The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) names the process by which interested persons gradually become members of the Catholic Church.
The R.C.I.A. is primarily a journey of faith:
• From the awareness of stirring of faith and curiosity within one's heart,
• through all those stages of asking and seeking,
• through beginning involvement with Christian/Catholic people,
• through hearing the Gospel proclaimed and by faithful reflection and prayer on this Word of God,
• through study and discussion about the Catholic experience,
• through doubts and hesitations,
• through involvement in the works of charity and justice with those already committed to the catholic way of life,
• through discernment of God's call for them as individuals,
• through the steps of commitment
• through the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist)
• to a life of faith, love, and justice lived in communion with Catholics throughout the world.
Conversion, a gradual process
The R.C.I.A. as a rite, marks stages along the path to full commitment in the Catholic Church; the R.C.I.A. as a process, describes in broad terms what this gradual commitment means.
The R.C.I.A. as formation gradually looks both to the inner transformation of the individual to God's call as given week by week in the lectionary of Scripture readings at the Sunday Eucharist and to the gradual transformation of the person to an active member of the local church wherever he or she lives.
The R.C.I.A. contains five main stages or phases:
• The Period of Inquiry (Also known as the time of Evangelization or Pre Catechumenate),
• Period of Purification and Enlightenment/Scrutinies,
• The Paschal Triduum with the Sacraments of Initiation and
• Mystagogical Catechesis.
The Period of Inquiry
Period of Inquiry has as its purpose a time to become acquainted with the catholic Church and to hear the good news of salvation from Jesus Christ our Savior; it is a time to look within at one's one life story and see connections to or needs for the gospel story of good news. During this period, the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed, and inquirers look within their own story to make and mark connections. This reflective process becomes a continuing, on-going method used by inquirer and member alike. This period lasts as long as the person needs it to last. During this period, some may decide that this is not the right time for them to consider membership in the Catholic Church, either because of their own life circumstances or because they feel some other Tradition is better for them.
Period of the Catechumenate
Period of catechumenate embodies the first stages of commitment leading to full membership. For a person to enter this phase, s/he must already have come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and sincerely desire to become members of the Catholic Church. During this phase, the catechumens now gather with the Catholic community on Sundays for the first part of the mass, during which, together, we hear the Scriptures, respond to them, and reflect on the meaning of God's Word for us personally and as community through the homily. After the homily, catechumens are dismissed, and with their Catechist, continue a process of reflection and application of the Scriptures to their own lives. During this period, the initial conversion is deepened and appropriated; the person comes to know more and more deeply the love of God in their own lives and in the midst of the church community. This period, too, lasts as long as the person needs it to last, from a few months to several years, if necessary. For the Unbaptized, this phase must normally last 12 months.
Period of Purification or Illumination
The Period of Purification corresponds to that time known in the Catholic Church as Lent, the six-weeks of preparation for Easter become the days of prayerful time for catechumens and candidates, who are now known as the Elect, as they prepare for the moment of welcome as full members and are established as such by the Sacraments of Initiation. This period is begun by the Rite of Election, usually celebrated at the Cathedral Church with the Diocesan Bishop; by this rite they are accepted as candidates for the Sacraments by the Bishop, representing the fact that this decision is not theirs alone. Normally this rite takes place on the first Sunday of Lent. Throughout Lent, special prayers are offered at the Sunday Eucharist for the catechumens and candidates; they are called scrutinies; these prayers for strengthening in grace and virtue and for purification from all past evil and from any bonds which hinder them from experiencing the love of God. Throughout this period, the Elect are invited to join with the whole Church in a deeper practice of works of charity and in the practice of fasting. During this period, the common reflection on the Scriptures continues; the readings of Lent were chosen with the themes of continuing conversion in mind. Toward the end of the period, the Church continues the custom of "handing over" to the Elect the Creed (the summary of our faith) and the Lord's Prayer (which represents its practice of continuing prayer after the command of Jesus who taught us to pray).
Celebrating the Sacraments of Initiation
The Sacraments of Initiation are celebrated at the Easter Vigil, an extended night-watch of prayer, singing and hearing the Word of God. By the waters of baptism, a person passes into the new life of grace and becomes a member of the Body of Christ. Anointing with special holy oil called Chrism seals the initiation by the power of the Holy Spirit and participation at the Table of the Lord in the Eucharist marks full membership in the church.
Period of Mystagogy
The Period of Mystagogy lasts from Easter Sunday until the completion of the Easter season, fifty days later on Pentecost Sunday and completes the initiation process. Those who have just shared in the sacraments of initiation are now called Neophytes and during this period of Easter joy they reflect on what they have just gone through and look to the future as to how they can now share in the mission of Christ who came to bring salvation and life to the whole world. This period of time reminds the whole church that life in Christ constantly calls us to grow and to look for new ways to live the life of grace, personally and together students on Easter-break, those to be initiated and their Sponsors stay to take part in the Holy Sacraments of Initiation.