Catholicism is a huge part of me – from my childhood, school, and marriage – and it has become one of the deepest and most meaningful experiences of my life. So to help others find and experience the same, I have made it one of my missions to share what I know about my faith and religion. And in today’s article, I’ll talk about how it is to become a Catholic.
A person becomes a Catholic through the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. However, this process can take on different forms, depending on the individual. Baptized non-Catholics are also accepted in the Catholic Church by professing their faith at a mass.
So what exactly goes on in the process of initiation to become a Catholic and what preparations do you need to do? Continue reading to know more.
How to Join the Catholic Church for Unbaptized Individuals?
To join the Catholic Church, an individual must first find the closest parish to him/her and inform them of his/her desire to join. He/She will then be entered into a systematic process known as the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or RCIA.
Adults and children who have reached the age of reason (7 years old) are accepted in the Catholic Church through the RCIA. As approved for the dioceses of the United States by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (November 11, 1986) and confirmed by the Apostolic See (February 19, 1987), this is the mandatory process for the sacramental initiation of new adult disciples of Christ.
The RCIA follows a specific guideline and requires an individual to go through the following periods and rituals:
Period of Inquiry
The initial step to becoming a Catholic starts with the inquiry stage, wherein the unbaptized individual starts to know about Jesus Christ and learns about the faith. All individuals going through such a process are considered “inquirers”.
Once the inquirer is ready and decided to embrace the faith, he/she will then proceed to the next step, which is the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. This is a decisive step into the journey of faith, marking the transition of an individual from being outside of the Catholic Church to being a part of it. It is during this time that the unbaptized individual expresses his/her desire to become a Christian and will then be called “Catechumen”.
Period of Catechumenate
The term catechumen refers to individuals who are preparing to be baptized and become Christians. So it follows that during this stage, the individual learns about the word of God, the changes he/she has to make in accordance with God’s teachings and inspiration, and the meaning of Baptism in the Catholic Church.
According to the RCIA Catechumenate Handbook, “the time spent in the catechumenate should be long enough – several years if necessary – for the conversion and faith of the catechumens to become strong.” But depending on how much the person has learned, grown in faith, and how ready he/she is to commit to Jesus Christ, this can be shorter.
Once the priest and the parish team determine that the individual is ready, the next step is to request baptism and the celebration of the Rite of Election. This includes enrolling the names of all the catechumens who are seeking baptism at the coming Easter Vigil. During this time, the individual will then be called an “Elect”.
Period of Purification and Enlightenment
For this stage, the individual goes through a period of preparation marked by prayer, study, and spiritual direction. The parish communities will also offer their prayers for the individual. This leads up to the Easter Vigil Liturgy when the individual receives the sacraments of initiation, which are baptism, confirmation, and Holy Eucharist. Finally, the person will be fully considered a member of the Catholic Church.
Period of Mystagogy or Post-Baptismal Catechesis
Now, becoming a Catholic doesn’t stop at receiving the sacraments of initiation. As a new member, an individual must continue in his/her formation and education during the period of mystagogy or post-baptismal catechesis. It is during this time that the person reflects on his/her experiences and studies more about the Sacraments, Scriptures, and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Converting to Catholicism for Baptized Individuals
Before we proceed, you should know that the term “convert” in Catholicism is used strictly for those who are converting from unbelief to Christian belief. Meaning, these are unbaptized individuals and should never be used to refer to those baptized Christians.
That said, the process of becoming a Catholic differs greatly if an individual is already validly baptized. This is because he/she is already a Christian, and thus, a member of the Church. This also means that he/she is not a “Catechumen”. Therefore, he/she is not required to go through the whole initiation process. However, this still depends on the individual’s circumstances.
For instance, baptized non-Catholics who have never lived as Christians or were instructed in the Christian faith (those baptized before their 7th birthday) are still required to receive most of the same instruction in faith as catechumens. At the same time, they also need not participate in some of the rituals, including the scrutinies or the three chief rituals meant for repentance and self-searching. Under these circumstances, the initiation process is as follows:
- Period of Evangelization
- Period of Catechesis
- Period of Purification and Enlightenment
Now, for individuals who have been baptized, lived as Christians, and were instructed in the Christian faith (those baptized older than 7 years old), the RCIA process is much simpler. In fact, they only need to complete the Rite of Reception within mass where they have to make a profession of faith, are confirmed, and receive the Eucharist during the same mass.
With that said all baptized Christians who are interested in coming into the Catholic Church should coordinate carefully with their local pastor or bishop about how much instruction in the Catholic faith they need and when exactly is their reception into the Church.