Period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate
During the period of evangelization, or precatechumenate, those interested in joining the Catholic Church are considered “inquirers.” Their draw to the truth and beauty of Catholic teaching has moved them to inquirer further into the faith—both its doctrines and its practice. This is a time for inquirers to receive preliminary instruction in the gospel message and Church teaching and to meet one another and other Catholics who are fully initiated. It is the start of the journey and the beginning of faith formation and foundation.
Period of the Catechumenate
The Rite of Acceptance, marks the beginning of the Period of the Catechumenate. During this rite, the parish community welcomes the catechumens—those seeking baptism as well as the other sacraments of initiation–and candidates—those who have been baptized into another Christian faith and seeking full communion with the Catholic Church—into the official period of preparation. During this ritual, catechumens and candidates receive the sign of the cross on all their senses, their hands, and their feet as a symbol of the rededication of themselves to Christ and the Christian journey. They publicly express their intention to follow Christ and respond to God’s call.
The period of the catechumenate is a time for deeper instruction and learning about Church teaching and tradition. The candidates and catechumens are guided in how to begin cultivating both their knowledge and their practice, and encouraged in developing their prayer and spiritual lives. “This catechesis leads the catechumens not only to an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate.”
There are two other important rite that take place during the period of the catechumenate: the “Rite of Sending” and the “Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.”
During the Rite of Sending, which also occurs near the beginning of Lent, the parish community expresses their support of the catechumens and candidates through a blessing and then “sends” them forth to receive the “Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion” from the bishop or archbishop.
The catechumens and candidates will in fact soon after appear before the (arch)bishop to participate in the “Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.” This rite marks the end of the period of the Catechumenate, as the Church as a whole, represented by the (arch)bishop acknowledges their readiness for initiation. During this rite they express their will to be received into the Church through the sacraments of initiation. Following this rite, they are known as the “elect.”
Period of Purification and Enlightenment
The period of Purification and Enlightenment coincides with the season of Lent and is the final period preceding the initiation of the elect into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. During this period, the elect joins the rest of the Church in penance and sacrifice as they prepare themselves spiritually reflecting especially upon the process of purification and conversion.
On the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent, the elect undergo three “scrutinies.” These are rites meant to encourage self-reflection, repentance, spiritual healing and deeper conversion. The scrutinies are oriented toward a strengthening of the elect in their resolve to leave behind sinful ways and commend themselves entirely to the love of God.
Finally, at the Easter Vigil, the elect are initiated into the Catholic Church through their reception of the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and Confirmation. Again, those who have been previously baptized in another Christian church enter into full communion of the Catholic Church and celebrate the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. It is a joyful occasion for the whole Church. However it does not conclude the RCIA process. There is one final stage that the newly initiated Catholics must complete.
Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy
This final period lasts throughout the season of Easter following the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. It is a time of reflection during which the new Catholics can meditate upon their initiation and seek to deepen their understanding of the Christian faith and way of life through the new experience of being fully practicing members of their Catholic community.
Significance of RCIA for Faithful Catholics
Most of the RCIA rituals are celebrated during the mass at our parishes. A quick call to your parish office will likely make the information available to you. It is a truly beautiful and humbling to witness the coming to faith of our adult peers. To see the workings of Our Lord and the Holy Spirit in the lives of others is such a reminder to us all that God is in pursuit of each of us. It is further a reminder that the call to conversion and the journey toward sanctity is ceaseless and it emphasizes the important role of the sacraments in our lives. Finally, it leaves a profound impression of gratitude for the gift of the Church; our community of the faithful that supports and uplifts us in our search for God and truth; and the grace we receive through the sacraments.