Perhaps because we are just now emerging from our COVID stay-at-home isolation, parish teams seem to be asking about the rites of initiation and if all of them are mandatory. Some seekers may have a pressing need to forgo the normal sacramental process and be baptized without delay. This pastoral provision is already provided in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (see RCIA 331-399).
However, allowing a pastoral exception because of extraordinary circumstances is not permission to treat the rites as optional. Even when extraordinary circumstances exist (for example, sickness, old age, change of residence, long absence for travel), parishes should strive to celebrate as much of the ritual process as 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)
A crucial ritual step
What is the spiritual loss if we fail to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance with seekers?
First of all, seekers are deprived of the benefit of a spiritual journey. The rite says:
The rite of initiation is suited to a spiritual journey of adults that varies according to the many forms of God’s grace, the free cooperation of the individuals, the action of the Church, and the circumstances of time and place.
Along this journey, seekers are blessed with “the many forms of God’s grace.” While God’s grace is limitless and the seekers will certainly experience God’s grace after baptism, the grace received in the Rite of Acceptance is unique to those who celebrate the rite.
For example, the rite of acceptance provides a ritual step or doorway that leads a seeker to turn away from their past life and turn toward a life in Christ. They literally and spiritually cross a threshold in celebrating this rite, moving from outside the church and into “the household of Christ” (RCIA 47).
A public declaration
The Rite of Acceptance is also the first public declaration the seekers make about their intention to follow Christ:
Assembling publicly for the first time, the candidates who have completed the period of the precatechumenate declare their intention to the Church and the Church in turn, carrying out its apostolic mission, accepts them as persons who intend to become its members. (RCIA 41)
This public declaration is extremely important. Some have criticized this aspect the rite, believing it is unfair to put people on the spot like this in public. This kind of thinking represents a shift in our pre-Vatican II understanding of church versus post-conciliar teaching. Some of us grew up thinking our faith was a private affair, not to be discussed in polite company. However, every modern pope has echoed some form of the teaching issued by Pope Paul VI in 1975:
Nevertheless [wordless witness] always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified — what Peter called always having “your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” — and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. (On Evangelization in the Modern World, 22)
In order to fully embrace the journey of faith, seekers must be ready to publicly declare their faith, even if that faith is only an initial faith in need of strengthening and maturing.
A font of grace
Perhaps the most important reason we must celebrate this rite with unbaptized seekers is this:
God showers his grace on the candidates, since the celebration manifests their desire publicly and marks their reception and first consecration by the Church. (RCIA 41; emphasis added)
The proposed new translation of the rite says it this way:
God grants them his grace, since their desire is expressed openly in this celebration, and their reception and first consecration are marked by the Church. (OCIA 41; emphasis added)
I like the current rite’s translation of largitur as “showers” better than the proposed translation as “grants.” In turn, I like the proposed translations emphasis on the desire of the seekers being “expressed openly in this celebration” versus the current text, “manifests their desire publicly.”
However, both translations note that the celebration of this rite is the first consecration of the seekers. To me, it is unthinkable to deny this immense blessing to those embarking on the journey of faith unless there is some extremely urgent reason to do so.
So I think the question is not, is this rite mandatory for those who which to enter the catechumenate. It clearly is. Rather, the question should be, what can we do as a parish to maximize the powerful effects of grace this celebration will have on our seekers?
For more on how to do that, see these articles:
- Some Dos and Don’ts in the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens
- Rite of Acceptance…why your role is crucial. And yours. And yours…
- The Rite of Acceptance — the beginning of a paschal journey for the RCIA seekers
- The six deadly sins committed during the Rite of Acceptance
How does your parish celebrate the Rite of Acceptance? How could you make it even more impactful for your seekers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.