R.C.I.A. is a gradual process of Christian formation. It begins somewhat informally with the first stage called Inquiry. After an initial interview, a person will be invited to join other “inquirers” who are exploring the possibility of becoming a Catholic. Individuals will have the opportunity to ask question about the church, learn about the message of Jesus Christ and how that message is lived out in the Catholic Church. There is no set time frame for this stage. It lasts as long as necessary for a person to decide if he or she wants to pursue the process of becoming a Catholic.
When the inquirer decides to continue the process of becoming a Catholic, he or she will be accepted into the Order of Catechumens. The inquirer stands in the midst of the parish community and states that he or she wants to continue the process and become a baptized member of the Catholic Church. The local parish assembly affirms their wish and the unbaptized inquirer then becomes a catechumen. An inquirer baptized in another Christian faith will become a candidate.
During the Period of the Catechumenate the catechumen and candidate will choose their own sponsor or be paired up with a sponsor from within the parish. This spiritual companion will offer support and encouragement during this phase of the journey. The Catechumenate is a time of catechesis (the passing on of the teachings of the church), prayer, spiritual guidance, experiencing the Catholic Church through the seasons of the church calendar, involvement with the church community and participation in the work of the church. The period of the Catechumenate usually take at least one year. This allows the catechumen to experience one full cycle of the church year.
Purification and Enlightenment is a time leading up to the celebration of initiation at the Easter Vigil. This time of intense preparation coincides with the season of Lent. During this time of Lenten retreat, the elect and the parish community focus together on conversion.
The Sacraments of Initiation: The elect become full members of the Catholic Church through the celebration of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist which usually takes place at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. The person is now a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church and will continue to live out his or her response to God as a member of this faith community. These new members of the Catholic Church are now called “neophytes.”
Mystagogy, Post Baptismal Catechesis: During the fifty days of Easter, the neophytes will continue to meet weekly, pondering on the experience and meaning of the sacraments as they participate with the faithful in the Eucharistic life of the church. To help the neophytes become incorporated into the full life of the Christian community, formation and teaching will continue for one year.