Most parishes in the United States, Canada, and Australia will be celebrating the sacraments of initiation with the elect in the coming weeks or months. Since this celebration is happening outside of the Easter Vigil, there is some confusion as to what ritual to use for initiation.
The normative rite to use would be the same as the one we would use at the Easter Vigil, “Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation (Easter Vigil)” starting at RCIA 218 (in Canada and Australia, RCIA 211).
Because of its title, some parishes are opting to instead celebrate “Christian Initiation of Adults in Exceptional Circumstances.” While the circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are exceptional, they are not exceptional in the sense intended by that rite. The RCIA is clear about what is intended:
The extraordinary circumstances in question are either events that prevent the candidate from completing all the steps of the catechumenate or a depth of Christian conversion and a degree of religious maturity that lead the local bishop to decide that the candidate may receive baptism without delay. (RCIA 331).
Extraordinary circumstances, for example, sickness, old age, change of residence, long absence for travel, may sometimes either prevent a candidate from celebrating the rite of acceptance that leads to the period of the catechumenate or, having begun the catechumenate, from completing it by participation in all of the rites belonging to the period. (RCIA 332)
This rite is clearly intended for an individual catechumen who for some reason has not been able to celebrate all the rites of initiation (including the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate, the Rite of Election, and the scrutinies.)
What you need to know before you make a plan for your RCIA
The RCIA goes on to caution against the use of this rite if at all possible:
Yet merely to use the abbreviated form of the rite given in nos. 340-369 could mean a spiritual loss for the candidate, who would be deprived of the benefits of a longer preparation for the sacraments of initiation. (RCIA 332)
Also note that an individual parish may not simply decide on its own to use the abbreviated rite for exceptional circumstances. The deprivation of spiritual benefit for the candidate for baptism is so grave that use of this rite requires the permission of the bishop (see RCIA 331-332).
The normal rite to use in abnormal circumstances such as these is the rite we would use at the Easter Vigil. This is spelled out in the section of the RCIA titled “Outside the Usual Time” (RCIA 26-30). This section makes clear that when, for extraordinary reasons, the entire “program of initiation” cannot be celebrated at the usual time, we slide all the rites we were not able to celebrate forward on the calendar to a pastorally acceptable time:
[E]ven though the rite of Christian initiation occurs at a different point in the liturgical year, the structure of the entire rite, with its properly spaced intervals, remains the same. (RCIA 26)
What is exceptional about the current circumstance is not a personal disruption in the life of an individual catechumen. This is a global disruption that requires us to move the date of initiation for everyone. So, in this situation, we would use the “Outside the Usual Times” provisions, attempting as much as possible to keep “the structure of the entire rite” intact without abbreviation.
Note however, while the disruption of the time of celebration is not as grave as abbreviating the rite, moving initiation to a time outside the Easter Vigil still requires the permission of the bishop (see RCIA 34.2).
When can you receive baptized candidates into full communion?
Also note that everything we have said so far applies to the unbaptized elect. Baptized candidates for reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church can be received at any time without further delegation or authorization from the bishop. In fact, ideally, the baptized candidates are received at a Sunday liturgy separate from the initiation of the unbaptized (see National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 30-33).
Ritual documents, by their nature, tend to be proscriptive. As such, the language used can sound forbidding and restrictive. But at least in the case of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, what we find just below the legalistic language is a deep reverence for the spiritual journey of faith of the seekers.
The church intends to uphold the principle that the entire initiation process does not hold baptism as its ultimate goal. The goal is to train the seekers in living a life of missionary discipleship. Even though the sacraments of initiation have been delayed for the elect, their training in the disciplines of Christian life has not been. They are, at this point, capable of assisting in the gospel mission just as much as any other Catholic. They cannot yet join us at the Eucharistic table, but then, neither can the vast majority of Catholics right now.
Instead of focusing on what is most expedient and quickest so that we can get the elect into the church, let’s recognize that they are already members of the household of Christ, following the Cross, and doing the gospel mission they agreed to take on when they celebrated the Rite of Acceptance (see RCIA 47).
To reverence and honor their conversion journey, we should provide for them the fullest experience of ritual initiation that we are capable of.
How is your parish planning to celebrate initiation? What have you heard from your bishop, or from other parishes nearby? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
2 thoughts on “What is the correct RCIA rite to use for baptizing the elect outside the Easter Vigil?”
We are in Oklahoma and our bishops have initiated the opening of our churches for public worship. One gentleman who has stage 4 cancer was baptized at a private ceremony, using the rite for Exceptional Circumstances. For the rest of our elect, we completed the Scrutinies during a couple weekly sessions and received them into the church on Pentecost. Yesterday, our Candidates completed their initiation. It was a unique year, but just as joyful an experience as if it were the Easter Vigil.
St. John of the Cross Lemon Grove. CA Diocese of San Diego Bishop so far has not given guidance on Baptism for the catechumens/neophytes. We are waiting to hear, hopefully the Candidates will be rec’d soon. Pray for us. Thanks