While some see the RCIA as radical and revolutionary, others see it as a breath of fresh air being initiated by the Holy Spirit.
In the not distant past, adults who wanted to become Catholic went through six weeks of "convert classes" and were usually baptized quietly on a Sunday afternoon in a empty church with a few relatives present. The following Sunday these new Catholics received their first Holy Communion with little or no awareness by the community that they were now a part of the family.
With this approach, which unfortunately still exists in many Catholic churches today, the priest was often the only member of the parish community with whom the converts came in contact. Of course this created a very limited and narrow experience of Church for the new convert. It also caused many to feel very much alone and isolated when they joined the community.
When we welcome someone into our home, it is usually with a warm heart, inviting spirit, and an outward gesture such as a handshake or hug. The initiation of adults is about welcoming new members into our Christian family and therefore it must take place in community.
An effective and vibrant RCIA involves many church ministries such as sponsors, catechists, liturgists, spiritual advisors, clergy, musicians and prayer. However, EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MINISTERING TO THESE CANDIDATES AND CATECHUMENS ON THEIR JOURNEY OF FAITH.
This approach of welcoming adults into our church is not new, it dates back to the early years of the Church. However, by the beginning of the fifth century, the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) became three separate Sacraments celebrated at separate times.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults(RCIA) as practiced in the early church became like dinosaurs - extinct.
In 1972 after nearly a decade of study and research, the Revised RCIA was published and once again became an integral part of Church's sacramental life.
The RCIA is a process and to see it as anything else such as a program does damage to the Rite. Programs do not cause conversion, God does. Conversion takes time and requires a change of heart and attitudes. There is nothing automatic about this process because it is lifelong. There must be a balance of theology from above and theology from below. Head and heart, knowledge and experience.
Although RCIA involves instruction in the facts, teachings, and doctrine of the Church, it also stresses the need for a living experience of Church and not just knowledge about the Church. RCIA is at the heart of evangelization. It is not just for the converts but for the whole Church. Open the doors, turn on the lights and everyone is invited as we celebrate together our journey to discover the risen Jesus.
Glenn Harmon © 2002