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RCIA The return of the Catechumenate

When trying to put together a solid timeline of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), you have to go back to the early church at the point when the 12 Apostles were in charge of it, directly. They would go though the towns and countries spreading the Good News and would come upon small communities where individuals would come together in small groups and study the works of Jesus. They would communally work on the call ot conversion. This was being done at a time when persecution was very common place and most of the participants in this knew they faced and their conversion would demand possible martyrdom.

After the first 100 years of the church the conversion process and the Initiation process began to have some form to it. This was the very beginning of the catechumenate, a process that is still used to this day. The conversion of Gentiles was very comprehensive as to make sure that each person understood the Judeo Christian culture, teachings and history. St. Justin spoke on this and it was followed in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.

As we moved to the 3rd and 4th centuries, the process had developed into a three year program. During this time Constantine made Christianity legal in 315 and that saw large numbers of candidates start into the process, however,  the system was not fully developed and had very little control over it. By the 5th century the catechumenate  began to go by the way side.  The need for conversion in Europe was no longer needed as frequently and may children were being baptized as infants.

The lack of a Catechumenate caused both the Dominican Order, named for St Dominic and the Augustinians, named for St. Augustine to both start the process to re establish the catechumenate. They did not like the practice of baptisms occurring during mass. In 1538 there was an Episcopal conference. During this conference these two groups asked that the pastors return to the missionary principles and return to missionary principle of the early church and reestablish the catechumenate. It was unsuccessful.  The process stayed as it was all the way up through the early 20th century.

In the early 1900s there was a revival moment to re-add the Catechumenate to the process of conversion. In France there were many problems because of the number of non practicing Catholics.  And in African, it was very apparent that they were working in a missionary capacity and needed to build the Catholic Church from the ground up just as the early Christians did by going to small communities.

Whether the success of the French and African programs or just the recognition that working within small groups makes for a more successful situation,  Vatican II took up the cause of the Catechumenate, and called for it to e reinstated. The Bishops by overwhelming majority reinstated and restored the catechumenate. The vote was 2,165-9-1. By 1966 a temporary rite was handed out to all the parishes outlining the process and a secondary version was handed out in 1969 and by 1972 the Catechumenate was back and instated in parishes and by 1986 the US Bishops were mandating that this rite be implemented in ALL US Parishes and gave a nation plan of how to do it. By 1988 it was completely in place.

From 1988 though present the process has been evolving. In 2000 the Bishops again visited the subject only to find that may parishes were not really fleshing out the program . But despite the tepid reception of the program and its installation, the Bishop to date have refused to change the program. They feel it is very important to the community for conversion of the entire parish.  

This article was published on Saturday 08 March, 2008.

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  • First Communion
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    The Rite of Sending and Election
    RCIA Process is a Call for Conversion to All
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