Sorting Fish: A Task at the Beginning (Part 3)

Baptized Christians.  Debbie and Ernest are both baptized Christians.  Debbie is a young professional, single and searching for “something more” in her life.  Although baptized in the Methodist church as an infant, her family was not active in any church.  She has had no formal religious training.  Because of some conversations with a Roman Catholic colleague, she is interested in Catholicism.

Ernest was baptized in the Lutheran tradition.  He and his family were very active in their church.  After he married a Catholic, he began attending her parish, because, as he said, he did not see a lot of differences.  He and his wife raised their three children as Catholics.  Through those years, Ernest approached the pastor about his reception into full communion.

Those who have already been baptized in another Church or ecclesial community should not be treated as catechumens or so designated.  Their doctrinal and spiritual preparation for reception into full communion should be determined according to the individual case, that is, it should depend on the extent to which the baptized person has led a Christian life within a community of faith and been appropriately catechized to deepen his or her inner adherence to the church.  (NS, 30)

Debbie is clearly uncatechized.  Thus, the path outlined in RCIA, 400-72 for uncatechized adults is the path for her (see also NS, 31).

Although baptized, Debbie could be less catechized than Charlene.  Thus, one can anticipate that Debbie’s journey into full communion will probably take more time.  The parish may need to provide her with rites along the way (see RCIA, 411-72).

What has applied to Debbie’s situation does not apply to Ernest.  He is a baptized catechized adult.  Thus the order for his reception should be such that, “no greater burden than necessary is required for the establishment of communion and unity” (RCIA, 473; see also 474-504; NS, 32).

Baptized Catholics.  Frank is the father of two children (in second and fourth grade).  Their mother died when they were very young.  Frank remarried within a year of his wife’s death, but this marriage lasted only a short time.  Now he is dating an active Catholic, and they are moving toward marriage.  Frank has no religious upbringing but has now become interested in the Church for himself and his children.  He has already spoken with a priest in the parish about his past marriages and the possible approaching one.  Through the initial investigation for an annulment, Frank discovered that his grandmother had him baptized as an infant.

Gloria is in her mid-thirties.  Her father was in the military.  As a result she lived in many places throughout her childhood.  She was baptized as a Catholic and received first Communion in second grade.  Although she continued to participate in catechetical programs she missed Confirmation due to the family’s moving patterns and various age requirements of parishes.  She regularly participated in parish life.  Recently, because of a retreat she made, and the social justice ministry in which she is involved, she decided to be confirmed.

Except for the church in which they baptized, Frank’s situation is similar to Debbie’s (baptized uncatechized adults), and Gloria’s is similar to Ernest’s (baptized catechized adults).  In Frank’s case, the path to initiation will probably be an extended journey with adapted rites celebrated along the way (see NS, 25).

One particular issue is Frank’s eventual celebration of Confirmation.  The priest in his parish does not have the faculty to confirm a baptized Catholic “who without his or her fault never put the faith into practice” (NS, 28).  In such situations:

In order to maintain the interrelationship and sequence of confirmation and eucharist as defined in canon 842.2, priests who lack the faculty to confirm should seek it from the diocesan bishops, who may, in accord with canon 884:1, grant the faculty if he judges it necessary.  (NS, 29)

Finally, there is Gloria’s case.  Like Ernest, she is a catechized baptized adult.  She shares in communion as a Catholic.  However, to approach her Confirmation as merely a matter of clearing up some “red tape” (she missed one of the initiation sacraments) would be a disservice to her maturing faith.  Thus, I would be inclined to have her follow a path similar to Ernest’s.  In that way they could journey together, on a less extensive path, giving witness to the parish of adult faith commitment.  If they are ready at the same time (which will likely be the case), I would celebrate the rites together.  However, the same caution that was expressed in Frank’s case applies in Gloria’s.  Specific delegation of the faculty for her Confirmation will be needed from the bishop.  It is not needed for Ernest, because this faulty is given by virtue of the law itself (canon 883:2).


“Messy” is what RCIA ministers say about working with initiation processes that are respectful of people’s different places on the many paths of faith.  This hypothetical beginning group reflects the “mess” that many parishes have.  However, for the sake of brevity I tidied up some of the cases.  Nevertheless, I hope that this discussion provides further insight into the variations within the RCIA.  Not everyone, who responds to our welcome will take the same path.  But for all adults and all children of catechetical age, the RCIA is the way.

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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.