Two Models of the RCIA

Inspired in part by discussion on the Anglican Ordinariate thread, it occurs to me that there are two dominant models according to which the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is understood and practiced.

In the first — let’s call it the Catechetical Model — the RCIA is primarily a process of catechesis ordered toward the intellectual and/or spiritual development of the participants. In this model, significant developmental milestones are marked ritually by the various ceremonies: the Rite of Welcoming, Rite of Sending/Election, etc.

In the second — let’s call it the Ritual Model — the RCIA is primarily a series of rites leading to Baptism and the function of catechesis is to prepare the catechumens to participate meaningfully in those rites.

In my experience, those who adhere to the Catechetical Model are more likely to see no problem with candidates for full communion and catechumens participating in the same catechetical process and are more likely to favor using the combined rites for candidates and catechumens and even, in some cases, having candidates participate in the scrutinies. After all, if they are going through the same catechesis, they should have the same milestone markers. Those who adhere to the Ritual Model tend to make a sharper distinction between candidates and catechumens, even having separate catechetical tracks where the resources for this are available, and perhaps being a bit looser about the amount of catechetical preparation needed before a baptized Christian participates in the rather minor ritual of reception into full communion.

I don’t think these models are mutually exclusive. In fact, it is probably good for an RCIA “team” to have members who incline toward different models. My own bias is toward the Ritual Model, but for a number of years I co-directed an RCIA program with someone who was much more inclined toward the Catechetical Model. I think we collaborated well and since his sudden death a little over a year ago I feel our program has been impoverished. But I think that one thing that enabled our fruitful collaboration was our awareness that we approached the RCIA differently.

My general sense is that the Catechetical Model has been dominant for the past few decades, but that the Ritual Model has been recently gaining ground. My own diocese has been strongly urging parishes not to initiate baptized Christians at the Easter Vigil but to find another occasion for their reception into the Church. This, it seems to me, reflects a view that the rites have a certain primacy over the catechetical process, so that participation in a common catechetical process should not necessarily imply participation in a common set of rites. It might even entail the view that different rites call for different processes of catechesis.

28 comments

  1. Thanks for pointing out the differences. I would tend in theory toward the ritual model but in practice the Catechetical model is what we use here and more so for convenience and simplification of the process of bringing baptized candidates into the full communion of the Church which in ritual could take place at any Mass during the year when such are deemed reasonable ready to do so.
    However, when using the combined rites, publicly we are very clear in making distinctions between the baptized and unbaptized and the reasons for it. In the south just as we have uncatechized Catholics so too do we have uncatechized protestants seeking full communion. Sometimes the unbaptized are more informed about the Catholic faith than those baptized in other denominations. And still further, those who are very churched in their own faith tradition but seeking full-communion need an extended time to absorb the Catholic faith and not make a rash judgment to join too soon only to discover later that they might have acted too hastily.
    At the same time though, I do take some of our baptized candidates independently of the RCIA process when I know for a fact that they have immersed themselves in the Catholic Church very well and for years sometimes, such as spouses of Catholics who attend Mass regularly and for quite some time. When both of us feel that it is appropriate to be received into the Full Communion of the Church, it is then celebrated either at a daily Mass or one of our Sunday Masses.
    Another point of interest is that last year at the Vigil we baptized 18 candidates, the most I’ve ever had. This year we only have 2 candidates for baptism but more baptized candidates than last year, so about the same total number of people.

  2. Why not see the process as valid for both those preaparing for Baptism, and those renewing Baptismal promises, which is certainly the focus of someone preparing for Confrimation, if that is the final rite of acceptance of full communion.

    But I do agree, as a non-RC, that full commuion with the Cathoic church is not the same moment as one’s Baptism.
    Some way for that to be honored can be found. I hope that the days of conditional baptsim with then a confession and conditional absolution are over.

    I have had Baptismal condidates and those preparing for Confirmation – including especialy adults “joining the Episcopal church” – at the Vigil; but the distinction must be made. In our church a priest does not Confirm, so that is put off for a week or so until there is a seasonal Confirmation at the cathedral. But both groups are together for the journey beforhand, and the adult converts who were baptised at the Vigil are also to be confirmed by the BIshop at the Easter-season service later.

  3. Fr many years, the Baptism and Confirmation of adults was such an integral part of our Easter Vigil that the notion of baptizing adults on any other date was shocking. Then again, this was in a small parish in a town where most people already knew each other. I recall reading somewhere, maybe here, of people who feel rejected when they approach the Church only to be told that they must wait until the program starts in September. As with all things liturgical, we can set a pattern as a starting point, but must be willing to adapt to circumstances. What is right and proper for this person may not be so for that person.

    I’d like to add – a balance/tension between two points of view often produces the richest experiences!

  4. I belong to a parish that has embraced what you call the catechetical model so thoroughly and for so long that I did not know that the ritual model existed. My first exposure to the RCIA was in the late 80s when as a young adult I served as a sponsor. It brought me to the Easter Vigil for the first time, and it was life-changing. I haven’t missed one since! Speaking as a person in the pew witnessing the sacraments at the vigil, I think the presence of both candidates and catechumens is meaningful. It is made very clear that they are different. Under the ritual model, do pastors have to obtain faculties to bring people into full communion during the year? It’s my understanding that other than at the Easter Vigil, the pastor has to obtain faculties from the archbishop to confirm. Correct? If candidates will be confirmed by pastors throughout the year, then I’d like to see pastors routinely confirm their own already-baptized parishioners as well, rather than having the bishop come in or going to the cathedral so that it could be a parish-focused celebration.

    1. When receiving a baptized candidate into the full communion of the Church and at any time during the year, the priest is allowed also to confirm. The same holds true for Catholics baptized as Catholics but never catechized as children or adults, i.e. never had any other sacrament.
      The only distinction that needs a bishop’s approval from what I understand is confirming a practicing Catholic who for whatever reason missed confirmation because of a particular need, such as their impending wedding. Our new bishop immediately gave us faculties to confirm in the instance of an upcoming wedding and the practicing Catholic is not confirmed.

      1. A colleague and I just grappled with this. (Oh! Frabjous day! Laity can now grapple with confusing documents like priests have done for centuries.) We concluded that the US national statutes call for priests to request faculties to confirm anyone who was baptized as a Catholic, unless they became a member of another Christian community after their baptism. So, catechized or not, the baptized Catholic can be confirmed only with the bishop’s approval.

        We await our pastor’s return from vacation to learn if we have got it right, though some of you may know better than I?

      2. No, priests do not automatically have the faculties to confirm baptized but never catechized Catholics. In fact in our diocese the bishop has expressly forbidden it.

  5. In 2008, I was pleased to land in a parish where candidates are not received at the Easter Vigil, where their participation in dismissal catechesis is optional, and where the rituals are celebrated generally when people are ready. We just welcomed two new catechumens this past Sunday. Baptism will likely be in 2013 for them.

    It’s a difficult blending, these two models, and many people with long experience in a parish struggle with a shift from a pragmatic model (perhaps more accurate than “catechetical”).

    It might be that so much difficulty surrounds mystagogia because pragmatic Americans are not used to book-learning after graduation.

  6. Thank you, Fritz, for your insightful thoughts. That is indeed a useful distinction.

    It seems to me that the lines become blurred precisely because those who in theory may not need to be subjected to the RCIA “catechetical” process nevertheless perceive such value in it that they want to be part of it. So, for example, although baptized non-catholic Christians do not need to be dismissed at the end of the Liturgy of the Word, my experience is that they all actually want to be dismissed along with the non-baptized. The reason for this is quite simple: they have grasped that one of the most valuable and wonderful parts of the whole RCIA process is the mutual breaking-open of the word that takes place in another place after the dismissal, and they do not want to miss out on it. Indeed, if the folks in the pews knew how rich and nourishing this time is, they would all be clamouring to be dismissed as well.

    And once they have journeyed alongside their non-baptized friends, they do not want to forsake them for their own journey, regardless of the theoretical norms which mean that they could or should do something different.

    For me, this means not only an opportunity to “top up” whatever catechesis they may or may not have had after their baptism, it also, and more importantly I think, gives them an opportunity to acquire the “Catholic ethos” by extended exposure to things which they need. In addition to doctrinal knowledge, they need to know how to be Catholic, what it feels like. When this does not happen, you have people who, for example, have been baptized Catholics but who, in spirit and ethos, remain Anglicans, because they have not realized that the feel of life in the Catholic Church is rather different from where they have come from. I even detect this in some contributors to this blog who, though Catholics, do not exhibit the same characteristics as “cradle Catholics”.

    It seems to me that this problem is likely to be exacerbated by the Ordinariate provision. I have met Ordinariate folks who are just as Catholic as I am, but I have also met many who have never really become Catholic except in name. The same applies to those folks who have short-circuited RCIA because they were already baptized.

    Which brings us neatly back to the other thread about the Ordinariate also being for Anglicans who have already been received into full communion.

    1. Is there a “Catholic ethos” that other Christians should learn?

      As a catechist I struggle with that all the time. I think the differences in models really reflect a difference on this question: do we train them to be like us, or to enrich us with their differences. I lean heavily to the latter, though there are times that call for a distinctively Catholic viewpoint. (I am often surprised by these, as when someone offers that th OT has an angrier, more vengeful God. Do I learn or contradict?)

      The purpose of the Ordinariate is undoubtedly to bring Anglican spirit and ethos into our Catholicism, to enrich us, rather than to make easier for us to indoctrinate them with our ethos.

    2. Thank you, Fritz, for your insightful thoughts. That is indeed a useful distinction.
      It seems to me that the lines become blurred precisely because those who in theory may not need to be subjected to the RCIA “catechetical” process nevertheless perceive such value in it that they want to be part of it. So, for example, although baptized non-catholic Christians do not need to be dismissed at the end of the Liturgy of the Word, my experience is that they all actually want to be dismissed along with the non-baptized. The reason for this is quite simple: they have grasped that one of the most valuable and wonderful parts of the whole RCIA process is the mutual breaking-open of the word that takes place in another place after the dismissal, and they do not want to miss out on it. Indeed, if the folks in the pews knew how rich and nourishing this time is, they would all be clamouring to be dismissed as well.
      And once they have journeyed alongside their non-baptized friends, they do not want to forsake them for their own journey, regardless of the theoretical norms which mean that they could or should do something different.
      For me, this means not only an opportunity to “top up” whatever catechesis they may or may not have had after their baptism, it also, and more importantly I think, gives them an opportunity to acquire the “Catholic ethos” by extended exposure to things which they need. In addition to doctrinal knowledge, they need to know how to be Catholic, what it feels like.

      Paul, I hope you forgive me bumping this a few days late (I’ve been away from a computer.) I must admit, as I read this post and knowing that you are an Englishman, I thought to myself, “It sounds like he is about to say he is uncomfortable with the Ordinariate.” Then I read on, and my worst fears were confirmed! 🙂 (cont. below)

      1. If RCIA programs in the US were more scripturally-based and had an attitude like you mention, I would be much more positive about them. However, a pastor often has to delegate the process to someone who doesn’t have a firm grounding and who makes the process more an ideology course than anything else.

        Regarding Anglicans, how much should they be conformed if they are entering the Church? I don’t know. We should be very distinct, I believe, if we expect them to change to a “Roman Catholic” sensibility, if there is such a thing. What about Byzantines, or even Maronites? There is a tendency in Catholicism, for better or worse, to “Latinize” even when it is not intended. I realize the ordinariate is under the jurisdiction of the Latin Church, but on the other hand, we would hate to stifle an expression of the Holy Spirit by bringing the ordinariate into conformity with what we think it “means to be Catholic”.

  7. It’s strange to read about all this. I went through RCIA as someone not before a Christian. I don’t remember much of what I was taught – I remember more the relationships with my sponsor and the others in the group. I came away with the feeling that I had learned a bit about the Catholic Church but not really anything about how to have a relationship with God.

  8. Fritz,

    I am grateful for your remarks. They help me clarify my thinking, which can get lost on paths of its own making.

    The only point that bothers me is you description of.the ritual model: “the RCIA is primarily a series of rites leading to Baptism.” That should read “leading to the Eucharist.” I know many think of it in terms of baptism, but the ultimate goal is the Eucharist, and while there are only two rites after baptism, they are important: Confirmation and Eucharist.

    A lot of confusion comes in here. The rites leading to Baptism & Eucharist are the first chapter of the RCIA. Later chapters discuss how to bring people to the Eucharist if they already have been baptized, depending on age, level of catechesis, etc. Though those later chapters do not contain many rites, they are still part of the RCIA because they complete initiation by bringing people to the Lord’s table.

    1. Well, I think it is important to clarify that first the RCIA is a rite of the church originally intended for the unbaptized ( Part I). In this case, baptism confirmation and Eucharist is celebrated as one event of initiation at the Easter Vigil. Secondly, Part II of the RCIA consists of adaptations for use in the United States.

      In addition, care needs to be taken with how we welcome baptized Christians into Full Communion of the Catholic Church. We need to be very intentional on the distinction between catechumens and the baptized. We should not welcome the already baptized at the Easter Vigil. We can do this anytime, (according to their need), throughout the year. In this regard, combined rites are awkward and in my opinion do not work well. They confuse the assembly. I never use them.

      The National Statues found in the back of the rite book give good guidelines on this. (In my experience far too many involved with this ministry have never read them).

      1. Are you saying that the chapters on children of a catechetical age, uncatechized adults, etc are adaptations for the US?

        I understand initiation as Baptism, Confirmation and first Eucharist, and anyone who receives those is being initiated. The ideal is that they receive all three at the Easter Vigil, but the reality is that many years can happen between them. I thought the rite addressed the issue in the later chapters, but now you have me wondering.

        The Easter Vigil should be for those being baptized but there are good reasons for welcoming others during our most solemn celebration. It is a powerful catechesis on the meaning of initiation. But I suppose it is that power which makes it problematic. Luckily I do not have to make those decisions. If it were up to me, I’d probably have most candidates catechizing rather than being catechized.

      2. Please allow me to clarify the above comment: Part II of the RCIA consists of adaptations of Part I and some additional texts for use in the United States.

  9. Conservative Protestantism is growing in this country, perhaps because 71% of Conservative Protestants say they have tried to spread the faith compared to only 43% of Mainline Protestants. Since 65% of Conservative Protestants report a “born again” experience, I presume initiation is not a long or elaborate process for them. Maybe I am wrong? For Conservative Protestants it seems rather easy to suggest to other people that they “commit themselves to Christ.”

    On the other hand we Catholics seem to love creating bureaucratic procedures for Baptism, First Eucharistic, and Confirmation. Even for weddings. If a non-Catholic had ever asked me how to become a Catholic, I guess I would explain that we have all these bureaucratic procedures and that I would check out what the local options were in the surrounding parishes.

    If a non-Catholic were ever to ask me what Catholicism was about, I guess I would ask them if they have ever been to Mass, but I would have to be honest that at many parishes the Mass is not done very well, and would probably take them to a variety of parishes if they had not been to Mass.

    Catholicism is in fact a very complex entity of very different people, institutions, and cultures, so there are many ways of being a Catholic. While I have often shared my religious interests with people at work, who know I am Catholic, and think I know more about Catholicism than most priests whom they have met, my Catholicism (e.g. Divine Office) is very different from that of most Catholics. What other people might find helpful in Catholicism is likely to be very different from what I find helpful.

    It seems to me that whether the RCIA is seen as ritual or “catechesis” it needs to reflect the diversity of Catholicism, especially if it wishes average, and even not so average Catholics to help spread Catholicism.

  10. I should have mentioned this in my post above – I don’t understand the concept “Two Models.” The RCIA brings liturgy and catechesis together better than anything else we do. Keep in mind, historically, liturgy and catechesis were intimately connected. Theoretically linked today, in practice they remain divided. The relationship between catechesis and liturgy was something the early reformers, for example Virgil Michel,worked to regain. And, we are still struggling with this today. Moreover, the RCIA does it well (see RCIA #75), and in my opinion we are on a slippery slope if we look at two models of RCIA.
    Catechesis is directly related to the liturgical life of the church. As a matter of fact someone once wrote: liturgy and catechesis are two sides of the same coin.

    1. Donna,

      My remark was more descriptive than prescriptive. I did not mean that there are two models of RCIA and people should be free to choose between them. I meant that in my experience people tend to think of the RCIA as either 1) catechesis supported by liturgical rites or 2) liturgical rites supported by catechesis. I agree with you that ideally the RCIA brings catechesis and rite together, but in practice folks seem to think of that coming together in different ways.

      1. Yes, I do see your point and have experienced much the same; however, that is precisely the danger. We need to work hard at helping RCIA coordinators and teams to understand the ideal and put it into practice. It is about time!
        Thanks!

  11. While I would agree in principle that those baptized in other Christian communions should not be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil, the fact remains that in the Adaptation of having both, there is a ritual at the back of the RCIA ritual for the USA that has the combined rites for the Easter Vigil. The same holds for the Scruntinies, there is a form for the Second Sunday of Lent for those who are baptized. The third, fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent are Scruntinies for the unbaptized. So combining is permitted for the rituals of Lent and the Easter Vigil, but very well might need to be reformed as a part of the reform of the reform we are now experiencing. Does anyone have any insight on that? Of course this Easter Vigil if I only baptized the two catechumens we have and receive the other 30 at another time, not only will that make our Easter Vigil more manageable in terms of the Sacraments of initiation, but it will empty out the Church as fewer will attend the Vigil, although we have a dedicated group who come each year.

    1. Yes, the combined rites are there and we can technically use them; however, experience has taught us otherwise. There is some good insight into this issue in the “National Statutes for the Catechumenate.” In the LTP edition of the RCIA they start on page 363. Pay special attention to # 33.

    2. The parish with the sung EP usually baptizes and receives about a half dozen people total but fills their large church. I arrive about an hour before Mass for my favor seat, the church is full by about 20-30 minutes before hand.

      Last year I went to a nearby parish with a larger size congregation of people which also baptized and received about a half dozen total. They did not fill their church; in fact it was like a spotty regular vigil Mass. I could have arrived 15 minutes early for my favorite seat.

      While the EP church always has better liturgies than the nearby church; in this case the Easter Vigil was not that much inferior at the nearby church. Perhaps the EP church’s reputation attracts people who like long liturgies.

      Many parishes now baptize infants individually during the regular Sunday Mass, so I do not see why we should not receive people individually into full communion during a regular Sunday Mass. In some cases these people have come to church for years with a spouse.

      Augustine Thompson Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes 1125-1325 reports that infant baptisms for the year for the city were done at the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral! Can you imagine that! Certainly one way to get a crowd at the Easter Vigil.

      Of course these were done in a separate elaborate octagonal baptistery (fonts for both adult and infant baptism) which was considered the religious and civic womb of the city. There was an elaborate procession into the Cathedral.

  12. Years ago I stopped using the combined rites at the Easter Vigil because I realized that the Vigil is all about the celebration of the Easter sacraments with and for the catechumens. I moved the reception into full communion rite to Holy Thursday, although I also receive candidates at other times of the year as well. If there are twelve I begin after the homily by washing their feet and then moving on to the profession of faith and confirmation. It is effective and well received.

  13. I understand in the Revised Translation of the Roman Missal there is an extended vigil for Pentecost. This might be a good option for welcoming people into full communion.

    1. Why would this be a good time? “Wait until we are finished with our high celebration, with fifty days of the excitement of Easter, and then we will get to you”? It attaches too much importance to Confirmation, and not enough to the Eucharist as the culminating act if initiation.

      I like the idea of Holy Thursday for the opposite reason. Some might be inclined to identify it with the traditional reconciliation of penitents, which might not be such a good thing, but at least it lets the candidates join us for Triduum and Easter, which is the point of joining us to begin with.

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