Q: What would you do with someone coming from a tradition that baptizes adults and older teens and so was catechized but never baptized? We don’t have an unbaptized, catechized, category.
A:This is a great question, and it is actually a fairly common one. In the United States and in some parts of Canada and Australia, many of our parishes encounter seekers who are unbaptized but who have been raised to live a Christian life. Some even participate regularly in their parishes or congregations. Some are even “Catholic,” and are active in the Catholic community.
Who needs to be in the catechumenate?
Do these folks need to be in the catechumenate? One way to think about this is to apply the question to some of the other sacraments. Imagine a couple, for example, who were married in a civil ceremony. They are both Catholic, they participate in Mass regularly, and they are raising their children as Catholics. Do they need to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony since they are already a married Christian couple? Most of us would say yes.
But do they need to participate in an Engaged Encounter or FOCUS sessions or a Pre-Cana program? Probably not. Or, if they do, it would be heavily modified to better fit their status as a long-married couple.
In the catechumenate, there are a series of steps and stages. Each step is marked by a significant ritual that ushers the seeker into the next stage. Each stage is a period of preparation for the next step.
The steps and stages of the RCIA
In the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the steps and stages are:
- Stage 1: Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate (which prepares seekers for…)
- Step 1: Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
- Stage 2: Period of the Catechumenate (which prepares seekers for…)
- Step 2: Rite of Election or Enrollment of Names
- Stage 3: Period of Purification and Enlightenment (which prepares seekers for…)
- Step 3: Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation
- Stage 4: Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy (which prepares seekers for…)
- A lifetime of missionary discipleship
What preparation is required for the RCIA?
For an unbaptized person, each of these rites can be considered part of the sacraments of initiation. Each are required in order to celebrate the sacraments of initiation. For an unbaptized with a mature faith all of the rites or steps are still required. However, the stages or periods of preparation are not necessarily required (each instance will be unique). The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults tells us this in the section on Christian Initiation of Adults in Exceptional Circumstances:
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).
The abbreviated rite that follows compresses all of the rites or steps of the classic catechumenate into a single liturgy. However, the abbreviated rite is the absolute bare minimum that is required. Even for someone of mature faith, expanding the abbreviated rite by adding back in some of the rituals of the catechumenate will probably be of great spiritual benefit to the seeker (see RCIA 332-335).
So the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults does, in fact, have a category for the unbaptized, catechized seeker. It is, however, considered an exception to the usual catechumenate journey and needs to be adapted with care for each individual situation.
Have you encountered seekers that are unbaptized but catechized? How have you welcomed them into your RCIA process? Share your thoughts in the comments below.