In the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults there are several aspects of formation and many moving parts that all contribute to the overall formation of the catechumens and the candidates. The pastoral aspect of formation concerns itself with the overall discipleship development of the catechumens, while the catechetical aspect helps them come to know the Word of God and brings them into intimacy with Jesus Christ. However, it is sometimes easy to forget that the RCIA is a liturgical rite and that the liturgical rites provide the grace and supernatural power that transforms the catechumens to become more like Christ and brings them into the life of grace. Therefore, it is crucially important that we both understand and fully implement all of the liturgical rites the Church provides us in the RCIA process in order to effectively form life-long disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Liturgy: The Grace that Drives the RCIA Process
First, we have to understand that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is exactly that—a liturgical Rite. It is the liturgical rites that drive the process, from marking the movement of the catechumens from one period to the other to lavishing the catechumens with the grace of Christ and the Church as they move through the joyful (yet sometimes long and difficult) RCIA journey. Without this grace and supernatural assistance—which is the living water that drives the entire process—we risk forming catechumens who are not adequately prepared and empowered by God’s grace to live the Christian life.
In discussing these liturgical rites, we can distinguish between two particular kinds of rites given to us by the Church in the RCIA process. The first is called a “major rite” which includes “the more intense moments of initiation” (RCIA, 6). Examples include the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens that begins the Period of the Catechumenate. Another would be the Rite of Election and Enrollment of Names that begins the Period of Purification and Enlightenment; and the final major rite is the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. These rites provide the grace and assistance of the Church as the catechumens progress from one period of the process to another.
The RCIA also offers a variety of other liturgical rites that are called “minor rites” that belong to particular periods of the RCIA. While these rites are called “minor rites” to distinguish them from the “major rites” that coincide with the major liturgical steps in the process, these minor rites are in no way to be neglected and are a crucial and indispensable part of the overall RCIA process. These minor rites are in fact packed with major grace that assists, strengthens, heals, and empowers the catechumens as they journey towards fullness of life in the Catholic Church.
The bottom line is that any fully effective RCIA process must employ the minor and the major rites in order to bring about the full and fruitful discipleship development of the catechumens. Let’s now explore more fully the minor rites of the RCIA process and how we can most effectively celebrate these rites.