What does the RCIA mean by “uncatechized”?

Genuine by shutterbugchik [Flickr]

Can I get your thoughts on what the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults means by uncatechized? We get a lot of questions about the rites that arise from differing understandings of what we mean by this term.

For example, we often hear from folks who are trying to figure out what to do with children. A child may be on a path to becoming Catholic because his parents are joining the Catholic Church. The child has celebrated first communion and perhaps even confirmation in his previous tradition. Is he catechized or uncatechized?

Another example we received is a Catholic child who stopped going to church after she celebrated her first communion. Now, at age 12, she is returning to church. Is she catechized or uncatechized?

There a lots of examples of baptized adults from another tradition. Let’s say one man stopped going to his non-Catholic church after first communion in that tradition. He has been away from church and the Christian lifestyle for 20-plus years. Now he wants to become Catholic. Catechized or uncatechized?

Or how about a Protestant woman, who had gone to her church faithfully her whole life until she married a Catholic. Since her marriage ten years ago, she has been accompanying her husband to Mass every Sunday. Is she catechized or uncatechized?

What about a faithful Catholic adult who goes to communion every Sunday, but was never confirmed. Is she catechized or uncatechized?

What does the rite say?

As always, I turn to the rite for help with these things. The section of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults that deals with uncatechized adults starts at paragraph 400. (Remember that for the purposes of initiation, children of catechetical age are considered adults. So this section applies to them as well.)

The following pastoral guidelines concern adults who were baptized as infants either as Roman Catholics or as members of another Christian community but did not receive further catechetical formation nor, consequently, the sacraments of confirmation and eucharist.

The threshold for catechized seems pretty low here. According to the rite, someone who is uncatechized is a baptized person who received zero catechetical formation after infancy. In all of the examples above, the person in question has received some catechetical formation.

Does it really matter?

I think we would all say that some of the people in the examples above need a lot more catechesis. But is it true that they are really uncatechized? And given that we could all use more catechesis, is there any harm in treating them as uncatechized for the purposes of the catechumenal process?

Thanks for sharing your ideas.

Share Button


  1. My understanding is that any person who has received First Communion as a Catholic should not be part of the RCIA process – the highpoint of the RCIA process being the reception of the Eucharist. Another process, Adult Confirmation sessions, Faith Formation sessions, can be used to complete the Confirmation aspect of Initiation.

    Discerning where a baptized candidates belongs in the process is a challenge. A good discernment process at the onset is important. I’ve mixed uncatechized baptized candidates with catechumens with good success. One year, however, the candidate and his girl friend took me aside and complained about the “star” treatment we were giving the catechumen – the blessings, exorcisms, focus the catechumeb’s journey, etc. I realized that in the future I had to make certain I emphasized the power of the baptized candidate’s baptism in their spiritual journey.

  2. I make the catechized/uncatechized decision after a conversation with the candidate. While I have a kind of default guideline, which takes into account how old the person was the last time they had any formal religious education, how faithful they are to Sunday Mass attendance, and what sacraments have been received, I don’t apply it unilaterally. Often, especially in the case of Protestants seeking to become Catholic, I talk about the differences in what will happen and get them to help me decide which way will be best for them.

    While it would be nice to be able to say, for example, any Catholic who has received First Communion is “catechized” the truth is that many people come from families of uncatechized Catholics, going back through the generations. When you come from a background that sees receiving the sacraments as social rites of passage rather than religious and spiritual events, a lot of the so-called “catechesis” actually needs to be undone.

  3. During the interview process I try to evaluate the persons by asking myself the following questions to determine the level of catechesis and exposure to the faith:

    Does he/she understand cross and resurrection?
    Does he/she know Scripture and can articulate experience in light of them?
    Does he/she speak of Christ and able to tell the stories of the faith?
    Is he/she connected to the Christian community?
    Does he/she have liturgical formation?
    Does he/she lead a life of generosity and in mission?

  4. In relation to children, i inquire on the family’s involvment in Mass, have they been attending mass?
    Does the child or teen have an understanding of what the Trinity is?
    Do they have an understanding of basic Catholic infomraiton : such as the cross, Jesus, resurection, the reason he was born.

    I also look at a few other factors as well, is the parents/ sponsors active or becoming active, and what is the parents involvment as well.

    I have several families, 3 of which have baptized Catholic Children, in rcia due to that fact the child never went to any formation or church till the child started asking questions at ages 9 or so.

    At least, I try to see if they have at least the basic understaning as needed for Eucharist accoding to our Diocese guidelines.

  5. Like Jean, I understood that a Catholic that is only lacking Confirmation is not part of the RCIA; in fact, our archdiocese explictly separates them from the RCIA rituals and preparation.

    A word I hear often when referring to the un-catechized is “churched.” As a Catholic or Protestant, were they churched? Here in Texas, that word seems to be understood very easily.

    I listen to the person’s story during the interview, and ask questions about their relationship with God, and practice of the faith during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. I ask them about the involvement of their parents/family, their relationship to the church(es) they attended, involvement in church youth activities. If they spent any time on their own as adolescents or adults studying the Scriptures, lives of the Saints, or other aspects of Christianity, this helps shed light. I do not presume to know the catechetical experience of any inquirer until they share their story, and this has taught me a lot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *