Explainer: What Is Happening with the RCIA?

This post has been adapted from a November 13 communication to diocesan RCIA leaders from Diana Macalintal, co-director of Team RCIA, and is offered here with her kind permission.

If you were watching the livestream of the Fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, you saw that the morning’s agenda included a vote on the proposed English translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (to be called the “Order of Christian Initiation of Adults” in the new text).

I won’t leave you hanging: The Bishops voted to approve the translation. But there’s a lot more that needs to happen before we get a new book into the hands of our parishes and communities. Here’s a summary of points that may be useful when people ask you if there’s a “new RCIA.”

First, some background on the translation process in general:

·        A ritual text is first presented to the worldwide church in Latin. This text is called the editio typica, or typical edition. (The editio typica of the RCIA was first presented in 1972.)

·        For English-speaking countries, translations of the editio typica are prepared by ICEL, the International Committee on English in the Liturgy.

·        ICEL presents a first draft of an English translation to the conference of bishops in each English-speaking country. That first draft is called the “Green Book.” Members of each bishops’ conference review the Green Book and can submit recommendations for changes to ICEL.

·        ICEL takes the recommendations from the bishops and creates a second draft, called the “Gray Book.” This is the final draft in the translation process. The Gray Book is what the US Bishops voted on today.

·        The approved Gray Book is sent to the Vatican, along with any requested adaptations from each bishops’ conference. If the Vatican gives its confirmation (confirmatio) and recognition (recognitio), the text is then called the “White Book,” which becomes the official translation for English publications of that ritual.


Second, some background on the first English translation of the RCIA for the USA:

·        When a new translation is published for a country, it typically follows the ordering of paragraphs and sections found in the original Latin text. However, the current translation of the RCIA that we have been using in the US since 1988 is different.

·        In the editio typica of the RCIA, all the notes (or praenotanda) are grouped together, while all the rites follow. The English-speaking bishops conferences asked to rearrange the paragraphs for the English translation so that the notes for each period and its rites directly precede that specific set of rites. This inevitably changed the numbering of the paragraphs. (In your current edition of the RCIA, you’ll see tiny numbers in the right margins, indicating the corresponding Latin edition paragraph numbers.) Many RCIA ministers have found this rearrangement to be very useful.

·        The US Bishops also asked the Vatican for permission to include additional rites and supplementary texts in the USA edition. These are, namely, the optional rites for the baptized (Part II, section 4), the combined rites (Appendix I), and the National Statutes for the Catechumenate (Appendix III).


The bishops’ vote and what it means for us:

·        The official wording of the vote taken was: “Do the Latin Church members of the USCCB approve the ICEL Gray Book translation of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults as the base text for a future edition of this rite for use in the dioceses of the United States of America?” The US Bishops voted 217 Yes; 3 No; and 3 Abstain.

·        In light of the history of the RCIA in this country, the US bishops have decided to use a two-stage process for this new translation. The first stage began in May, 2018, when the US bishops received the Gray Book for their review, and it concluded today with their approval of it.

·        Now in the second stage, the bishops will look at rearranging the paragraphs and sections to correspond with the current edition. Also, they will decide on adding or revising supplementary texts for use in the USA, including optional rites for the baptized, combined rites, and the National Statutes.

·        Two other US Bishops committees will participate in this second stage of work: the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance and the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

·        Once the work of these committees is completed, possibly in a year or two, the US Bishops will do a final vote on the rearrangement, adaptations, and additional texts of the OCIA for the USA.

·        If the US Bishops approve that final form, it, along with the Gray Book translation, will be submitted to the Vatican for its confirmation and recognition. Once that is received, publishers in the US will be able to print new editions of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults.

·        Finally, if the US Bishops continue their recent pattern of releasing new English translations of rituals with a corresponding USA Spanish translation (which itself will have its own approval process), we might guess that this entire process could take more than just a few years to complete.

3 comments

  1. Many thanks for this clear explanation!

    Re: Spanish: I happened to be part of a group that met with our bishop last night. He mentioned that Hispanic Catholics comprise about 50% of the Catholics in the United States now, and more than 50% in my archdiocese (Chicago).

  2. I suspect that percentage is highly speculative. The number of Hispanic immigrants identifying as Catholics is on the decline. In my parish we have hundreds of households–including 300 with Hispanic surnames–who are, at best, marginal in their practice of the faith.

    1. You are correct.

      I live in NYC and most of the Hispanics I know today are either unbaptized or, if devout, they are Pentecostal Christians.

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