RCIA is divided into several stages: Inquiry, Catechumanate, Purification and Enlightenment, and Mystogogy. Let’s go through the stages individually along with the time period at Immaculate Conception Parish.
Inquiry starts in February and continues on a monthly basis through July. Inquiry continues for several weeks when we begin the weekly gatherings in August. With the weekly sessions, many members of the parish are introduced as they join us as sponsors for those who have begun the journey with inquiry. Sponsors are either chosen by the inquirers or are assigned.
In November, the inquirers are asked to make their first commitment to move forward into the Catholic faith. For those wanting to continue, we celebrate the Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming. The inquirers are grouped as baptized and un-baptized, and within the rite state their intention of continuing toward receiving the sacraments of initiation - baptism (for those not baptized only), confirmation and Eucharist (for all).
After this first rite, the inquirers become either Catechumens - those who will be baptized at Easter Vigil, or Candidates - those who have already been baptized Christian. And with this first rite we also enter the Catechumenate stage of development. At this point the topics are even more in depth as we explore the sacraments, saints, and prayer with them. Questions are always encouraged at the sessions and participation is essential. You may also notice if you are at the 8:00 mass or the 4:00 mass that after the homily, the Catechumens and Candidates are called forward and then dismissed” to 4:00, 9:00 and 11:00 Masses. The dismissals are a part of formation also. Since they are not yet able to participate in the Eucharist, they are sent to discuss the Word they have just experienced and apply the reading to life in the world as well as delve into the development of Catholic doctrine from these teachings.
As Lent begins we enter the Period of Purification and Enlightenment and have our next rites. First, we have the Rite of Sending at which time the Catechumens sign their names in the book of the Elect and the Candidates present themselves to join us in full communion with the Church. The Rite of Sending involves the entire congregation of IC as we send them with our blessing to meet with Bishop Rice who then welcomes them to participate in the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil. This meeting with Bishop Rice is the Rite of Election.
The Catechumens have now become the “Elect” and go through the scrutinies which call them to examine or “scrutinize” their lives and make positive changes to walk in the footsteps of Christ. The Candidates are not called to the scrutinies but are called to a penitential examination of their lives and will experience the sacrament of reconciliation at this time.
At the Easter Vigil, this journey reaches the highlight as we celebrate the sacraments of initiation. Easter Vigil is not the completion of the RCIA process. First of all the Elect and the Candidates have another name change. They are now the “Neophytes” and their journey has really begun. We enter the period of Mystagogy as we try to make their actual experience of the sacraments even more meaningful. For a while they will continue to meet with us on a weekly basis but then we ask them to come back monthly so that any questions they may have from their experiences can be addressed. As Christ promised all of us, we cannot leave them “orphans.”