Sorting Fish: A Task at the Beginning (Part 1)

In recent months some comments and written materials have come to my attention that have led me to believe that some clarifications are needed about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

I hear about parishes forcing everyone seeking welcome in the Roman Catholic Church—unbaptized adults, baptized uncatechized adults, baptized catechized adults, returning Catholics, and the catechetical-age children of any of these—to go through all the rites and periods of the order. At the other end of the spectrum, one archbishop, in a communiqué to priests, indicated that “pastors may have to make a pastoral judgment in individual cases whether everyone coming into the church has to be part of the RCIA.” In both cases, there are misunderstandings about the wording and requirements of the RCIA.

Most people in the United States use the term RCIA to refer to the rites and periods of the entire catechumenal journey as presented in the first part of the ritual document, “Part I: Christian Initiation of Adults” (36-251). It is true that not everyone who seeks welcome into the Church must go through Part I. However, that does not mean that an individual may not be a candidate for another series of rites and periods, as outlined within the same document. Conscious of particular circumstances, the Church has designed various series of rites and periods for adults and for children of catechetical age. The RCIA provides “Part II: Rites for Particular Circumstances” (252-504). They are as follows:

  1. Christian Initiation of Children Who Have Reached Catechetical Age (252-330)
  2. Christian Initiation of Adults in Exceptional Circumstances (331-69)
  3. Christian Initiation of a Person in Danger of Death (370-399)
  4. Preparation of Uncatechized Adults for Confirmation and Eucharist (400-72)
  5. Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church (473-504)

All of these rites detailed in Parts I and II comprise the Church’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. According to canon law (851:1 and 852:1), anyone who is seven years old or older and has the use of reason is to be initiated into the Church through one or the other of theses series of rites and periods.

With that understanding, it is correct to say that all aduls and all children of catechetical age who are being welcomed into the Church must pass through one of the orders of rites and periods of the RCIA. However, it is not correct to say that pastors have the right to judge whether or not a person coming to the Church has to pass through the RCIA. The pastoral judgment is: Which of the various orders of rites and periods of the RCIA is appropriate in a given case?

In this article, I will look at the various paths (orders of rites and periods) that are possible for those whom the Lord leads to us.

Sorting Fish

The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus’s parable about the reign of heaven being “like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind” (13:47). I suggest that a parish evangelizing outreach is like a net that may collect “fish” of every kind: unbaptized adults and children of catechetical age, baptized uncatechized Christians, baptized catechized Christians, baptized Catholics needing Confirmation and Eucharist, baptized Catholics needing only Confirmation, fully initiated Catholics who have been alienated from the Church and seek to return, and Catholics seeking an update. Unlike Jesus’s parable in which those who have hauled the net ashore put the good fish into buckets and throw away the bad fish, the parish ministers’ sorting task is not so much to throw away any “fish” as it is to discern the path each will take.

To explore this, I will set up a hypothetical beginning group and look at each case in light of the pertinent documents: canon law, the RCIA, and the National Statues for the Catechumenate (NS).

Click here for part 2

Reprinted from Catechumenate A Journal of Christian Initiation article by Ronald A. Oakham “Sorting Fish: A Task at the Beginning” © 2014 article was first published in May 1989. Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications 1-800-933-1800. All rights reserved.  Used with permission.