RCIA or OCIA? Rite vs. Order in the catechumenate

I have a confession to make. I don’t like RCIA. I do love everything about the catechumenate and the ministry of initiating new folks into the mission the gospel. But I do not like how this awesome process of joining people to Christ is reduced to a set of initials.

You might think that’s odd since the name of our ministry, TeamRCIA, contains those very initials. I’ll say more about that in a minute. Before I do, however, I want to talk about an upcoming change in the initials — and maybe the way in which we refer to the important work that we do.

Why is a change on the way?

In a previous post, I wrote about the upcoming retranslation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The new translation is likely many years away, but one sure prediction we can make is that the name of the rite will change.

Free Download: What to say instead of OCIA

We have seen this previously with the Rite of Funerals and the Rite of Marriage, which became the Order of Christian Funerals and the Order of Celebrating Matrimony. Likewise, the Rite of Confirmation recently became the Order of Confirmation. The Rite of Infant Baptism, which is currently in the translation process, will likely become the Order of Baptism of Children.
When the RCIA is retranslated, it will become the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults.

There are two reasons for this. First, the Latin text from which the English is translated is titled Ordo initiationis christianæ adultorum. This has always been the title of the rite in Latin. When it was translated into English, the word ordo was translated as rite. In the new translation, using the English word order more strictly adheres to the Latin.

But more importantly, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is not one, single rite. It is a collection of rites that are used and adapted to fit the various circumstances of each seeker. (This is also true of all the other sacramental orders I listed above.) By referring to this sacramental process as an order, we more clearly say that this isn’t a simple, one-step process that we are engaging in.

Why do we say “order” in the first place?

The church uses the word “order” in a lot of different ways. The Sundays of Ordinary Time are called such not because they are commonplace but because they are ordered. Holy Orders is how we refer to the way ministries are ordained (ordered). Specifically, the term refers to clergy, but it also implies that there are other orders in the church. For example, we have the order of the baptized faithful and the order of catechumens.

There is also the liturgical order of the worshiping assembly. In liturgy, everyone has a specific role to play. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council said, “In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 28).

This is not solely so that we will have a good liturgy but also to provide a model for how we are to act in the world. If everyone does “all of, but only, those parts” for which we have been gifted by the Holy Spirit, we will truly transform the world into a holy, ordered place.

The way that we establish this “holy order” with catechumens and candidates is crucial. The most obvious action to take is to be attentive to the dismissal of the catechumens. Those who belong to the order of catechumens are to be dismissed after the liturgy of the word and before the liturgy of the eucharist (RCIA 67). The candidates, who belong to the order of the baptized faithful, are to remain with the rest of us who belong to that order, and they are dismissed along with all of the baptized at the end of Mass.

Overcoming an RCIA roadblock

All of this is a beautiful image of God’s reign and the glory and splendor that Jesus promised us if we would follow his way (his order). But so far, it remains an ideal that we still strive for. The reason I don’t like using the initials “RCIA” is that it is one more roadblock we have to overcome as we strive for the vision. We use acronyms for two reasons: to be more efficient and to establish insiders and outsiders. Neither of these are values we should be espousing in the initiation process.

When we chose to name our ministry “TeamRCIA,” we did so for a very practical reason. When catechumenate teams search online for resources, they don’t usually google “catechumenate” or “initiation.” They google “RCIA.” In order to be able to be found and to be helpful to the most people possible, we made the hard choice to include “RCIA” in our name.

Whenever we receive the new translation of the rite, we will have an opportunity to make a change. The easiest choice would be for all of us to just start using the acronym “OCIA” instead of “RCIA.” But what if we all agree to not do that? What if we found a less efficient, less cliquish way to refer to our ministry? Would that make a difference? Would it help us move closer to the vision of Jesus’s holy order for the world?

Free Download: What to say instead of OCIA

Your turn

Add your thoughts below. What are some suggestions for terms we could use to describe our ministry in the future?

See also these related articles:

  1. Are we supposed to judge the seekers intensions in the catechumenate process?
  2. Why discernment—from the very beginning—is so important in catechumenate ministry
  3. The first step in catechumenate formation is to recover our “capacity for symbol”
  4. 17 best prayer practices for RCIA team members
  5. What is a rite and why does it matter for catechumenate teams?

Photo by Matt Henry on Burst

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  1. Thank you for this insight.
    I agree with O.C.I.A.for as you said”this is the vision of Jesus’holy order for the world’.

  2. I likewise agree that it should be changed to OCIA as it seems to be the correct way to go in “order” with the church of Jesus Christ.

  3. I find this obsession with “correct” translation to very often be a lot of fussing over very little of importance To me, it is eerily similar to much of the most recent translation changes for Mass What is being done is the most important part, whether talking about the Mass or the RCIA program or…And is the Latin version always the only, best way to state something? Could it itself be flawed?

    Whatever the words, we’ll adjust But the translation should be universally used, so when searching for information from parish to parish or state to state we don’t have to figure out what each program title one is using Again, too much fussing over a surface issue, creating confusion where it is not necessary

    • I tend to agree with the observation that too much focus is being made on a label/title/name. It’s its essence that matters. The need to catechize is what matters; to invite an entire congregation to listen, question; to bring the scriptures to where we are so that we can identify with them. That may be sought by reading from a common source and praying together, using our voices openly in such prayer for each other. Bottom line, to learn to see God in each other and say so. The objective is to develop, to trust in a personal relationship with God.

  4. OCIA is the proper term, you have been known for sometime as TeamRCIA and are well-recognized. “Order will take a L-O-N-G time for people to appropriate, as they have barely even embraced “RCIA.” How about “TeamRCIA: Your guides through the Order of Christian Initiation” ?

  5. Honestly even RCIA is not in itself inviting or self explanatory to seekers or even to the faithful. Always thought a more generic and recognizable name would be more helpful. Making it OCIA will only add to the confusion.

  6. Order is the proper term and I would like to see it changed to the Order of Catholic Christian Formation. We are not formed as simply Christians but Catholic Christians and all it encompasses.

    • I agree with this response. Since we use the RCIA process to receive baptized Christians, and since we are not just baptizing our catechumens into ANY Christian faith community, but into the one true church, the Catholic Church, it would be good to see the name reflect this reality. The word “rite” does not reflect the fact that it is a journey, and a process of discernment through which a person is led to Jesus Christ in the sacraments of His Church. No matter what we call it, it is more important that we know how to explain to every inquirer and candidate that it is a journey that involves much more than “those classes you take if you want to become Catholic” (phrases like this are my biggest RCIA pet peeve!)

  7. I think you answered your own question for the reason for using RCIA. It expedites the process for headings, in conversation, in writings and most certainly in searching for it on the internet. I teach RCIA for children and years back I made the choice to use RCIC, again for expediancy, not knowing the error in doing so. After being corrected at a workshop, and slowly sinking into my chair, I corrected myself, not necessarily because I was told but because those who know and understand these things better than I gave me the reasons for doing so. As far as switching to OCIA, I don’t have any problem doing so when that time comes. The change makes sense with all the changes that have taken place since Vat II. It was necessary to put things together quickly back 50 years ago but over time the church realized in order to maintain continuity it was necessary to adhere to a strict translation. I do find that most catholics do not know what I am talking about when I say RCIA so when the change comes to use OCIA I’m sure it will be the same. Many catholics also do not know what the term catechumenate refers to or its meaning. Its becomes important only to those who are involved in the process.

  8. In my parish we’ve been re-branding ourselves for the past few years as “Adult Faith Formation.” Whether we call it the RCIA or the OCIA, it still remains just a subset of all the formation and sacrament preparation we offer adults in our parish. Well, technically we call it “Adult Faith Formation and RCIA” just so those looking for RCIA still know where to find us… but the idea is to recognize two important points. First is that we offer more than just the RCIA, and second, it recognizes that those individuals coming to us (such as baptized Catholics) don’t follow the the same path as those in the RCIA, and that the Easter Vigil is not everyone’s goal.

  9. I agree with John McGlynn. The proper translation from Latin is not important to most people and from my experience over the last 15+ years with the TCIA that it is as much a formation processs as a rite or order. Many people in our parish want a deeper relationship with God and Jesus and when they hear of our process in our RCIA they want to be a part of it. The early disciples did not have a technical name for what they did. They lived the Gospel Message.Let’s call it what it is, a depening of our realtionship with God and Jesus through the Catholic Church.

  10. “order” seems to be the way to go. Unfortunately, when the Order of Celebrating Matirmony, or Baptism came into effect….some words in the ‘rite’ also changed and not necesaarily for the better. I pray if words are to be changed an explanation for doing so would be appreciated. A literal translation from the latin sometimes misses the meaning of the context of culture and language.

  11. Since most Catholics do not know what RCIA means or involves, I don’t think a name change will mean much except to those who care about such particulars as a more correct interpretation from the original Latin. To me, the term ‘rite’ has a much clearer meaning than ‘order’, even though the latter may be technically correct. The term ‘order’ has too many other varied meanings to be useful to a lay person.

    It seems that many parishes are preferring the term ‘Becoming Catholic’, which more closely describes what is actually happening through the RCIA process. There are already way too many organizations, processes, etc, that are known by their initials – something I think a lot of people regard as very user unfriendly.

  12. I would like the “A” dropped. It should be the Order(or Rite) of Christian Initiation. All forms of Christian Initiation, including infant baptism, is an adaption of the R(O)CIA. Adding “Adults” to the name of this process only muddies the waters.

    • Totally agree here with Jackie…as the Children’s Catechumenate coordinator and the coordinator for the preparation for baptism for parents of children <7 , Jackie's response is perfect. In addition, there simply needs to be more teaching and formation for ALL adult Catholic Christians on the full character of the Initiation Sacraments, and their relationship to our mission as disciples of Jesus.

      I find there is way to much emphasis on 'how to get' the sacraments, rather than emphasizing 'how to become' a disciple of Jesus.

  13. In our parish, we have re-named our experience of walking with people into the heart of Jesus and His Church, from RCIA to Becoming Fully Catholic. Our Pastor agrees we should not be using our internal ritual language to capture the hearts of those who are seeking peace, love, forgiveness, truth, joy……

    This change in language from RCIA to Becoming Fully Catholic has been helpful as an overall vision for faith formation grounded in spiritual accompaniment no matter where you are on your journey. It has helped attract seekers, parish mentors and encouraged a culture of invitation in those who know someone who might want to become more fully Catholic. This works for those who are unbaptized, baptized Christian and baptized Catholic but not Confirmed…and those Catholics who have received the Sacraments but are not formed. Our long term goal is to build a team of parish mentors who will help apprentice another person in the faith…no matter where they are at!

    • I can happily agree we should avoid semantics that cause confusion or separation. But what does ‘Becoming fully Catholic’ require? What, exactly, do they have to believe and profess to become ‘fully Catholic’?

  14. Thank you Julie. I agree. I like words for a process not acronyms. Inviting words that hold hope and inspiration. Becoming Fully Catholic is a phrase that draws everyone.
    I understand that a well carried out RCIA process invites ALL of us …parishioners and priests…. to enrich and enliven our faith as we share our faith with those seeking Jesus so we are all becoming more fully Catholic.
    Is melding an option?
    Becoming Fully Catholic. The Order of Christian Initiation.
    or vice versa?

  15. Evangelization and initiation. This is about as simple an order as Jesus gave us, “go and bring the gospel to all nations.” Find the lost sheep, give them the full, undiluted truth, pray that the Holy Spirit burn in them a fire of conversion, repeat. Wasting time bickering about a name does not really help, I don’t think.

  16. I am enjoying everyone’s comments and insights. Many have focused on catechetical formation or participation in the life of the parish by the seekers, but let’s not forget to emphasize the rites themselves, major and minor. I have visited many parish websites where the stages of the initiation process are clearly described without even mentioning the rites. The rites are not just nice ceremonies to mark the seeker’s progress. They are powerful rituals, especially when reflected upon afterwards, and are of utmost importance in the formation of the seekers and the assembly. Many of us who journey with the seekers have seen significant transformation following a rite.

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