RCIA, the Triduum, and Coronavirus

Many communities might not be able to gather to celebrate the Triduum this year because of Coronavirus precautions. What does this mean for the RCIA rites of initiation that usually take place at the Easter Vigil? Here we look at some options that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults gives us and explore some ways to adapt our usual practice for this very unusual time.

If you want to go to a specific topic in the video, please see below for a timestamped summary outline of the video.

If you missed it, here is the video we did last week on how to celebrate the Scrutinies and the Presentations during this extraordinary time.

The situation in each affected area is constantly changing day by day (this video was posted March 17, 2020), so always follow your local diocesan and health guidelines. We hope the options and ideas we present here can inform your discussions to help you make the most pastoral and responsible choices for your particular circumstance.

We continue to pray for you and your ministry to your communities. We especially pray for those who are sick and all who are caring for them. We grieve with you for lives lost and lives disrupted and share your sadness in these challenging days. We may be distanced and isolated from one another, but we are not alone. As we journey to Easter, may the Spirit strengthen us even more to be people of paschal joy.

Below is a summary of each main section in the video highlighting some major points. Timestamp marks are given for each section in the video. For the complete text, please watch the video.

(1:11) When your parish cannot gather together for the Triduum, you can baptize your elect outside of the usual time of Easter
The church already provides guidelines for celebrating the baptism of an adult outside of the usual time of the Easter Vigil. See the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), provisions for initiation “Outside of Usual Times” in paragraphs 26-30. Even when you celebrate baptism outside of the usual time, you still need to celebrate the various rites that are necessary to prepare the catechumens for initiation, including the Rite of Election and each of the Scrutinies.

(3:50) Missing a Scrutiny
If for some reason an elect is going to miss a scrutiny, then you need to get a dispensation from the bishop. See RCIA 20: A bishop can, for serious reasons, dispense from one scrutiny or for really serious cases, dispense from two scrutinies. The rite seems to imply that at least one scrutiny is celebrated, no matter what. Scrutinies do not need be celebrated at the parish’s Sunday Mass. They can be celebrated at a weekday Mass if permitted or at a Liturgy of the Word.

(6:00) When to baptize outside of the usual time of Easter
The decision about when to celebrate initiation outside of the normal time is, according the rite, up to the bishop. See RCIA 27. Your bishop might delegate that decision to individual parishes, but you need to check. Initiation should always be celebrated on a Sunday. If the Sunday chosen is a feast or solemnity, the readings cannot be changed. If the Sunday chosen is in Ordinary Time, you have the option to change the readings to those from the ritual Masses for Christian Initiation. See RCIA 27. You would not, in any case, use the readings from the Easter Vigil.

(7:07) Deciding which Sunday is a good day to baptize adults outside of Easter?
Look at the readings for the coming Sundays and see which readings have a baptismal character. Max Johnson, a professor of liturgy at Notre Dame, in his book The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation, has identified several Sundays and feasts that have a baptismal character. Some of them include:

  • Pentecost (especially the Vigil of Pentecost)
  • Trinity Sunday
  • The Assumption of Mary
  • All Saints
  • The Immaculate Conception
  • Epiphany
  • Presentation of the Lord

If none of those work for you for whatever reason then go through the lectionary and look for Sunday’s that have readings that have to do with commitment, discipleship, vocation, conversion, or mission. Your local bishop might look at RCIA 34.2, which indicates that he decides whether and when baptism of adults might happen outside of Easter.

(14:41) Christian initiation of a person in danger of death
There are provisions in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for initiation of someone who is in danger of death. See RCIA 370-374.

(16:20) If your community is able to gather together for the Triduum but only with limited numbers of people
If you are in a parish that will celebrate the Triduum liturgies but the health officials have asked you to keep the numbers to minimum, take precautions to keep everyone safe. Instead of full immersion, consider pouring water over each elect individually. Presiders may need to sanitize their hands between anointings. If you have a large number of elect, baptize only a few at the Vigil, and spread the rest out over the Sundays of Easter. However, even it is possible in your community to baptize the elect, you might consider waiting until you can initiate them in the midst of a full assembly. The impact of initiation when celebrated with a large number of the faithful has a big impact on both the elect and the community. Even if you live stream the Vigil, it won’t have the same impact. It’s a tough decision, but think it through before you decide.

(20:03) Baptized candidates
The rite already tells us that the baptized candidates would not ordinarily celebrate their sacraments at the Easter Vigil. Do definitely move them to some other Sunday. That should be the case even in normal times. This includes Christians who are to be received into the full communion of the Catholic church, Catholics who will celebrate Confirmation and Eucharist, and most especially, Catholics who will only celebrate Confirmation.

(21:53) Can your elect wait until next Easter Vigil if you cannot baptize them at this Easter Vigil?
It may be the case that one or more of your elect ask if they can wait until the next Easter Vigil. If that happens, it is an option for them.

(23:13) Can or should the Pope move the date of Easter to another time of the year?
Only the Pope can decide to move the date of Easter. We would not be in favor of moving the Triduum because of the deep significance and tradition of celebrating Easter at the turning of the season (spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere). The church teaches that the cosmic rhythm of the calendar is one of the sources of the revelation of Christ. The calendar is sacred. Moving the date also has ecumenical concerns.

(29:24) Strengthen and help the domestic church to mark the seasons and feast in their homes
We can use this time as an opportunity for us to emphasize the domestic church. Lent and the Triduum are not lost to the domestic church. We can find ways to mark the seasons in our homes in a sacred way. For example, households might wash each other’s feet on Holy Thursday before you have dinner. On Good Friday, everyone can venerate a cross. On the Vigil of Easter or on Easter Sunday plan a big family banquet. Light lots of candles and use water bless each other. Pull out mementos from yours or your children’s baptism, and tell stories.

This is a unique time in history, and it’s a tough time. But we have hope. Hope is the foundation of our faith. If you have comments or suggestions or questions, please add them in below. We’re praying for you. Please pray for us.

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  1. Thank you for the support and suggestions in line with the Universal church and all it stands for. Been circulating with other team members as a means of standing in the gap to understand more about God’s calling in our lives.
    God bless.
    Lolomas from Fiji

  2. I consider your website as my number 1 resource! I appreciate everything all of you do to keep us well equipped in our ministries; thank you! God bless you!

  3. I would propose the following:

    1. That a diocesan ordinary find an appropriate Saturday evening for the celebration of Christian initiation well into the summer or even the fall. This would be the date for all parishes in the diocese.

    2. For a diocese that has not already celebrated the rite of election, schedule that celebration about six weeks earlier than the diocesan celebration of Christian initiation.

    3. That parishes conduct a season of purification and enlightenment, of reflection and renewal, during those six weeks.

    4. That parishes celebrate a votive Mass of the Most Holy Eucharist on the Thursday evening before the date set for Christian initiation. This would mean selecting not only a Saturday night which permits a ritual Mass, but a Thursday which permits a votive Mass.

    5. That parishes celebrate the Lord’s Passion, either with or without Mass, on the Friday before the date set for Christian initiation. If this is with Mass, then an appropriate Friday must also be chosen.

    6. That parishes, either after the usual anticipated Mass celebrated on Saturday evening, or replacing the anticipated Mass, celebrate a Ritual Mass of Baptism on Saturday night. This could be extended in various ways, for example a combination with Vespers with a lucenarium, several readings, to make it a Vigil of the Lord’s Day.

    So do we all holy rites. Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum.

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