Word gets around. Visitors or parishioners will sometimes stop me on the sidewalk in front of church and remark, “I heard you were in the Navy…” This is, of course, a prelude to reminisce, tell sea stories, recount homeports and ports-of-call, and all manner of things true and…. well, sea stories. Back in the day I was conversant in all the acronyms of naval service of the day. If someone asked if I ever did a loop through AUTEC, I knew what they were talking about. If someone said, “Bravo Zulu,” I understood. “COMNAVSEASYSCOM” – got it… but this century has a whole lot of new acronyms that just evade my comprehension.
We do the same thing in Church. We who work within the world of ministries have our own set of acronyms. This time of year, you can hear us announce all manner of things about RCIA. We just assume everyone knows what it is: Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But we also assume everyone knows the what, why, and where-for of RCIA. Hopefully true, but then again…so let me outline a little. Why now? Because we are coming to a key milestone in the RCIA process: the Easter Vigil. But let us begin at the beginning.
There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of people who participate in the RCIA program: (a) those who have never been baptized and (b) those who are already validly baptized in another Christian denomination. What is common and shared is that both groups want to be in full communion with the Catholic Church. Technically, only the unbaptized are “converts,” as they are converting to Christianity. You often hear the moniker “convert” applied to someone from another Christian church who is becoming Catholic – but not really, they are already Christian.
The first group is called “catechumens” from the Greek katekhoumenos, “being instructed.” They are being instructed in Jesus, sacred scripture, sacraments, liturgy, and more – all the things that are part of the Tradition and traditions of the Catholic Church. It is our way of saying, this is who we are and inviting them to join us – and most importantly, to be in relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The latter group is called “candidates.” While we cover many of the same things it is more “this is the Catholic understanding” of the Bible, liturgy, ministry, and more. It is our way of inviting our fellow Christian brothers and sisters to be in “full communion” with us.
Lent is a special time for those in RCIA. It began on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday, when the catechumens participated in the Rite of Sending, a moment in time when we as a community affirmed the good work of the RCIA catechists and commended the catechumens to the Bishop. That same day, the bishop formally received them in the Rite of Election, saying, “You are ready to participate in the Easter Vigil and become one with us.” During the weeks of Lent, depending on the Mass you attend, you might have witnessed several rites of blessing for the candidates and the catechumens, now called “the Elect.”
At today’s 10:30 a.m. Mass, the Candidates will be received into full communion with us as they celebrate their First Eucharist and Confirmation. The Elect will celebrate their conversion and full communion during the Easter Vigil. During that very special evening celebration, the adult and youth will be baptized, confirmed and participate in Holy Eucharist.
In the weeks to come, pray for all the Elect, their sponsors and families – and give thanks to God for the growth in our community of faith.