RCIA Network of England & Wales

supporting the journey of faith

10 Principles of RCIA

  1. God is at work
  2. Jesus —  at the heart of the process
  3. How the Church welcomes new members
  4. Growing in faith takes time
  5. Catechumens
    — becoming apprentice disciples of Christ
  6. The responsibility of the whole Community
  7. Accompanying the journey as faithful witnesses — Sponsors & Godparents
  8. Supporting the journey — the Team
  9. Understanding the Rite — adapting the model
  10. Transformation is ongoing

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10 Principles of RCIA

1. God is at work

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is about individuals who respond to God’s grace in their lives and guided by the Holy Spirit enter a journey of faith within the community of the Church.

2. Jesus — at the heart of the process

Faith grows as they learn more about Jesus through: encounters with faithful witnesses who can speak about their relationship with him, an introduction to the story of the Gospels. As they get to know Jesus they recognise what the ‘light of the world’ has to offer the areas darkness in their lives and so are called to conversion.

3. How the Church welcomes new members

RCIA is a rite of the Church. It is a liturgical rite, a book that provides both liturgical texts and guidance on the formation offered. It is the normative way that adults become members of the Church through the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist) at Easter Vigil. It uses a variety of terms which are not part of everyday speech. For example as individual journeys through the Rite they are called by different names to reflect their changing status: enquirer, catechumen, elect, neophyte.

4. Growing in faith takes time

To prepare for the Sacraments of Initiation the Rite has a series of Periods and Steps which reflect the growth in faith of the individual.

It begins with the Period of Evangelisation when the enquirer seeks to articulate what they are searching for and they first hear the Gospel. The first Step is the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate.

The Period of the Catechumenate is when the catechumen discovers what it means to be a follower of Christ within the Christian community. The second step is the Rite of Election on the First Sunday of Lent.

The Period of Purification and Enlightenment is a time of preparation for baptism during the season of Lent. The third Step is the Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.

The final part is the Period of Mystagogy during the 50 days of the Easter season which reflects on the experience of the Sacraments and the place of the neophyte within the community.

There is no fixed time limit on the first two periods. They take as long as is needed by the individual; often more than a year. The latter two periods are tied to the liturgical year and the celebration of Easter reflecting the paschal character of the rite.

5. Catechumens — becoming apprentice disciples of Christ

The Period of the Catechumenate is the longest period of the journey of faith. In it the Catechumen (from the Greek for one who listens and learns) becomes an apprentice disciple. Formation is offered in four strands of catechesis:

  • an understanding of the faith of the Church,
  • fruitful participation in the liturgy,
  • an integration into the life of the local Church,
  • a witness to faith through Christian living.

The Catechumenate is about learning the habits of faithful disciples which include the use of the scriptures of Sunday Mass as a guide and an inspiration.

6. The responsibility of the whole Community

The whole parish is called to deepen its love and knowledge of Jesus Christ and to share this with the wider world. The community has a key role in the RCIA: through simple acts of love and witness members can bring people to the Church, through prayer for catechumens they can offer support, through participation in the celebrations of the liturgy they can be sign of the presence of Christ, through a willingness to respond they can become sponsors and godparents.

7. Accompanying the journey as faithful witnesses
— Sponsors and Godparents

The Rite distinguishes between a Sponsor who accompanies the Enquirer up to the Rite of Acceptance and a Godparent who accompanies them as Catechumens to the Easter Vigil and beyond. These roles can be taken by the same person but do not have to be.

At the heart of both roles is the call to be a witness. A witness through example, friendship and support of what it means to ‘practise the Gospel’. A witness through the testimony they offer of the Enquirer or Catechumen’s faith and hope.

8. Supporting the journey — the Team

To support Catechumens on their journey of faith there will be times to explore and discover how to become apprentice disciples through faith, liturgy, life and witness. These times will be led and shared by a team which will often include the parish priest, catechists and others. The team will have different roles and different members may take the lead depending the strand being explored. Some members may have a responsibility for hospitality; others for preparing and leading prayer.

9. Understanding the Rite — adapting the model

The Church understands the RCIA to provide the model for all sacramental catechesis. Many of these 10 principles could be applied to other groups.

The Rite itself provides guidance on how it might be adapted in the following circumstances:

  • The Sacramental Initiation of Children of Catechetical Age — how the Church welcomes those who have not been baptised aged 7 and above.
  • Uncatechised Catholic Adults who have not been Confirmed.
  • Those baptised into other Denominations who wish to be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church.

In considering these different groups the text presupposes a good understanding of the Rite itself. By providing adaptations it recognises that different circumstances and needs might be responded to in different ways. For example, the Rite encourages that those to seeking Full Communion are received when they are ready rather than necessarily wait until Easter.

10. Transformation is ongoing

The Catechumenate was restored to the Church following the Second Vatican Council and the current English edition of the Rite became mandatory in 1988. We are still learning how to implement the Rite and ‘do’ the Catechumenate. In some sense this has got easier, for example, the number of adults who are unbaptised has steadily grown in the last 25 years. This changing landscape means that we need to continually re-visit the Rite and these principles to see if we are imposing our programme onto people rather than supporting their response to God’s call in their lives.

From the work of RCIA Network there are a number of areas of the Rite that we need to continue to develop best practice:

  • The distinctiveness of the different periods.
  • The breadth of formation required by the Catechumenate.
  • Supporting the journey throughout the year rather than according to September–Easter timetable.
  • Distinguishing between those who seek full initiation and those who are already baptised.

To be called to be witnesses to Christ and to share in someone’s journey of faith is an enormous privilege and encouragement.

Glory be to him whose power, working in us,
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine;
glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church,
and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.  [Eph 3:20-21]