects and embraces the teachings of Jesus, who has actively participated in the worship and life of a Christian community can bring a lot to the (RCIA) Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program. Such a person needs an understanding of Catholic beliefs, the experience of participating in the Church's liturgical life over an appropriate period of time and an acquaintance with the Catholic community to be able to make a lasting commitment to the Catholic Church. Some, who are already Christians from another Protestant denomination, may feel like they are being treated like new Christians. Why does the Church have a program like this? Because when the Church receives new members who wish to become Catholic Christians, they have no idea what previous religious Christian instruction and education they have, and, moreover, which misperceptions or misunderstandings they have received about the Church and what she teaches from the past. This program, properly administered, ensures that the new convert receives the fullness of the Christian Faith that can only be found in the Church. Each person's situation should be evaluated and his or her needs met in an appropriate way. When the time is right, such a person may be received into the Catholic Church at any time of the year. This is accomplished by the person making a profession of faith and celebrating the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist, usually at a Sunday parish Mass. (Even if the person has been confirmed in another Christian denomination, the sacrament of Confirmation is almost always celebrated.)
What is the First Step?
Anyone who is thinking about becoming a Catholic Christian or who would like more information can contact the pastor of either St. Francis, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Thomas the Apostle in Lexington, or Sacred Heart in Winona by calling (662) 453-0623 to make an appointment with Fr. Greg.
Christian initiation: the process and periods
Period of Inquiry. This is a time of introduction to the gospel of Jesus Christ and a time of reflection on one's own life in the light of the values of the reign of God. It is an unstructured time of no fixed duration for questions and an opportunity of the beginnings of Christian faith to form.
Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. In this liturgical rite, those who wish to become catechumens publicly express their desire to follow the way of Jesus. The Church accepts their intention and welcomes them into the household of Faith as catechumens.
Period of the Catechumenate. Along with the whole community, catechumens celebrate the liturgy of the word at Mass each Sunday. After the homily, the catechumens and their catechists (teachers) continue to study and ponder the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. During this time, catechumens receive anointings, participate in prayers of exorcism and blessing, and take part in the mission of the Church to the world. Through prayer, learning and coming to know other Catholic Christians, catechumens discover the love and power of God in their lives and in the Church.
Election or Enrollment of Names. At this liturgical rite, usually celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent in the cathedral of the diocese, the bishop formally acknowledges the readiness of the catechumens and calls them to the sacraments of initiation. The catechumens respond by expressing their desire for these sacraments. From this time, until they are baptized, they are called the elect.
Period of Purification and Enlightenment. This time of intense preparation for initiation usually coincides with Lent. During this period, the elect and the parish community together focus on conversion, scrutinize their lives in light of the gospel and celebrate the presentations of the Creed and Lord's Prayer.
Sacraments of Initiation. The elect become full members of the Body of Christ, the Church, through the celebration of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, usually at the Easter Vigil. From this time until the end of the period of mystagogy, they are known as neophytes, "new sprouts."
Period of Mystagogy. During the fifty-day season of Easter, neophytes ponder the experience and meaning of the sacraments and participate with the faithful in the Eucharistic life of the Church and its mission for justice and peace. Formation and teaching continue for one year to help the neophytes become incorporated into the full life of the Christian community.