Most people become Roman Catholic during their infancy. Parents and godparents participate in the sacrament of baptism during a Mass celebrated at their local parish church, and years later they remember this important entrance into their Christian faith only through photos taken at the time.
For adults, however, the process is quite different. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is a late 20th century adaptation of a tradition that dates from the 2nd century. It is a faith journey, which teaches about Jesus and the teachings of Catholicism, and culminates in making personal commitments while providing a support system to grow in faith and its practice.
Hollister’s Sacred Heart-St. Benedict Catholic Community offers this program every year. According to Sister Dolores Fenzel, the parish’s enthusiastic director of Adult Faith Formation, it has four parts:
• Inquiry begins in September, a chance for people to learn more about the Catholic Church’s history and teachings. Some participants were baptized as children but didn’t continue to practice their faith, others are engaged or married to Catholics and are considering joining them as members of their church, and others are attracted by the church’s stand on social issues or even the majesty of its liturgy. They meet weekly at the Pastoral Center and are addressed by parishioners and others who explain topics like Jesus, Mary, the Pope and the Gospels.
This stage lasts until the first Sunday of Advent (approximately four weeks before Christmas), when people discuss privately with Sister Dolores whether they want to continue this journey of faith.
• Stage Two is the Catechumenate, when they participate in a Rite of Acceptance as a means of expressing their desire to follow the way of Jesus. They attend Mass as a group but are dismissed after the homily to study scripture and the traditions and teachings of the Church. This is a time to discover the power of God in their lives.
• Stage Three is Purification and Enlightenment, beginning the first Sunday in Lent (approximately 40 days before Easter). They are presented to the Bishop, and he “elects” (chooses) them in Christ’s name. They receive intensive instruction and while supported by sponsors from the parish participate in rites of interior searching, known as “The Scrutinies.” On Holy Saturday, they attend the Easter Vigil where they are baptized (or received into the Church if they have been baptized previously, even if it was in another Christian tradition), confirmed and receive their first Holy Communion.
• The final stage is Mystagogia, when these “neophytes” (New Catholics) can now participate fully in the Mass, but still gather weekly to learn more about their faith, especially the many lay ministries which are now open to them for their participation. This last period lasts for 50 days, until the Feast of Pentecost. But this period of formation can continue for a year to help neophytes fully enter into the life of the Christian community.
The RCIA program was created during Vatican II, the period of reform of Catholicism lasting from 1962 to 1965. Since 1987 Sister Dolores has been involved in it at many levels.
“It is such a privilege to be able to share my faith and help others to deepen theirs as they become full members of the Body of Christ,” she said.
For more information, call her at 831-637-9212.
Chuck Flagg is a retired teacher with a passion for religion. Reach him at email@example.com.