As far back as the Acts of the Apostles there is evidence of the community of Jesus, Christ’s followers, initiating new members through a single celebration of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Today the decision one makes to enter the Catholic Church is just as significant as it was in early Christianity. Even though we may not face threats of martyrdom, we are called to be daily witnesses to the gospel and to take a stand for all that is life-giving and just.
At St. Mary Basilica the journey to becoming a fully active member of our faith community begins with the program called RCIA. It is designed to address the needs of three primary groups, who are:
- People who are interested in pursuing membership in the Catholic Church.
- People who are already Catholic but would like to update their knowledge of the faith.
- People who are seeking information only.
An introduction to RCIA begins with an overview, called “Come and See,” of the practice of Catholicism in general and the history of the faith in Natchez. The overview is presented by various speakers during September, and people of all faiths are invited to attend any or all of these sessions.
The first period of RCIA is called “inquiry.” It continues on the Thursday evening schedule through October and November. The purpose of this period is to welcome and get acquainted with those in attendance and to answer their questions. It is a time of unhurried reflection and discovery for the individuals involved. Each inquirer is unique and must make the journey at his or her pace. Topics are drawn from church creed.
The second period of RCIA is called “catechumenate,” the meaning of which comes from biblical Greek and literally means “one who thoroughly sounds out something.” Participants may declare their intention to follow the gospel through the Rite of Acceptance/Welcoming. In these sessions the growing faith of those involved is nurtured and strengthened by witness, word, and prayer. The program continues to meet every Thursday evening.
The third period of RCIA is that of “purification and enlightenment.” The celebration of the Rite of Election is usually held on the first Sunday of Lent, marking the beginning of a reflective time—a time of prayer and meditation for all. Lent is an especially appropriate time for this final step of examination of one’s motivations. The season of Lent is seen as a spiritual retreat calling all of us, baptized or unbaptized, to a renewal of heart and recommitment to our baptismal promises. Once again, meeting on Thursday evenings, we pledge ourselves to a gospel way of living, to discipleship of Jesus Christ, and to witnessing his message to all we meet. This period culminates with the East Week services and the joyous acceptance of new members to the Catholic faith.
The last period of RCIA is called “mystagogy.” The name comes from biblical Greek and refers to the profound and joyous “mystery” of living life fully aware that Jesus is Lord. This may be the final stage of the formal program, but it is the beginning of a lifelong journey. Continuing to meet on Thursday evenings for the rest of the Easter season, the newly initiated are prepared for their new membership in the Church through the sessions, but particularly through their participation in the Sunday Eucharist. It is a time of exploring prayer, ministry, and commitment.