Why no one should join the RCIA

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAI was in a parish outside my diocese recently, and I read a bulletin announcement similar to one that appears in thousands of parishes every Sunday. The announcement invited all those who had never been baptized, or who had been baptized in another tradition, or who had been baptized Catholic but not received the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist, to “join the RCIA.”

The RCIA is a rite

Asking someone to join the RCIA is a little like asking someone to join the sacrament of penance or the sacrament of anointing. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a rite. A sacrament. It isn’t a group or a program or even a process that can be “joined.” I understand the good intentions behind such announcements, and that’s exactly why they bother me. I fear that all the good energy behind such messages is missing the key audience they are intended for.

So who are these announcements intended for? Primarily, the people in need of initiation sacraments are unbaptized adults who have had an initial experience of God. For the most part, these people are not in our parishes on Sunday. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invite them to come, but the parish bulletin is probably not the best medium.

Who sees RCIA announcements?

The next audience is baptized Protestants. In most parishes, these folks make up the vast majority of the participants in our catechumenate groups. On any given Sunday, there are probably a good number of baptized Protestants in Catholic pews. Why is that? Usually because they are married to a Catholic and a parent to one or more little Catholics. The bulletin can be an appropriate way to invite these folks into full communion, but the process for most of them is not the RCIA. They do not lack initiation and many of them do not lack catechesis. They lack full communion. The proper rite for them is Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church, not the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

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There are exceptions. Some baptized Protestants have never been catechized, and a catechumenate-style process is exactly what they need. However, like the unbaptized, these folks are usually not in the pews on Sunday. And if they are, they have little understanding of terms like “RCIA,” “sacrament,” “confirmation,” and “Eucharist.”

The third audience is baptized Catholics who have not celebrated either confirmation or Eucharist or both. The majority of these folks are adults who missed confirmation when they were teens. They are usually going to church regularly, and they are sharing in Communion when they are at Mass. These folks are not candidates for the RCIA. The proper rite for them is the Rite of Confirmation.

Baptized Catholics and the RCIA

There is also an exception here. Like some baptized Protestants, there are some baptized Catholics who never celebrated first Communion and who have never been catechized. These folks are candidates for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. There are probably not a lot of them at Mass on Sunday, but on any given week, someone may be trying to find his or her way back home. An announcement in the bulletin is appropriate, but it needs to be tailored more to their own situation. We need to use words like “welcome” and “return” and “home.” They are not likely to know what “RCIA” means, and they may be put off by being asked to “join” something they are already a part of through baptism.

So where are we? If the Sunday bulletin is the medium we are using, the largest audience is faith-filled Protestants who are already in relationship with us. We need to find other media to attract other audiences. Given that, here is a sample announcement to try in your Sunday bulletin next week:

Why do Catholics do that?
Are you interested in learning more about the Catholic Church? Perhaps you’ve been thinking of becoming a member of [PARISH NAME], or perhaps you are just curious about what Catholics believe. Please join us for coffee and dessert on [DATE, TIME] for a 30-minute question-and-answer session. We’ll meet at [PLACE], and all are welcome. If you’d like more information, e-mail [NAME] at [E-MAIL ADDRESS].

What do you think? Do you have other examples of announcements you’ve used that have been effective? Click on the comments link and share your ideas.

See also these related articles:


  1. This is what I put in the Bulletin and local newspaper each month …what do you think? I don’t remember where I got it, but I started doing this after I went to the Beginnnings and Beyond session!
    Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults—¦The RCIA is the process by which adults join the Catholic Church. The RCIA takes place within the context of the parish community, and after a suitable period of formation,culminates in the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation.
    Formation includes several areas: Scripture: The stories of God’s people. Teaching: What Catholics Believe. Prayer: How we communicate with God. Liturgy: How the community worships. Mission: How we live out what we believe. The RCIA is also suitable for adults who were baptized Catholic, but have not yet received the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation. If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about the Catholic Church, please call Michele in the Sacred Heart Parish Office at (xxx)ccc-cccc.

  2. I would like to comment on the statement that baptized protestants who have a faith life in Christ should not be in RCIA, but The Reception of Baptized Christian into Full Communion with the Catholic Church. You say that a small number of non-Catholic Christians are not catechized so they should join RCIA, but the majority should not. What about the mis-chatechized? These are Christians who love Jesus but believe all kinds of wildly erroneous ideas about the Catholic Church. I was one of those people. I was raised by two evangelical missionary parents who really did not like the Catholic Church and taught me the same. In reality, almost no protestants are adequately catechized. They don’t know what sacremental Christianity is and they don’t really understand the nature of the Church. If they did they would already be Catholic. While your approach is ecumenical it is not pratical or helpful to those seeking the truth. Most baptized non-Catholics who are seeking to come into full communion with the Catholic Church would benefit from RCIA, even though that is not exactly what the Rite was designed for.

    Catholic “converts” understand this. We understand the five-hundred years of lies and myths that have been used to propagate and prop-up the protestant communities. I was in London last week and saw one of these anti-Catholic myths on the display on a Celtic mural in the British museum. If someone has never been a protestant, they don’t really know what it is like to walk this walk. Good catechesis is good for everyone.

    David P.

  3. Hi Michele. Thanks for sharing your example!

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your thoughts. You make excellent points. However, I still think the Reception of Baptized Christian into Full Communion with the Catholic Church would usually be the more appropriate ritual for people with similar backgrounds as yours. The process for Reception also requires catechesis and also requires a discernment of readiness. I agree that good catechesis is good for everyone, but in order to be “good,” the catechetical process has to be shaped to fit the needs of the individual. A person who has never met Jesus requires a different level of catechesis than a person who already has a relationship with Christ.

    I’d also have to challenge your statement that no Protestant knows what sacramental Christianity is. Several Protestant traditions have deeply sacramental theologies and practices. And then there are those Protestants who—even if they don’t come from a sacramental tradition—have been living and worshiping as Catholics for some time because they are in a relationship with a Catholic.

    The point I was hoping to make in my post is we can’t lump everybody into one category. We each have a unique call to faith, and catechumenate teams have to use some discernment in deciding the best catechetical and ritual process for each person.

  4. This is such an interesting discussion. I just got back from the North American Forum on the catechumenate. Candidates, of course, came up in the conversation, and are obviously an uncertainty for everyone.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but would add some to the conversation. I grew up Episcopalian and over the years have been Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist – Southern and American, Evangelical Free, ok well you get the point. For 14 of those years I was in full-time “evangelical” interdenominational ministry, for another 22 years in part-time ministry. I think David does make excellent points.

    A huge issue, in my opinion, is that the same words don’t have the same definition for all. That is why recognizing sacramental theology and practice in a Protestant church is a slippery thing to do. My cradle Catholic friends have a hard time understanding that they speak an entirely different language while using the same words. For example, Protestants use the words communion and even eucharist but with a different understanding even among themselves. Baptism is another, and so is liturgy. Then there is the issue of church authority and interpretation of Scripture. As comfortable as it is for all of us to enjoy our sameness, we are saying the same words and meaning something entirely different.

    I don’t know how you would even define a well-catechised Protestant. Certainly there is a vast range of spirituality, life-changing encounters and intensity of experience – as in Catholicdom.

    Our parish makes clear the distinction between the baptized and unbaptized, and candidates come into full communion often during the year but never at Easter Vigil. That differentiation is unfortunately not practiced everywhere, as I learned at the forum.

    However, as a – I think – catechized Protestant – I benefited greatly from my time in RCIA with catechumins and candidates. That was where I most of all learned and was absorbed into the concept of community. Sharing our journey together gave me an opportunity to look back at some of my own experiences and growth and re-evaluate what happened in the light of Church teaching – all of which has made me more grateful to God and more aware of grace. I’m not sure the process can work quickly with just a few additional facts. It is hard to adopt a Catholic mindset. I was not formed that way. I hope one day it will come naturally, but in the meantime, I had to re-evaluate most of what I know. It helped me to do that alongside my unformed sisters and brothers.

    Just some thoughts. This site is fabulous. Thank you.

  5. Hi Lawson. Wow, thanks for such a terrific, thought-out response. I think one thing you said sums up the biggest point I was trying to make with the original post: “Our parish makes clear the distinction between the baptized and unbaptized, and candidates come into full communion often during the year but never at Easter Vigil. That differentiation is unfortunately not practiced everywhere….”

    All the best.

  6. Lawson,
    Thanks for the great comments. As an evangelical married to a Catholic, I started RCIA, but I just did not get it. Then five years later I “studied and prayed” for two years on Catholicism. In the Spring of 2001, I was convinced that I needed to join the Church, but I waited and joined RCIA in the Fall of 2001 and was received at the Easter Vigil of 2002. The 9 months I spent in the RCIA group helped me build community and helped me both see through Catholic eyes live with a Catholic heart. This was not something I could get with a book. This is why I loved the process so much even though technically I should not have been required to wait so long. True love can wait.

    David P.

  7. I like Ron Oakham’s article entitled, “Sorting the Fish,” when discerning who should be in the longer journey of the RCIA. I believe the following example may illustrate what Nick may have been getting at.

    I remember a gentleman who came to me one year in the late spring/early summer. He was born and raised Methodist, yet was married to a Catholic. They had 3 children whose sacramental initiation occurred at the Catholic parish. This gentleman came with his wife for years to the Saturday vigil Mass. He attended all of the parent classes for their children’s baptisms, first penance, first Eucharist, and confirmation (for the 2 oldest). It was only when their youngest had celebrated her first Eucharist that she asked her father why he did not receive Communion. He called me not long after her question.

    I use this example because there was no way after meeting him and discussing his faith journey that I would ever had considered placining him in a lengthy RCIA process. We met for a few times and celebrated the Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church at the Saturday vigil Mass surrounded by friends who saw him there every week. He was more Catholic than many Catholics and to “enroll” him into the RCIA would have disregarded his journey and his readiness for full communion.

    It is at the point of meeting the “individual” searching for the faith and finding out their story that we help them to discover the right path of the RCIA. That is what “sorting the fish” means to me and why it is so important. The gentleman in my example is in many ways like what Lawson shared in his response, but in many other ways they are both different.

    In the RCIA ministry we experience both types of people and many more. This is why it is so important to have year round initiation and to have many people involved in the process because not everyone belongs in the same grouping.

    Thanks for all you in sharing and in your commitment to this ministry of the Church.


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