Q: There is some discussion in our group around a new idea one of the team members has. Some are of the opinion that the candidates, those already baptized, should wear a white sort of cape which they would put on before the Vigil and wear throughout the whole of the Sacraments of Initiation, as well as the welcoming reception, as far as I understand.
Others take the view that the white gown is worn by the newly baptized to indicate the dignity of their new life in Christ. They also point to the directive in the Rite ( #421 in the Canadian Rite) dealing with the combined rites for the Elect and for those being received into full communion that anything that equates candidates with catechumens is to be ‘absolutely avoided.’ Could you comment on this please?
A: Your question about vesture for those in the RCIA is a common question.
Where as the Rite speaks of what Neophytes are to wear – a baptismal garment (RCIA 229) – the rite is silent about those already baptized coming into full communion. While I definitely understand that as ministers attuned to hospitality, we want to “include” the candidates so that “they do not feel left out”, I would avoid the usage of a white cape. This can present some catechetical issues not only of baptismal dignity/status, but also liturgical – this is a far fetch question, but maybe people might ask are the neophytes “covered” more in Christ and the candidates only have “so much” of Christ? And it might also make people who “are in the know” question if the candidates are wearing a cope, which is only worn by ordained ministers. If you pastorally discern that you want them to vest, make it a common vesture that everyone wears.
And so it comes into local custom. Do you vest your neophytes in a garment that is worthy to be bear the weight of such a symbol? If not, it might be best to start there to catechize your community on the dignity of baptism. Not only does the Canadian Rite speak about candidates being equated with the catechumens, the US Rite as well: RCIA 477, and among the section of National Statutes 30-37.
Since the National Statute mentions that the reception of candidates should ordinarily take place in the Sunday Eucharist of the parish (RCIA National Statute 32), it should be celebrated in a way that they they are already part of the Christian community and shouldn’t seem “separated” or the idea of triumphalism. Thus, it might make more sense for these candidates to wear “nice, Sunday best” clothing according local custom, and/or whatever is suitable for the dignity and solemnity of the celebration.