Q: Is there a possibility that a seeker would come to faith before the Easter Vigil… and how do you proceed with that scenario?
A: This is a great question. The answer is a bit complicated, but if we dig a little deeper into the question, the answer becomes simpler. There is a caveat however. For parishes that have adapted the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults into a classroom, school-year model, there is no easy way to celebrate sacraments outside of the Easter Vigil. In a school-year model, everyone starts at the same time and finishes at the same time.
In the liturgical year conversion process given to us in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, however, there are many different possible itineraries for the journey of faith. The easiest itinerary to accommodate is for seekers who have already been living a life of faith.
Baptized, catechized candidates
A baptized, catechized candidate is someone who was raised in a tradition other than Roman Catholic and has some experience of living as a Christian.
When the church uses the term “catechized,” that covers a very broad level of Christian practice. A Methodist in her 40s who quit going to church when she was ten years old is technically “catechized” because she has had at least some Christian formation. She will, however, need quite a bit of formation to strengthen her faith and teach her how to live that faith as an adult. Even so, she is not a “beginner” with no faith whatsoever.
(Obviously, for the sake of example, I’m speaking in generalities. It is entirely possible for a Christian of any age to have had a regular practice of “living” the faith without ever having been evangelized. They have just been going through the motions. That person would be considered “uncatechized” because they have never had a true encounter with the Risen Christ.)
You might also come across an Episcopalian who was an active member of his parish until ten years ago when he married a Catholic. After he got married, he started participating in his wife’s Catholic parish. He would obviously be “catechized” and would need relatively little formation in order to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
A baptized, catechized candidate would always celebrate their reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church (which includes confirmation) at a Sunday Mass in Ordinary Time. They would not celebrate their reception at the Easter Vigil. In the examples above, reception would likely happen much sooner for the (well-catechized) Episcopalian than the (less-well-catechized) Methodist.
A baptized Catholic who is catechized and who wants to be confirmed would not be part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. He would be part of the Order of Confirmation. He would celebrate his confirmation with the bishop at a diocesan celebration or in your parish deanery when the bishop comes. Or, with special delegation, your pastor can confirm him at a parish liturgy.
Baptized, uncatechized candidates
A baptized, uncatechized candidate is someone who was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church or in another Christian tradition but received no further formation after baptism (see RCIA 400).
The itinerary for these seekers would be similar to that of an unbaptized seeker. They would need to be evangelized and formed in the four disciplines of Christian life (see RCIA 75). Like the unbaptized seekers, their formation would be grounded in the celebration of the liturgical year, and they would need to go through at least one full liturgical year before they would celebrate their sacraments.
However, they would not normally celebrate their sacraments at the Easter Vigil. Normally, the Easter Vigil is a celebration of initiation. The baptized seekers are already initiated, even though they have never lived as Christians. As a way of honoring their baptism, we would avoid treating them as though they were unbaptized. Their sacraments would be celebrated during a Sunday in Ordinary Time or a Sunday in the Easter Season.
Even so, there are optional rites in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults that parallel the rites we celebrate with unbaptized seekers (see RCIA 411-472). Note, these rites are for the baptized uncatechized seekers only. They are not celebrated with the catechized seekers.
When we talk about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, what we are really talking about is the itinerary for the unbaptized. The Rite of Acceptance, the Rite of Election, the scrutinies, the minor exorcisms and blessings, the rite of anointing, the Holy Saturday preparation rites and the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil are all part of the journey for the unbaptized. These rites are not celebrated with the baptized candidates.
Normally, the rites of initiation are always celebrated at the Easter Vigil. If an unbaptized seeker “comes to faith” well before the Easter Vigil, they would usually still wait until the Vigil to celebrate their initiation. The celebration of initiation is such a very huge occasion that, as a church, we normally gear up for it only once a year.
There can be exceptions, however. For pastoral reasons, initiation can be celebrated outside the normal times. However, the church still expects that the preliminary rites of acceptance, election, and scrutinies are still celebrated, with their proper spacing in time (see RCIA 26-30).
In some cases, you may get an unbaptized person who is already catechized. The formation for that person would not have to be as extensive as for an uncatechized person, but the celebration of would still normally take place at the Easter Vigil.
So in summary, baptized candidates, because they are already initiated, would normally celebrate their sacraments at a time other than the Easter Vigil, whenever they and you discern they are ready and able to live as Christian disciples.
Unbaptized candidates, whenever they are ready, would ordinarily wait until the Great Easter Vigil to celebrate their initiation into the Body of Christ.
What level of catechesis do seekers usually have when they come you to inquiring about RCIA? How do you welcome them into your parish RCIA process, or a faith formation process if they are alreay baptized? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
6 thoughts on “Can RCIA seekers celebrate their sacraments outside of the Easter Vigil?”
In addition to the Sundays of Ordinary Time and the Easter Season, I think the first two Sundays of Advent could also be appropriate days to receive someone into full communion, especially if there was some circumstance preventing such a reception in the weeks leading up to Advent. While perhaps not an ideal time, there are readings for those Sundays in each of the 3 cycles that offer fitting homily points for such a reception. It would have the advantage for the candidate of being a full participant in the Christmas celebrations, rather than waiting until after that Season is done.
We have had a year-round RCIA process in place for several years, and I was the Coordinator in another parish in the late 1980s when we transitioned to year-round. I find it to be the most natural, responsive way to accompany the seekers on their faith journey. It’s not as “neat” or easy, but it is more authentic, I believe.
You always say that the Catechumenate should be at least a year, but isn’t it true that most parishes start in September and initiations are held the following Easter Vigil – clearly less than a year?
When we say the catechumenate should be at least one full liturgical year, we are restating church teaching:
It is true that many parishes have inappropriately adapted the full catechumenate into a school-year timeframe, but this does not reflect the vision of the rite or the tradition of the church. In fact, a recent statement from the Vatican called the school-year model a “chokehold” on the initiation process. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/06/25/200625c.html#
If you want to learn more about the reason the church teaches that a continuous, ongoing initiation process is the norm, these are the articles we have written on the subject:
I hope that helps.
Is anyone inquired about how to proceed with a Rite of Acceptance during Covid?
We need suggestions on how to convince our pastor to get out of “the chokehold” if a school year model for our RCIA ministry at our parish.
Hi Juliann, here you go!