Q: How do we handle the reception of baptized candidates into full communion once the quarantine is lifted?
A: Baptized candidates present us with a conundrum. In the United States, Canada, and most parts of Australia, the majority of those in our formation processes are baptized Christians. And the majority of the ritual text, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, deals with unbaptized catechumens. So we wind up applying a lot of things to baptized people that are not always appropriate.
When we are forming baptized candidates, we they fall into four broad categories.
- Catechized, baptized Catholic
- Catechized, baptized in another tradition
- Uncatechized, baptized Catholic
- Uncatechized, baptized in another tradition
In an ideal world, catechized baptized candidates would not be part of the parish RCIA process. The section of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults that deals with baptized candidates says:
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. (RCIA 400; Canada and Australia, RCIA 376; the bracketed text appears only in the USA version)
Who celebrates which rites? Click for a FREE flowchart that will guide you.
Who is considered “catechized” in the RCIA?
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. So even if someone is poorly catechized or only catechized up until first communion, they are still considered “catechized” for the purposes of the rite.
Now there are a lot of truly uncatechized children who celebrate first communion. So some discernment is required here. But the point is that if the seeker has a true relationship with Jesus—even if it is a weak, immature relationship—that person is considered catechized for the purposed of the rite. It doesn’t mean we don’t do formation with these seekers, but we do not do any of the rites for baptized candidates that are in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (with one exception, that we’ll get to in a moment).
Also, their formation will be different than that of the uncatechized candidates. For the uncatechized, they need to be introduced to Jesus. Their formation is at the level of evangelization. For the catechized, they already have a relationship with Jesus. Their formation will be at a more advanced level.
For the most part, the length of formation for catechized baptized candidates can and should be much shorter than for uncatechized, baptized candidates. There is no reason to make catechized baptized candidates journey on the same path as the catechumens nor to make them wait until the Easter Vigil to celebrate their sacraments.
The objection we hear from RCIA teams about this reality is that the catechized candidates get shortchanged ritually. The catechumenas and the uncatechized candidates get all the good stuff. This objection reminds me of the Prodigal Son story. The older brother objected that his little brother was getting all the attention. When in reality, all the Father has belongs to the baptized, catechized candidates. And so we can celebrate with them:
- Sunday Mass
- Blessings from the Book of Blessings
- Liturgy of the Word services
- Liturgy of the Hours
- The Rite of Penance
- The Order of Matrimony
- Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
Plus all the sacramental and domestic church rituals that are part of our liturgical treasury.
When to celebrate the appropriate rites
So when the quarantine is lifted, it would make sense to celebrate the appropriate rites that these catechized candidates have been preparing for is a liturgy sooner than and separate from the elect. However, the rites are different for the Catholic candidates and the candidates baptized in other traditions.
For catechized, baptized Catholics they would celebrate the Rite of Confirmation and the Eucharist. The presider for Order of Confirmation must be the bishop. However, a parish priest may request delegation to confirm a Catholic in cases like this.
For catechized candidates baptized in another tradition, they would celebrate the Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church (RCIA 473; Canada and Australia, RCIA 387). This is the exception I mentioned earlier. This is the only rite in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults that we celebrate with catechized candidates, and only with those baptized in another tradition.
What is different here is formal reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church. By virtue of their baptism, these candidates are already in partial communion with us. When they make their profession of faith and the priest prays the Act of Reception, these candidates are fully in communion with us. Therefore, confirmation and eucharist immediate follow. Priests do not need delegation from the bishop to celebrate confirmation with candidates baptized in another tradition. The delegation to receive them into full communion automatically authorizes the presiding priest to confirm the candidates.
In non-pandemic times, this rite of reception would ordinarily take place at a Sunday liturgy in Ordinary Time. It would not happen at the Easter Vigil.
Which rites are optional?
Now when we get to the uncatechized, baptized Catholics and the uncatechized candidates baptized in another tradition, things get a little fuzzier.
There are rites for uncatechized candidates that somewhat parallel the rites for the catechumens. These rites are located in different places in the ritual texts of the English-speaking countries. Check your specific Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for your country. What is common about all of them is that these rites for the uncatechized baptized candidates are optional.
They are optional because unlike the rites for the catechumens, they do not change the status of the baptized candidates.
Also, in the United States, but not in other countries, these rites exist in two versions—as standalone rites and as combined rites. Most often in the United States they are celebrated as combined rites with the parallel rites for the catechumens. I’m told that in Canada and Australia, even though they don’t officially have combined rites, they have adopted the U.S. versions in many parishes.
All three countries, however, do have the Celebration of the Easter Vigil of the Sacraments of Initiation and of the Rite of Reception into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church. So there is an option to combine both the rite of reception and the sacraments of initiation.
Technically, this combined option is only available to the uncatechized baptized candidates. But that’s a bit of hair splitting. By the time they get to the Easter Vigil, all the candidates should be catechized.
What is not hair splitting is what we are teaching by celebrating these two rites together. It is not uncommon to hear RCIA teams talk about baptized candidates from other traditions completing their initiation at the Easter Vigil. Or to hear them described as being initiated into the Catholic Church.
Neither of these things are happening, and we should not teach that they are, either in our words or actions. Baptized candidates from other traditions are already initiated into Christ. What we are celebrating is their reception (not initiation) into the full communion.
Because of the disruption caused by the pandemic, we have an opportunity to celebrate the rituals of initiation and reception into the full communion in ways that are more integral to their separate purposes. So as much as possible, let’s separate the two celebrations instead of trying to combine them into a single liturgy.
How are your celebrations of the rites done in your parish? How do you talk to your seekers about the level of catechesis they have? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Who celebrates which rites? Click for a FREE flowchart that will guide you.