Becoming Catholic is a process that involves building your own personal relationship with Jesus, investing in the Church community, receiving the knowledge of Christ and His Church, and going through several different ‘rites’ to become ‘fully initiated’.
The process by which adults come into the Church has come to be known as “the OCIA”, which is short for “The Order of Christian Initiation of Adults.”
The Order of Christian Initiation of Adults is the restoration of a practice that began in the early Church. Many parishes use the OCIA for those seeking membership in the Catholic Church. OCIA is the way that the Church helps an in-baptized person prepare for and reflect on Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist (Communion). A person preparing for Baptism is called a Catechumen.
There are persons who have been baptized in the Protestant tradition and who are interested in preparing for full communion in the Catholic Church. These people need an understanding of Catholic beliefs and practices in order to make a Profession of Faith, be Confirmed, and receive Eucharist. These people are called Candidates.
In St. Anthony of Padua Parish, the OCIA program begins in the fall and ends in the spring with instructional classes being held every Thursday evening. However, each individual interested in beginning his or her journey toward faith and conversion may not necessarily complete the process at the same time. Some people may decide that the time is not right for them. Reasons for this decision vary with each person.
This period can last as long as the individual wants. It is a time for questions. A person (inquirer) can find out more about the Catholic Church and the faith. Normally this time is about two months. Those who want to continue to the next step of their faith journey are presented to the parish at Sunday Mass on the Feast of Christ the King. This ceremony is called the Rite of Acceptance or welcoming.
During this time, which can last for three months or more, there is an emphasis on maturing in the faith and living a Christian life.
Each person receives the help of a sponsor, who together with the RCIA team, will journey with them. This Parish Sponsor can also be a Baptismal or Confirmation Sponsor. However, a different person can be chosen as a Baptismal or Confirmation Sponsor when the person is received into the Church.
At the end of the Catechumenate period, those who wish to continue in their faith development are again presented to the parish for the Rite of Sending. During this rite, the Catechumens are enrolled by signing their names in the Book of the Elect; the book is taken to the Rite of Election where it is signed by the Bishop. The Catechumens and Candidates are reaffirmed by the parish and are sent to the Cathedral in Springfield where they are presented to the Bishop and experience the Church as an extended community of believers. After this ceremony, those preparing for Baptism are called the Elect and those seeking full communion are called Candidates. The Rite of Sending (at St. Anthony’s) and the Rite of Election (at the Cathedral) take place on the first Sunday of Lent.
During the Lenten Season the Elect and Candidates are in their final preparation period. It is a time of affirming what is good in the person’s life and eliminating what is weak and sinful. This is a period of intense preparation for the sacraments that will be received at the Easter Vigil celebration. Ceremonies or Rites known as Scrutinies take place on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The Presentation of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer also happen during this period.
At the Easter Vigil the Elect are baptized. Sin is taken away and the person is given a new life in Christ. The Candidates make a Profession of Faith. Each person (Elect and Candidate) receives the Sacrament of Confirmation and partakes in Communion for the first time.
The period of fifty days from Easter to Pentecost completes the initiation. It is a time when the newly baptized (Neophytes) and those who are in full communion meet and reflect on the “mystery” in order to penetrate its deeper meaning. These new members of the Church learn how to put their faith into practice within the parish, the community, and the whole Church. The Christian Initiation of Adults is completed with this fifth stage but spiritual growth within the Church is a life-long journey.