Adult Initiation

Some readers may be aware of, even have experienced, what happened in the past when adults wanted to join the Roman Catholic Church.

They were required to participate in a program of private instruction with the parish priest, consisting of a set number of weekly ‘lessons’ on Catholic doctrine. After the instructions were completed, the ‘convert’ was initiated through baptism (if necessary) and confirmation in a private ceremony with only the celebrant and one sponsor present. This could happen at any time of the Liturgical Year.

Attempts to reform this process and bring it more into line with the initiation practice of the early church had been made as early as the 16th century, but without much success.

The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which set out the principles for the reform of all the liturgical rites, had this to say about adult initiation:
“The catechumenate for adults, divided into several stages, is to be restored. By this means the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of well-suited instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.” (#64)
This envisaged something quite different from the existing ‘instruction’ program. The process of initiation was to be a gradual journey, with liturgical rites celebrated at various stages along the way. Catechesis was to be ‘well-suited’, that is, tailored to the needs of the individual - no ‘one-size-fits-all’ any longer!

After the Council, experimental drafts of a rite for adult initiation were issued in 1966 and 1969. These eventually led to the promulgation of the Latin text of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in 1992. A provisional English translation issued by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) in 1974 was subsequently adopted by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

“The rite of Christian initiation presented here is designed for adults who, after hearing the mystery of Christ proclaimed, consciously and freely seek the living God and enter the way of faith and conversion as the Holy Spirit opens their hearts. “ (RCIA #1)

“The initiation of catechumens is a gradual process that takes place within the community of the faithful.” (RCIA #4)
“The rite of initiation is suited to a spiritual journey of adults that varies according to the many forms of God’s grace, the free cooperation of the individuals, the action of the Church, and the circumstances of time and place.” (RCIA #5)

These quotes from the introduction to the RCIA indicate the new approach to adult initiation. It is seeker-centred, God-driven, and focused on conversion rather than knowledge. The process is gradual, public, involves the whole community, includes both catechesis and ritual, and requires prayerful discernment at various stages.
The sacraments of initiation “are celebrated at the Easter Vigil and the rite of election takes place on the First Sunday of Lent”. (RCIA #17)

The parish of Goodna in Brisbane piloted the revised catechumenate in 1980, so this year marks 25 years since its implementation in the archdiocese. To mark the occasion, the Community of St Francis Xavier, Goodna is holding a Silver Jubilee Celebration of the RCIA next Sunday (23 October) at 2pm to which everyone is invited. (RSVP 3818 0111, goodna@bne.catholic.net.au)

Elizabeth Harrington