Can we baptize outside the Easter Vigil?

QWe have a catechumen who would have been initiated at the Easter Vigil last month, except her husband’s annulment had not come through in time. Now it has come through. She has been in the catechumenate for almost two years now. Can we celebrate initiation outside of the Easter Vigil? What about the Rite of Sending and the Rite of Election? Would we do the Scrutinies within class? Is there a format to follow?

AYour catechumen’s case falls under “unusual circumstances,” which are described in paragraphs 26-30 in the RCIA. See especially paragraph 29, which says Election is to be celebrated six weeks before baptism, and there should be sufficient time for the Scrutinies and Presentations.

If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to celebrate all the rites to the greatest extent possible, knowing some compromises will have to be made.
For example:

  • Celebrate the Rite of Election at a Sunday Mass six weeks before you plan to celebrate the Initiation sacraments. You need to get the bishop to delegate authority to the pastor to do this. (Or maybe the bishop would come to the parish to preside himself! See paragraph 29.)
  • You would not do a Rite of Sending because you aren’t sending your catechumen anywhere. However, you can adapt this rehearsal outline for the Rite of Sending for the celebration of the Rite of Election in your parish.
  • Click here for a handout here on the Rite of Election that you might want to adapt to give out to your parish assembly.
  • It might be pastorally best for your Sunday assembly if you move the Scrutinies and Presentations to “convenient weekdays” (see paragraph 20), with as many people from the parish as care to come, and this may include the team and the other participants in the process. Click here for a rehearsal outline for the scrutinies.
  • You would then want to celebrate the Initiation sacraments on a Sunday (see paragraph 27).

It is important to strive to give your catechumen the fullest experience of the rites possible. These rites have value even if they are done on a modest scale, with a small assembly. She will only be baptized once in her life (we hope!). She deserves to experience everything the rites have to offer.

Has anyone else had experience with celebrating the Initiation Rites outside of the Easter Vigil? Click on the comments button below and tell us about it.

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  1. Great post Rita. I wonder, though, what the hurry is. I understand the catechumen has been in the Order of Catechumens for almost two years, but is it such a bad place to be? Isn’t she active in parish life? Spreading the good news? Worshiping the Lord? Building community? Why not continue to do all that until the next Easter Vigil and celebrate initiation at the great high feast? After all, as you point out, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I’d think she’d want the fullest experience possible.

    I wonder if we make the catechumenate too much like class. If you have to stay in another year, it’s like being held back with the other slow kids while all of your peers graduate. I look forward to the day when the Order of Catechumens is seen as a legitimate order all its own, with a particular role to play within the Body, not lesser, just different than the other parts.

  2. Hi Rita –

    This situation is so nearly like my own, that I had to post.

    I’m a convert from the Episcopalian denomination, so I’m already baptized. But like the catechumen you describe, my husband was married previously and we had to wait until his first marriage was annulled before I could be accepted into the church and receive the sacraments of marriage, confirmation, and holy communion.

    Although the leaders in our parish and diocese tried their best, the annulment was not finalized in time for me to enter at Easter Vigil along with my RCIA classmates. However, I’m happy to say that the annulment came through a couple of weeks ago and I’ll be entering the Catholic faith tomorrow April 22nd at weekday Mass. As it turns out, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

    In response to Nick’s honest question about what the hurry is, well it isn’t a picnic to attend several Masses a week for years without the benefit of receiving communion, and also to live in a marriage not recognized by the church. I did my best over the past two years to live a Catholic life, just like the catechumen described, but the wait to fully experience Jesus as he meant to be experienced in the church fully and properly is long no matter if it’s one hour or 2 years.

    Rita, I pray that your catechumen enters the church in whatever way or manner is the absolute best for her as Jesus wills. Please let her know that someone who has walked in her shoes is praying for her right now. We’re sisters in spirit.

  3. Dear Tina,

    Congratulations and blessings on your reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church! Your sincerity, faith and joy are inspiring. May tomorrow’s celebration be the occasion of abundant blessings for you and those around you. You’ve brought us a bit of Easter joy by your witness.

    In fairness to our readers, however, I want to point out a couple of items in your post that don’t quite match up with what the church asks us to do when receiving a candidate into full communion.

    First of all, the ordinary setting for the Rite of Reception is Sunday Mass, rather than a weekday. See RCIA National Statutes #32. A weekday Mass is permitted, and you can even be received in a Word Service outside of Mass if there is some very pressing reason, but it’s better to celebrate the rite on a Sunday, when the whole community is gathered. You may have extenuating circumstances we don’t know about, but I want to make it clear for our readers that a Rite of Reception on a weekday would not be the first choice of a time to celebrate.

    Second, I know it’s a colloquial expression to call someone from another Christian denomination a “convert” but the National Statutes actually forbid us to use that term for you. It says in #2 that “the term ‘convert’ should be reserved strictly for those converted from unbelief to Christian belief and never used of those baptized Christians who are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church.”

    I’m going to write a post about that very issue soon, because it’s a common expression and many people find this confusing. The point the Statutes are trying to make, however, is a good one. “Conversion,” properly understood, is to Christ. You are already baptized into Christ. The step you are taking now is important. But it is about communion, not–as baptism would be–conversion.

    Thank you for writing, and prayers for you tomorrow!

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