Frequently Asked Questions
RCIA: Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the difference between the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and the Reception of Baptized Christians into Full Communion (RBCFC)?
Baptism is a fundamental sacrament (a “visible sign of God’s invisible grace”) across most Christian communities. It signifies the act of conversion in which an individual enters into a relationship with God through Christ in a new way. The Roman Catholic church teaches that this fundamental conversion happens once for all, regardless of the community in which one is baptized, as long as one has been baptized with water using the Trinitarian formula. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is a process of prayer, reflection, and preparation for that fundamental conversion of life, symbolized in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. If you were baptized in the Roman Catholic church or in another Christian community, then you’ve already started down that path towards relationship with God in Christ (whether you remember it or not!). The Reception of Baptized Christians into Full Communion is a separate process in which already baptized individuals complete their baptisms in the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist, and are welcomed into full communion with the Roman Catholic church.
2. Why is the RCIA process longer than the RBCFC?
Because the Christian churches consider baptism to be the sign of the major change of life involved in becoming a Christian, the period of prayer and reflection is more involved than that for the RBCFC. Practically, those who are already baptized, even if when they were children, generally have had a longer time to reflect on their lives and their faith in Christian contexts than those who are making a Christian commitment for the first time in their lives. Also, both the RCIA and RBCFC expect that you will join the community for weekend worship, but because there will be “breaking open the word” sessions for catechumens (those who are not yet baptized) to reflect on the scriptures each week (see below), it makes sense to coordinate which mass all our catechumens will attend together.
3. Is there a test at the end?
RCIA and RBCFC aren’t classes, and there are no tests or exams. Even referring to them as “processes” makes them sound a bit like a training seminar! Fundamentally, they are periods of prayer – which is why the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is called a “rite”, a form of public prayer, right in its name. Prayer, like any good conversation, has content, and so part of the RCIA and RBCFC obviously involve learning about Christianity, reading the Bible together, and talking about what it means to be a Catholic Christian. But the point of this learning isn’t to help you pass a test in Catholicism, but rather to tell you the Christian story of who God is and to give you the language to make your life as a part of that story.
4. If I start in RCIA or RBCFC, am I locked in to being baptized or received?
No. RCIA and RBCFC are about helping you to grow in faith, not about putting you on a conveyor belt towards a sacrament. At various points in the RCIA and RBCFC, there will be opportunities for you to discern whether or not to proceed further in the process. As the representatives of the community, the initiation team is also responsible for judging your readiness to fully enter into the community. People move at different paces, and God’s calendar is rarely equivalent to our academic calendar. You may find that you need more time for inquiry before taking a definite step towards baptism, or that you want to remain a catechumen and continue to study and pray more before moving on towards baptism.
5. My fiancé(e) is Catholic. Do I need to become Catholic in order to get married in a Catholic church?
There is no requirement that one become Roman Catholic in order to get married in the Catholic church. Preparation for marriage might be a good time to think about how your fiancé(e)’s and your faith lives are going to be a part of your married relationship. But it is important to be aware of one’s own motivations and desires here. Becoming a Christian or a Catholic should be a result of your own discernment and wishes, not about the expectations or pressures of those around you. Exploring Christian initiation because you want to share your future spouse’s faith life more closely may be a good reason to look into the RCIA and RBCFC; entering an initiation process because someone else thinks that you should is not.
6. I’m not sure I agree with everything the Roman Catholic church teaches. Does that mean that I shouldn’t enter this process?
No, particularly with regard to inquiry. Inquiry is a time to simply come and see what the Catholic church has to offer in its witness to God in Christ, and there is never a time limit to inquiry. Further conversation with other inquirers and members of the Paulist Center community might help you to discern both the relative importance of various aspects of Catholic teaching, as well as how Catholic Christians in good conscience live authentic moral and spiritual lives. You may find that your difficulties are less serious than you thought, or that you have serious problems with crucial aspects of the Catholic faith. There will be various points to stop and discern the steps ahead in the process, and your relationships and conversations with members of the church, particularly your sponsor, will help you to make those judgments.
7. What about children who are not baptized?
This message of evangelization and welcome pertains to people of all ages, including “children of catechetical age” (7 to 18 years). The Rite calls for special adaptation so the local church community can meet the needs of these unbaptized children. For more information, please contact Susan Rutkowski.
8. Where do the RCIA and RBCFC meetings occur?
Almost all of the sessions for the RCIA and RBCFC occur at the Paulist Center, 5 Park Street, in Boston. It’s close by the T and fully accessible. Weekend masses and some sessions will occur in the downstairs chapel, while more regular sessions are held in the Center’s offices on the third and sixth floors. A daily schedule in the elevator always lists where any meetings are happening.
9. I work downtown, but live outside of the city. Can I only attend the sessions during the week?
Because the RCIA and RBCFC are periods of prayer and reflection, not classes, it’s important that you not only attend the meetings during the week, but also that you join the community in our weekend worship. The catechesis sessions, held weeknight evenings, and the weekend liturgies, are both integral parts of the process. If you are not going to be able to participate in our process, we may be able to help you find another RCIA or RBCFC program that might better fit your needs (e.g., a local parish that has catechesis immediately after their weekend masses).
10. How many people will be involved in this process?
The number of catechumens and candidates varies over time. You may end up working with a small group of people, or with only one other person. Numerous members of the community are involved in initiation in a number of capacities; some, like your sponsor or some of the catechetical leaders may meet with you quite regular, while others may only have a special role in your initiation once or twice.
11. I might have to miss some sessions for work and family commitments. Can I still be a candidate or catechumen?
Of course. While we take these processes seriously, and expect you will as well, we also know that life is bigger than the RCIA and RBCFC, and that these are busy times for most people. If you know that you might have a recurring conflict, a conversation can determine whether we might be able to accommodate you, or whether we would help you better by assisting you in finding another RCIA or RBCFC process.
Possible Unfamiliar Terms
12. What is an inquiry session?
Inquiry is a time of hospitality—when the local worship community extends a welcome to those who wish to know more about the Catholic faith. There is no commitment required of inquirers. Inquiry sessions typically last between an hour and ninety minutes, and will be conversations facilitated by one or more members of the initiation team. These sessions are a chance for members of the community and inquirers to get to know each other, for inquirers to share their questions, concerns, and hopes regarding initiation as well as Catholic Christianity as a whole. Often the facilitators will ask some questions to begin the conversation and to help inquirers think more about their interest in the Catholic church.
13. What is catechesis?
The word “catechesis” comes from a Greek root meaning “to echo.” Catechetical sessions are opportunities for catechumens and candidates to learn more about the content of the Catholic faith and, through their discussions, readings, and questions, to “echo back” the faith. Catechesis is not intended to make you a theologian, and catechetical sessions are not classes. At the same time, it’s important that you know and affirm what the Catholic church believes about God and God’s relations with us before making a public commitment to the faith.
14. What is a catechumen? What is a candidate?
Basically, catechumens are those heading towards Baptism through the RCIA, while candidates are Catholics or other baptized Christians completing their initiation in Confirmation and first Eucharist. The term “catechumen”, like “catechesis” above, comes from the Greek “to echo”, and is an ancient term used to describe those interested persons beginning to let the Christian faith reverberate in their own lives. While not yet full members of the Christian family, catechumens are considered part of the household, like a good friend or a close neighbor.
15. Is the Paulist Center Roman Catholic? Who are the Paulists?
The Paulist Center is a Roman Catholic chapel, (named the Chapel of the Holy Spirit), a ministry of the Paulist Fathers and a part of the Archdiocese of Boston. The Paulist Fathers are a religious institute of men founded in the late nineteenth century in the United States by Isaac Hecker. Some aspects of the Paulist Center community’s worship might seem different to you from other Catholic churches, which is a sign not of division, but of the wonderful diversity at work within the Roman Catholic church. The charisms of the Paulist Fathers – to evangelize in the North American context, to reconcile estranged or underappreciated Catholics within the church, and to promote ecumenical unity across ecclesial divisions – are great blessings to our community. More information on the Paulist Fathers is available at www.paulist.org.
16. What is “Breaking Open the Word”?
The Catholic Mass has two main elements, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the first, we gather to hear again the story of God’s actions on behalf of the people of Israel and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the second, we share a meal in which we believe that the risen Christ is really, sacramentally present in the consecrated bread and wine we share. It has been an ancient tradition of the church that catechumens are welcomed to the liturgy of the word, to hear about the Christian story, but that only baptized Christians be welcomed to the eucharistic table. At Sunday masses, then, catechumens will be ritually dismissed at the end of the liturgy of the word, sent off with prayers by the community to spend the remainder of the time reflecting together with a facilitator on the scriptures proclaimed in that week’s Mass.
While initiation is really the work of the entire Paulist Center community, we also recognize that it can be very helpful to have a particular person to touch base with regarding your questions and reflections, to introduce you to other members and ministries at the Center, and to be a spiritual “big brother or sister” during initiation (keeping in mind that your “older” sister or brother may be chronologically younger than you!) After getting to know you during inquiry, the sponsor coordinator will match you with a sponsor, based on your personality, your background, your concerns, or other factors that will help her or him to be a good guide and, hopefully, a new friend.
18. I was baptized Roman Catholic, but have been away from the Catholic church for many years. Is this the process for me?
- If you are a baptized Roman Catholic but have yet to receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist, you will be offered the necessary formation required as preparation for the reception of these Sacraments. This process generally takes places along with the Reception of Baptized Christians.
- If you are a baptized Roman Catholic who has received First Eucharist but not Confirmation, please contact Fr. Rick Walsh, CSP for more details.
19. When is the next inquiry session?
You can find information on all upcoming inquiry sessions on our inquiry page.
20. Who should I contact for more information?
Please contact Rick Walsh, CSP for more information. We welcome you to contact us with any less frequent questions you might have, more personal concerns, or to set up a meeting to begin your journey here at the Paulist Center!