U.S. National Statutes for the Catechumenate: Update

At the October national meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions in Illinois, Bishop Mark Seitz (bishop of El Paso TX, alum of St. John’s School of Theology-Seminary) gave reassurance that the U.S. adaptations for the RCIA are not endangered.

To back up a bit: In 1986, the U.S. bishops decreed that the National Statutes for the Catechumenate should govern the catechumenate in the U.S. (The National Statutes can be found in Appendix III of the RCIA Ritual Book.)

These statutes decree, among other things, that

  • the catechumenate should extend for at least one year (6);
  • the program for the newly-baptized should extend a year after their baptism, including at least monthly meetings of the neophytes (24);
  • it is preferable that reception into full communion not take place at the Easter Vigil (33);
  • the term “convert” is reserved strictly for those converting from unbelief and is never used of baptized Christians of other traditions becoming Catholic (2);
  • those already baptized in another tradition should not be treated as or called catechumens (30);
  • for those received into full communion the priest is obliged to confirm them, and they may not be admitted to eucharist before confirmation.

Bishop Seitz said this to the FDLC assembly:

RCIA is not a flash in the pan, because the Christian life is not a flash in the pan…

I understand that there may be some concerns among some individuals that our U.S. adaptations for the RCIA may not be renewed. Let me speak to that briefly. As far as my understanding goes, those concerns are without foundation, and what is more, the U.S. bishops believe firmly in the RCIA model that we have in the United States are are eager to see it ocntinue. Your help in reviewing the National Statutes for the Catechumenate and other aspects of the Rite itself is an important part of ensuring that the good work being done with the RCIA in our country will continue. Thank you in advance for your engagement and consultation during these days. We want to hear your voices on this topic, and I personally look forward to engaging with you over it in the coming days.

From: Newsletter of the Committee on Divine Worship of the USCCB, October 2014, p. 38.



  1. I suppose it is up to each bishop, and each pastor, to oversee the implementation of the RCIA. I have never served in a parish with a strong RCIA program, as these are the exception rather than the norm here in the midwest. The norm here is for 9-month classroom model, one size fits all, catechumens and candidates lumped together, bungled rites of initiation, and no mystagogy. That’s for the places that even have something resembling RCIA-many parishes still have private instruction with the priest in his office. Moreover, I believe most pastors around here have no inkling that there’s anything wrong with these approaches.

  2. One thing I very much would like to see go is the “combined rites.” The RCIA is spot on to demand that we recognize the enormous theological difference between catechumens and candidates, while the option to lump them together in the same rites – especially and most unfortunately at the Easter Vigil – strongly opposes that distinction.

    I’m not even a fan of the adapted rites for candidates (rite of welcome, rite of sending, etc.) to begin with. To me it’s not enough that any ‘offending language’ concerning the path to baptism is excised. If the symbols are the same, we are doing the same thing. So if we really mean for baptism, as opposed to past (non-)practice of the faith, to be the key distinction, we need rites that more holistically convey that all important ontological distinction.

  3. I get the theological reasons for the separation of the baptized and unbaptized but pastoral concerns may warrant a closer tie. Many baptized are in the same practical position as the unbaptized. They may need the same catechisis. It makes sense for them to attend the same classes and the limited parish resources may require it. Then at the Easter Vigil, the summit of the liturgical year, the baptized sit on the sidelines unable to join their fellow classmates and unable to receive Communion. It’s like they’re missing graduation and just getting their diploma in the mail.

    1. @John Mann – comment #4:
      University of Notre Dame campus ministry addresses this issue (catechumens and candidates who have shared the same process) by receiving the candidates into full communion a few weeks BEFORE the Vigil (the 5th Sunday of Lent). One might argue that such a celebration fits poorly with the character of the season, but then by all means just receive them the Sunday before Lent begin. The books aren’t picky – beyond preferring Sunday, most any day will do . . . except the Easter Vigil.

  4. I see the newsletter will not be released on line for three months.
    Alas for those of us who are not subscribers. Was the whole talk printed?

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #5:
      Typically, the staff posts well after the notional deadline indicated on the USCCB website. I take from their practice that there’s nothing in the newsletter that the staff is actually eager for the public to know. I understand the tariff arrangement, but were I actually trying to push information out for use, I would abandon the current model.

  5. One of the key elements in the present National Statutes, that many have worried might be endangered, because some individual bishops have not seen fit to enforce it, is the provision for children of catechetical age.

    Specifically, that when children of catechetical age are baptized, they are confirmed at the same time, as the rite asks — even if they are below the usual age of Confirmation in that diocese.

    We have such a crazy system of delayed Confirmation that this has been a source of tension in ministering to child catechumens and their families. Sadly, in many instances, the National Statutes have been ignored and the child not confirmed — despite the ritual text, despite the National Statutes, despite everything. If the bishops really are going to back up the principles of the rite, they need to unite around this as well, and not sacrifice it to pressures for delayed Confirmation.

  6. Scott Pluff : The norm here is for 9-month classroom model

    Scott, I suspect that the parishes in your area, and everywhere the classroom model is in place, are not even engaging in a 9-month process. Many parishes (sadly) celebrate the Rite of Acceptance on the First Sunday of Advent. This year, that is on November 30, 2015. Most classroom-model processes shut down for the two weeks before Christmas and the week after. The period of the catechumenate ends on the First Sunday of Lent, which is February 22, 2015. That means that parishes claiming to have a 9-month process are meeting about eight times for formation sessions. Even if they throw in “catch-up classes” in Lent, they would then have only about 12 to 13 weeks of formation. Most of these classroom-style parishes have no effective mystagogy, but let’s add in another two weeks anyway. So 15 weeks is about it. Nothing close to 9 months, and certainly nothing resembling a period “long enough–several years if necessary–for the conversion and faith of the catechumens to become strong” (RCIA 76).

  7. Since that directive was written I began welcoming candidates to the table (after professing their faith and being Chrismated) on Holy Thursday. They return to the Vigil as witnesses of the baptisms of those they received formation with. Following the Vigil we have a fabulous reception for all the newly initiated. Oh yes, we wash their feet too.

  8. Just a simple clarification, the National Meeting of the Federation of Liturgical Commissions took place in Lombard, IL, about 15 minutes from O’Hare Airport. I was there. Just trying to bring more truth to these postings.

    1. @Gene Vavrick – comment #11:

      The meeting was notable for two very fine talks by Ron Lewinski and Paul Turner. It was worth being there for these alone.
      The first has just been published in the latest FDLC Bulletin (released yesterday) and it is to be hoped that the second will follow soon.

  9. I would like to point out that the RCIA is no a program! It is a Sacramental Process with a specific agenda to bring an inquirer into understanding of the Roman Catholic Christian way of life. This is accomplished through catechesis (formal training, but done in an informal, question and answer style), which prepares the seeker (inquirer) for the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, if necessary; Eucharist; Confirmation.

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