Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

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The Easter Vigil will be a night to be remembered for thousands of Catechumens and Candidates throughout the world who will be entering into full communion with the Church. It is a night that will change the rest of their lives.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults! The process of initiation into the Church is no longer a one-on-one affair in which “Fr. Smith instructs Jackson.” It is a process which is community oriented from beginning to end. To be a Christian is not only to have a personal relationship with Jesus but also to be a member of the Christian community. To believe is to belong.

The RCIA begins with the community inviting prospective candidates. Then the members of the community accompany them on their journey of faith as sponsors. At each stage of the process the community acknowledges that fact by celebrating a special liturgy. During the whole process the community prays for them and gives them an example of what it means to be a Catholic. At the end of the process the community receives them into the Church. And in the process the sponsor and the community is renewed and revitalized.

The first stage is a period of inquiry and investigation. The second stage called the catechumenate begins on the first Sunday of Advent. The third stage begins on the First Sunday of Lent. It is a time for decision, election. It is a time to decide if you wish to become a Catholic or not. For those who choose to become a Catholic Lent becomes a 40 day retreat in preparation for receiving the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist which are celebrated at the Easter Vigil. The fourth stage, called mystagogia ends at Pentecost. It is a period of deepening spiritual growth and integration into the community. We begin the process as total strangers and end as a loving, joyful and enthusiastic community.

The RCIA is simply a preparation for receiving the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. Some have already been baptized. Baptism can be received only once. The Catholic Church recognizes and accepts the valid Baptism of other Christian Churches. Those who are already Baptized will be formally received into the Church and receive Confirmation and the Eucharist. Those who are not yet Baptized are called catechumens. Those who are Baptized are called candidates.

The dynamic of the RCIA is five-fold: prayer, study, instruction, sharing and celebration. The first two, prayer and study, are done at home. By far the most important is prayer. Jesus tells us, “Ask and you will receive…” I suggest that you set aside 15 minutes daily to be alone with the Lord. Christianity is essentially a personal relationship with Jesus. It is hardly possible to have an intimate relationship if we are never alone with that person.

As regards the study, “knowledge makes a bloody entrance.” If that were not true we would all have a phd. The instruction and sharing we will do here. Our usual format will be: presentation of instruction for 20 minutes, a coffee break and then small group sharing. Celebration means the Liturgy which we will do in the Church. Each new stage begins with a Liturgical rite.

I suggest that you begin to go to Mass if you are not doing so already. You may go to Mass but you may not receive the Eucharist until you are received into the Church. At the Mass you will see the Church in the concrete, the Christian community assembled to hear the Word of God in the Scriptures and to receive the Word of God in the Eucharist. You will see that the Church is truly catholic, that is, universal. You will see the young and the old, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, saints and sinners. At the Mass we celebrate all the events in the life of Jesus as it is celebrated in the Liturgical Year. You will see that the Mass is a mosaic of the Bible. When you go to Mass you will probably feel that you stand out as a sore thumb, that everyone knows that you are not a Catholic and are watching your every move. Not to worry. They are not thinking about you at all. They have worries of their own.

The RCIA is not a “quick fix.” It is a long, hard course. We shouldn’t be surprised. Everything worthwhile in life comes with a high price tag. This is the “treasure in the field,” the “pearl of great price.” It will take a strong desire and a lot of sacrifice. “Where your heart is there is your treasure.”

Even if you do not become a Catholic you will learn a lot about God, about religion in general and Christianity in particular because Catholicism is the oldest and fullest expression of Christianity. The Catholic Church is not a museum of fossils and artifaxes. It is a living growing organism. The Holy Spirit has been present and active in it for some 2,000 years. It has a heritage that has been built out of a cumulative wisdom of the centuries of Christian peoples deeply committed to learning and living their faith. It will save you from the pitfalls of the numerous cults springing up daily. It will also help you to develop a sense of humor which is a sense of the incongruous, the preposterous and the unreal. It is only in knowing God, the really real and ultimate truth, that we can discern the unreal, the untrue and the incongruous.

You owe it to yourself to make a commitment at least to the first stage of inquiry. As the saying goes, “To search for God is the greatest of all human adventures. To find God and share Him with others is the greatest of all human achievements.”


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