“RCIA” stands for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is a ritual book, like the Rite of Confirmation, the Rite of Marriage, or the Rite of Penance. A “rite” is a liturgy. So the RCIA is a liturgy. Actually, it is several liturgies that all together form the process of initiation of adults.
Make sure you have a copy of the RCIA
Once you have the book in front of you, turn to the table of contents. You will see there Part I on the left and Part II on the right. Part I is what we have been talking about so far. It is the official liturgy of the church called, “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.” Part I is required for any unbaptized person who is not an infant and who wishes to be initiated into the faith.
Part II is a collection of rites that are adaptations of the official rite. Most of Part II is optional, and the use of the rites there depends upon the circumstances of the person in question.
When you are reading any ritual book, and especially when you are reading the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, here some things to keep in mind.
Table of contents
Always start with the table of contents. This will give you a bird’s eye view of the structure and flow of the rite.
Every rite has an introduction. The introduction gives us the purpose and meaning of the rite. Because the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is more complex than many rites in the church, there are several introductions. Near of the top of the table of contents, you will see Christian Initiation, General Introduction. This is the introduction to all the initiation rites of the church, including the RCIA, infant baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Each of those rites, in turn, has its own introduction just for itself.
Look right below Christian Initiation, General Introduction, and you will see:
RITE OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION OF ADULTS
That is the introduction to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, proper. In this course, when we refer to the introduction, that’s the one we’re talking about.
In addition to those introductions, each of the “periods” you see listed in Part I has an introduction that period. And Christian Initiation of Children Who have Reached Catechetical Age has its own introduction as well.
This can all get a little confusing. Fortunately, there is a very simple way to find our way around. When we want you to read or refer to something in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, we will identify it by paragraph number. Flip open to any part of the rite, and you will see a number in the upper left hand corner of the paragraphs. Those numbers are sequential throughout the entire book, both Part I and Part II. So if we ask you to read “252,” for example, you can just flip through the book until you reach that paragraph number.
“Candidates” means “catechumens”
Everything in Part I deals with unbaptized people. The rite refers to these folks as “candidates” for initiation. Don’t confuse them with the candidates for reception into full communion (who are already baptized).
Different numbers for different countries
Note that some of the numbers are different between the United States version of the RCIA and other English versions.
Brackets are optional
When you are reading the rite, note that there are often many options. The first option is always the preferred option. Also, anything in brackets is optional. So, for example, see the “Signing of the Other Senses” in the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of the Catechumens at paragraph 56. That whole page in brackets and may be omitted if necessary.
Don’t worry if all this seems a little complicated. The most important thing you have to know is that when we ask you to read “252” in the rite, it refers to paragraph 252 and not page 252.