Narratives, or stories, are one of the best ways of articulating any human experience. Whether baptized as an infant or coming to the waters of baptism for the first time as an adult, each story has a unique and special part in the journey of faith.
“The process of becoming Catholic is really all about storytelling and recognizing God’s grace,” said Timothy Johnston, director of the Office of Worship for the St. Cloud Diocese. “A person who is seeking to become Catholic is given the opportunity to share their experience of what is drawing them into the church, to name what it is happening in their lives that
is drawing them to Christ.
“At the same time, people from the parish community can provide a powerful witness by sharing stories of their experience of the movement of Christ in their lives.”
The catechist’s role is to begin to ask the harder questions based on individual stories, to draw out and help people articulate their experience. Often this questioning leads to formal entry into the church.
Each year as Lent begins, those who have decided to fully enter into the Catholic Church celebrate the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion.
This year’s Rite of Election will take place at 3 p.m. Feb. 14 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. Bishop Donald Kettler will preside.
Below are descriptions of the four stages of full initiation into the Catholic Church.
Words to know
Catechumen — The word catechumen has Greek origins meaning “to be instructed.” In the Catholic tradition, teachers of the faith are often called catechists, or “one who instructs.” When an unbaptized person wishes to become Catholic and begins the process, they are given the title of “catechumen.” At the Easter Vigil, catechumens receive the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.
Candidate — Sometimes adults who were baptized in another Christian tradition wish to become Catholic. Others who were baptized either as children in the Catholic tradition but did not receive the sacraments of confirmation or the Eucharist return to the Catholic Church to continue their formation. After discerning their desire to enter fully into the Catholic Church, they are given the title of “candidate.” Candidates receive further catechetical formation and prepare to receive the sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation. This is often celebrated along with the catechumens at the Easter Vigil but is not required.
Discernment — This is recognizing the movement of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. When considering becoming Catholic, the beginning of the discernment process means that you have considered your options, talked with friends, family, other Catholics and a priest, attended Mass and participated in the life of the church. If you are an unbaptized person and desire to study the Catholic faith in more detail, you are ready to enter the precatechumenate, or the first period of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. If you are already baptized, you are ready to discuss your continuing education with the parish you want to join. Oftentimes, catechumens and candidates are invited to share in the same formation and studies. As a candidate, it is up to you and the priest or catechist to decide the best path for you. Discernment is integral throughout the entire formation process for both candidates and catechumens.
Precatechumenate (Period 1)
In this stage, those who are unbaptized have felt the movement of the Holy Spirit and begin to seek the presence of Christ in their lives. This is often called the “inquiry stage.”
Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens (Step 1): This is where an unbaptized person publicly states that he or she is willing and ready to practice the skills that are necessary to become Christian.
Rite of Welcoming for Candidates: This step is for those who are already Christians. It was created to welcome candidates alongside catechumens receiving the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens.
Catechumenate (Period 2)
This is a period of formal catechesis and ongoing discernment between the individual, the catechist and team members. The narrative keeps being told. The catechumenate is ordinarily one full liturgical year, though it may be extended in certain circumstances. It includes Scripture study, prayer, liturgy and participation in parish life.
Rite of Election (Step 2): Once it is discerned between the pastor, the individual and the catechist that the person is ready to move forward, the person will publicly celebrate the Rite of Election.
“It is about the bishop naming what God has already done in their lives,” Johnston said. “It is tied into Israel, God’s chosen people. God elected them, drew them out of Egypt and made them his own. By making them his own, a covenant was formed. The Rite of Election is identifying that God has already chosen you by name; we announce it publicly and enroll your name into the Book of Elect.”
Call to Continuing Conversion for candidates: This step recognizes those adults who have already been baptized as Christians and now wish to profess their faith as members of the Catholic Church. These Christians are called to ongoing conversion as they prepare to complete their sacramental initiation. This is an optional step for candidates.
Period of Purification and Enlightenment (Period 3)
During this time the elect (formerly the catechumens) and the candidates enter into a period of intense preparation and prayer which includes the three public celebrations of the “scrutinies” and is marked by the presentations of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion are celebrated at the beginning of this stage. This period ends with the celebration of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
“This is a 40-day period of intense spiritual preparation for the sacraments of initiation. Not a time of catechesis,” Johnston said. “During this time, catechumens are meditating on the Word of God and recognizing all that is broken and wounded in order that it can be brought to light, prayed for, and the grace of God can heal and strengthen it so that one is ready to receive the sacraments of initiation.”
Three scrutinies: The three scrutinies take place on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent. The readings from the Gospel of John help the elect “scrutinize” their lives, to see where there is sin and to pray for the grace to overcome it. The three Gospel readings proclaimed are the woman at the well, which represents being filled with Jesus the Living Water; the story of the man born blind, which represents Jesus the Light of the World; and the raising of Lazarus, which represents the resurrection and the life. These three scrutinies show the progression in the elect’s desire for salvation (RCIA 143).
“These scrutinies are celebrated publicly before the entire community who can pray with the elect because they have struggled with the same thing,” Johnston said.
Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (Step 3): Each year during the Easter Vigil, thousands of people are baptized into the Catholic Church in the United States. Parishes welcome these new Catholics through the RCIA.
Period of Mystagogy (Period 4)
At this time, the newly initiated explore their experience of being fully initiated through participation with all the faithful at Sunday Eucharist and through appropriate catechesis. The period formally lasts through the Easter season.
“Mystagogy is a lifelong process, one that all Christians are called to. It is to deepen our sense of what it means to live the Christian life and enter more fully into the community,” Johnston said.
“I’m already Catholic. What is my role in the RCIA process?”
The role of the laity is to pray along with and for the people discerning becoming Catholic, to witness the Christian life. “It is kind of like a two-way street,” said Timothy Johnston, director of the diocese’s Office of Worship. “The community shares their stories of struggle, of difficulty, of grace and redemption. In the same way, those in formation help the faithful engage in their own call to continuing conversion.”
Timothy Johnston, diocesan director of the Office of Worship, contributed to this story.