Many parishes blessed with an RCIA program will choose this weekend to hold the Rite of Acceptance, a significant moment in the faith journey of those discerning entry into the Catholic Church.
This brief ritual sees inquirers in the RCIA – the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – stand with their sponsors before the parish community to declare their interest in proceeding with their journey of faith.
During the rite, inquirers are asked what they seek of God’s Church, to which they reply, “faith.” The celebrant follows up by asking what faith offers, to which the inquirers reply, “eternal life.”
Sponsors and those gathered in the church are then asked to offer their support to those seeking to enter the Church.
Once the rite takes place, participants are no longer known as inquirers, but as catechumens. With this step, they move into what is known as the Period of the Catechumenate, during which the instruction and support they receive intensifies. (For those who enter the program already baptized, there is a similar ceremony known as the Rite of Welcoming. Some parishes hold both at once. After the rite, those already baptized are known as candidates.)
As an RCIA co-ordinator, I find the rite extremely moving and often surprising. Sometimes it is the cynic in the group who steps forward with eyes brimming with tears, moved by the commitment that is being made. Others state their desire to proceed with a mile-wide grin, eager to immerse themselves deeper into the ways of faith.
By this point in the year, both the members of the RCIA group and the members of the RCIA team have spent a fair amount of time together, and a bond has been formed that deepens the sense of celebration.
What strikes me especially, however, is the goodwill demonstrated as the congregation offers their applause in support of the new catechumens and candidates. More than a social nicety, that applause signals the community’s willingness to offer prayers and support for those pondering the Catholic Church.
So often, we see conversion as an individual act, but the entry of even one person to the Church involves all of us as a community of faith. Those standing before the assembly declaring their interest in Catholicism are a powerful reminder that the Church is very much a living, growing place, and that we all have a role to play.
For those of us who are cradle Catholics, witnessing adults choose to enter an institution that is profoundly counter-cultural and subject to endless criticism in the media and popular culture, whether deserved or not, is a testament to the power of the enduring truth that rests at the heart of our faith.
So if you are present for the rite when it takes place at your church, clap. Pray. Offer your best wishes. Celebrate the reality that our Church is one of welcome and new life.
-Catherine Mulroney, Editor of Living with Christ, Canada’s companion for praying and living the Eucharist