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j0177805In light of yesterday’s post on the Episcopalian nuns converting to — or being received into — the Roman Catholic Church come discussions such as this one on Damian Thompson’s blog about the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).

I use the word ‘received’ in the case of the sisters, since one can be received from the Anglican Communion into the Roman Catholic Church and vice-versa.  The doctrines and traditions are close enough to make the process more straightforward.  The sisters were confirmed into the Catholic faith, although this is not generally necessary when one is received into the Anglican Communion. The candidate takes the confirmation course with the other participants. On the day of the confirmations, the bishop formally welcomes you in front of the congregation and says a short prayer and blessing over you at the time he confirms other candidates.

Anyway, back to RCIA.  Damian’s post has several comments concerning RCIA, most of which, it seems, are from American correspondents.  Many RCIA courses are given by trained lay catechists, some of whom are converts themselves.  They also appear to do the bulk of the training of children wishing to make their First Holy Communion and receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. 

However, when it comes to RCIA, instruction becomes more complicated. In the old days when there were enough priests to go around, the potential convert took one-to-one instruction from the pastor or one of his ordained assistants.  These days, with the decline in vocations, it is less common.  This is by necessity.  Depending on the area, one priest might be running between two or three parishes.  He often has no other priests assigned to him as assistant pastors.  You can see the problem.

The other issue is that, in our multifaith society, Catholic parishes may have non-Christians wishing to convert as well as agnostics or atheists.  However, there are also many Christians who convert from other denominations.  Each group has its own needs with regard to instruction.  Some people know little about the Bible or Christianity, others have made a 180-degree spiritual turnaround and many others have a good knowledge of Christ and Christian teachings.

I have read that in some Catholic parishes in the UK, the RCIA catechist has his (or her!) hands full making the classes fit all three groups.  The result is that many new Catholic converts actually understand the Church to varying degrees, not all of them well. I have met many Catholics new to the faith who know next to nothing about it!  Minimal Church history and no real teachings other that one needs to go to Mass and receive Communion every Sunday! It is for this reason that many formerly practicing Protestants seek out a priest of whom they can ask difficult questions about doctrine and teaching.  How probable is it, therefore, to receive instruction from a priest? 

Some — not all — Newman Centers on university campuses still have a priest in charge of RCIA classes.  Those interested can do a search on ‘Newman Centers’.  Here is a page from the Newman Center at Minnesota State University in Mankato.  The contact name is Fr Tim.  Those wishing to take RCIA from a priest should ask him if he is actually conducting the classes.  Note that the Newman Center at California State University in Fresno appears to have a layperson running RCIA.  Therefore, if this is important to you, verify what you need to before starting the course.  You can find out more about taking RCIA classes at Newman Centers here.

I have noticed from reading comments from RCIA instructors on other blogs that much of what they say is promotional marketing for the Novus Ordo (New Order!) Mass and post-Vatican II travesties. They generally are not well-versed in Church history or traditions.  They also seem to know nothing about heresies. That isn’t necessarily their fault, but it seems that the Church doesn’t want people knowing too much nowadays. They’re happy for the numbers. If, as a convert, you like that sort of thing, fine.  However, will the RCIA instructor be able to discuss theological differences with a Presbyterian or a Baptist?  Dunno.

Back to the original question.  If you ask your priest nicely, perhaps he will be able to accomodate you — the potential convert — for one-to-one instruction, the way it ought to be done.  If not, ask him if a priest from a nearby parish would be able to do so.  Explain why it is important to you.  You might not wish to share your life’s history with others in an RCIA class.  You might have sufficient knowledge of Christianity already and wish to discern whether you truly are making the correct decision in converting to Catholicism.  Your work schedule might prevent you from regular attendance at an RCIA class, although you would be flexible enough to make appointments with a priest.  

You can read more about it here: ‘Becoming Catholic without RCIA’.

Now, for those who have difficult personal circumstances which could be potential stumbling blocks in a straightforward RCIA course, Catholic Answers has a page of sensitive questions and answers for you. It’s a good read, even for cradle Catholics! 

Here is a brief summary of selected questions, which I have also rephrased somewhat:

I have had an abortion — may I still become a Catholic?  ‘You have nothing whatsoever to fear. The priest is there to absolve you of your sins—not to condemn you. That sin will be forgiven and nothing that you say during your reception of the sacrament of penance (as confession is formally called) can be revealed…’

Why does the Catholic Church have RCIA?  When did it start? ‘RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) was developed after Vatican II (1962-1965) as a revival of the kind of initiation methods that were in use in the early centuries when the Church was extensively persecuted … Although this process is designed principally for those who have never been baptized, there are exceptions made for those who are baptized and catechized Christians. At the same time, in the United States the National Statutes for the Catechumenate call for a shorter period of instruction for those who already lead active Christian lives and thus do not need a full course of instruction.’

I fell away from the Catholic Church after conversion because of family pressure.  Am I still a Catholic? ‘If you were received into the Catholic Church, then to rectify your situation all you need do is go to confession, explain what happened, and receive absolution. If there are any further issues that need to be dealt with, the priest will explain them. Incidentally, unless you defected from the Church by a formal act—such as officially joining (not just attending) another church—then you are still a Catholic. The Church welcomes you back with open arms.’

Why are some in my RCIA class going to Confession before being received into the Church? ‘… It is probably people of this kind—baptized, catechized Christians who are being forced to sit through a full RCIA course—that are the ones who will be going to confession before they are received … The primary reason these people go to confession before being received into the Church is that they need to be in a state of grace for the licit reception of confirmation and Communion. Since they were baptized some time ago, they likely have committed mortal sins since then, and going to confession makes sure they are in a worthy state to receive the remaining sacraments of initiation.’

I was baptised a Catholic but not raised as one.  If I wish to return to the Church, do I need to take RCIA classes?  ‘No, you do not. RCIA–the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults–is for those who have never been initiated into the Catholic Church. You have received your basic initiation by virtue of your Catholic baptism. What you need now is to learn the Church’s teachings (which you are already doing) and make your first confession and First Communion and to be confirmed … You must know, understand, and accept the Church’s teachings concerning confession and the Holy Eucharist. The person who teaches these to you does not need to be a priest or catechist, just someone who knows and will give you the straight story concerning the Church’s teachings on these sacraments as found, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church … Because you will have learned and accepted the Church’s teaching concerning the Eucharist, you can begin going to Communion like any other Catholic. No special permission is necessary… To receive confirmation, which you should do as soon as possible (CIC 890-1), you will need more instruction. For this instruction your parish may put you in an RCIA class for the sake of convenience…Welcome back!’

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