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You are here: Documents > The Other Sacraments and Sacramentals > Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, Introduction  Back one page.

Table of Contents
Table of ContentsII. Ministries and OfficesEndnotes

I. Structure of the Initiation of Adults

1. The rite of Christian initiation described below is designed for adults who, after hearing the mystery of Christ proclaimed, consciously and freely seek the living God and enter the way of faith and conversion as the Holy Spirit opens their hearts. By God's help they will be strengthened spiritually during their preparation and at the proper time will receive the sacraments fruitfully.

2. This rite includes not only the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the eucharist, but also all the rites of the catechumenate. A catechumenate, endorsed by the ancient practice of the Church and adapted to contemporary missionary work throughout the world, was so widely requested that the Second Vatican Council decreed its restoration, revision, and adaptation to local traditions. [1]

3. So that it will be accommodated more closely to the work of the Church and to the circumstances of individuals, parishes, and missions, the rite of initiation first gives the complete or usual form, intended for the preparation of a large number of people (see nos. 68-239). By making simple changes, pastors may adapt this form for the preparation of one person. Then, for special cases, there is the simple form, which may be carried out in one celebration (see nos. 240-273) or in several celebrations (see nos. 274-277), as well as a short form for those in danger of death (see nos. 278-294).


4. The initiation of catechumens is a gradual process that takes place within the community of the faithful. Together with the catechumens, the faithful reflect upon the value of the paschal mystery, renew their own conversion, and by their example lead the catechumens to obey the Holy Spirit more generously.

5. The rite of initiation is suited to the spiritual journey of adults, which varies according to the many forms of God's grace, the free cooperation of the individuals, the action of the Church, and the circumstances of time and place.

6. On this journey, besides periods for making inquiry and for maturing (see no. 7) there are stages or "steps": the progress of the catechumen is, as it were, a passage through a gateway or the climbing of another "step."

a. First stage [catechumenate]: at the point of initial conversion, they wish to become Christians and are accepted as catechumens by the Church.

b. Second stage [final preparation]: when their faith has grown and the catechumenate is almost completed, they are admitted to a more intense preparation for the sacraments.

c. Third stage [sacraments of initiation]: after the spiritual preparation is completed, they receive the sacraments of Christian initiation.

These three stages, "steps," or "gateways" are to be considered as the major, more intense moments of initiation and are marked by three liturgical rites: the first by the rite of entrance into the order of catechumens, the second by the election or enrollment of names, and the third by the celebration of Christian initiation.

7.The stages lead to the periods for making inquiry and maturing; alternatively, the periods may also be considered to prepare for the stages.

a. The first period consists of inquiry on the part of the candidates and of evangelization and the precatechumenate on the part of the Church. It ends with entrance into the order of catechumens.

b. The second period, which begins with this entrance into the order of catechumens and which may last for several years, includes catechesis and the rites connected with catechesis. It comes to an end on the day of election.

c. The third period, shorter in length, ordinarily coincides with the Lenten preparation for the Easter celebration and the sacraments. It is a time of purification and enlightenment.

d. The final period goes through the whole Easter season and is devoted to the postbaptismal catechesis or mystagogy. It is a time for deepening the Christian experience, for gaining spiritual fruit, and for entering more closely into the life and unity of the community of the faithful.

Thus there are four continuous periods: the precatechumenate, marked by the hearing of the first preaching of the Gospel; the catechumenate, set aside for a complete catechesis; the period of purification and enlightenment (Lenten preparation) for a more intense spiritual preparation; and the period of postbaptismal catechesis or mystagogy, marked by the new experience of sacraments and community.

8. The whole initiation must bear a strong paschal character, since the initiation of Christians is the first sacramental sharing in the death and rising of Christ and since, in addition, the period of purification and enlightenment ordinarily coincides with Lent [2] and the postbaptismal catechesis or mystagogy with the Easter season. In this way Lent achieves its full force as a more intense preparation of the elect and the Easter Vigil is considered the proper time for the sacraments of initiation. [3] Because of pastoral needs, however, the sacraments of initiation may be celebrated outside these seasons.


9. Although the rite of initiation begins with admission to the catechumenate, the preceding period or precatechumenate is of great importance and as a rule should not be omitted. It is a time of evangelization: faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he has sent for the salvation of all. Thus those who are not yet Christians, their hearts opened by the Holy Spirit, may believe and be freely converted to the Lord and commit themselves sincerely to him. For he is the way, the truth, and the life who fulfills all their spiritual expectations, indeed infinitely surpasses them. [4]

10. From evangelization, completed with the help of God, come faith and initial conversion; these cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God's love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelization, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek baptism may mature.

11. During this period, catechists, deacons, and priests, as well as laypersons, are to give a suitable explanation of the Gospel to the candidates. They are to receive help and attention so that with a purified and clearer intention they may cooperate with God's grace. Meetings of the candidates with families and groups of Christians may then more easily be arranged.

12. In addition to the evangelization that is proper to this period, the conferences of bishops may provide, if necessary and according to local circumstances, a preliminary manner of receiving interested inquirers ("sympathizers"): those who, even though they do not fully believe, show some inclination toward the Christian faith.

  1. Such a reception, if it takes place, will be carried out without any ritual celebration. it is the expression not yet of faith, but of a right intention.
  2. The reception will be adapted to local conditions and opportunities. Some candidates need to see evidence of the spirit of Christians that they are striving to understand and experience. For others, however, whose catechumenate has been delayed for one reason or another, some first outward act on their part or on the community's is appropriate.
  3. The reception will be held at a meeting or gathering of the local community, on an occasion suitable for friendly conversation. An inquirer or "sympathizer" is introduced by a friend and then welcomed and received by the priest or some other worthy and suitable member of the community.

13. During the precatechumenate period, pastors should help inquirers with prayers suited to them.


14. The rite described as the "entrance into the order of catechumens" is of the utmost importance. Assembling publicly for the first time, the candidates make their intention known to the Church and the Church, carrying out its apostolic mission, admits those who intend to become members. God showers his grace on them, as this celebration manifests their desire publicly and marks their reception and first consecration by the Church.

15. For this step to be taken it is required that in the candidates the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching be already established. [5] There must be evidence of the first faith that was conceived during the period of the precatechumenate, of an initial conversion and intention to change their lives and to enter into a relationship with God in Christ. Consequently, there must also be evidence of the first stirrings of repentance and a start to the practice of calling upon God in prayer, and some first experience of the company and the spirit of Christians.

16. With the help of the sponsors (see no. 42), catechists, and deacons, it is the responsibility of pastors to judge the external indications of these dispositions. [6] It is also their duty, in view of the power of sacraments already validly received (see General Introduction to Christian Initiation no. 4), to see that no baptized person seeks for any reason whatever to be baptized again.

17. After the celebration of the rite, the names are written at once in the register of catechumens, along with the names of the minister and sponsors and the date and place of admission.

18. From this time on, the catechumens, who have been welcomed by the Church with a mother's love and concern and are joined to the Church, are now part of the household of Christ; [7] they are nourished by the Church on the word of God and sustained by liturgical celebrations. They should be eager, then, to take part in the liturgy of the word and to receive blessings and sacramentals. When two catechumens marry or when a catechumen marries an unbaptized person, an appropriate rite is to be used. [8] One who dies during the catechumenate receives a Christian burial.

19. The catechumenate is an extended period during which the candidates are given pastoral formation and are trained by suitable discipline. [9] In this way, the dispositions manifested at their entry into the catechumenate are brought to maturity. This is achieved in four ways:

  1. A suitable catechesis provided by priests, deacons, or catechists and other laypersons, planned to be gradual and complete in its coverage, accommodated to the liturgical year, and enriched by celebrations of the word, leads the catechumens not only to an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to personal knowledge of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate.
  2. Familiar with living the Christian way of life and helped by the example and support of sponsors and godparents and the whole community of the faithful, the catechumens learn to pray to God more easily, to witness to the faith, to keep alive in all their activities the expectation of Christ, to follow supernatural inspiration in their deeds, and to exercise charity toward neighbor to the point of selfrenunciation. Thus formed, "new converts set out on a spiritual journey. Already sharing through faith in the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, they pass from the old to a new nature made perfect in Christ. This transition, which brings with it a progressive change of outlook and conduct, should become evident together with its social consequences and should be gradually effected during the time of the catechumenate. Since the Lord in whom they believe is a sign of contradiction, converts often experience divisions and separations, but they also taste the joy that God gives without measure." [10]
  3. By suitable liturgical rites, the Church like a mother helps the catechumens on their journey, cleanses them little by little and strengthens them with God's blessing. It is recommended that celebrations of the word be arranged for their benefit and they may also attend the liturgy of the word with the faithful, thus better preparing themselves for participation in the eucharist in time to come. Ordinarily, however, when they are present in the assembly of the faithful, they should be dismissed in a friendly manner before the liturgy of the eucharist begins, unless there are difficulties in this. For they must await their baptism, which will bring them into the priestly people and empower them to participate in Christ's new worship.
  4. Since the Church's life is apostolic, catechumens should also learn how to work actively with others to spread the Gospel and build up the Church by the testimony of their lives and the profession of their faith. [11]

20. The period of time appropriate for the catechumenate depends on the grace of God and on various circumstances, such as the program of instruction for the catechumenate, the number of catechists, deacons, and priests, the cooperation of the individual catechumens, the means necessary to reach the place of the catechumenate and to spend time there, and the help of the local community. Nothing, therefore, can be settled a priori. The bishop has the responsibility of setting the period of time and directing the discipline of the catechumenate. It is recommended that the conferences of bishops, after considering the conditions of their people and region, [12] regulate this matter in greater detail.


21. The time of purification and enlightenment of the catechumens customarily coincides with Lent. Both in its liturgy and in its liturgical catechesis, Lent is a commemoration of baptism or a preparation for it and a time of penance; [13] it renews the community of the faithful together with the catechumens and makes them ready to celebrate the paschal mystery, which the sacraments of initiation apply to each individual. [14]

22. The second stage of initiation begins the period of purification and enlightenment, marked by a more intense preparation of heart and spirit. At this stage the Church makes the "election," that is, the choice and admission of the catechumens who because of their dispositions are worthy to take part in the next celebration of the sacraments of initiation. This stage is called election because the admission made by the Church is founded on the election by God, in whose name the Church acts. It is also called the enrollment of names because the candidates, as a pledge of fidelity, write their names in the book of those who have been elected.

23. Before the election is celebrated, the candidates are expected to have a conversion of mind and conduct, a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching, and a sense of faith and charity. A decision on their suitableness is also required. Later, in the actual celebration of the rite, the manifestation of their intention and the decision of the bishop or his delegate should take place in the presence of the community. It is thus clear that the election, which enjoys such great solemnity, is the turning point in the whole catechumenate.

24. From the day of their election and admission, catechumens are called the "elect." They also are called competentes ("competitors"), because they vie with each other or compete to receive Christ's sacraments and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are also called illuminandi ("those to be enlightened"), because baptism itself has the name "illumination" and sheds the light of faith on the newly baptized. In our times other terms may be used that, depending on regions and cultures, are better suited to popular understanding and the idiom of the language.

25. During this period, a more intense spiritual preparation, which involves interior recollection more than catechesis, is intended to purify hearts and minds by the examination of conscience and by penance and also to enlighten those hearts and minds with a deeper knowledge of Christ the Savior. This is accomplished in various rites, especially in the scrutinies and presentations.

  1. The "scrutinies," which are celebrated solemnly on Sundays, have the twofold purpose mentioned above: to reveal anything that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect, so that it may be healed, and to reveal what is upright, strong, and holy, so that it may be strengthened. For the scrutinies are intended to free from sin and the devil and to give strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life of the elect.
  2. The "presentations," by which the Church hands on to the elect its ancient texts of faith and prayer, namely, the creed and the Lord's Prayer, are intended to enlighten the elect. The creed, recalling the wonderful works of God for the salvation of the human race, suffuses the vision of the elect with the light of faith and joy. In the Lord's Prayer, they recognize more fully the new spirit of adoption by which they will call God their Father, especially in the midst of the eucharistic assembly.

26. In immediate preparation for the sacraments:

  1. The elect should be instructed to rest from their ordinary work as far as possible on Holy Saturday, spend the time in prayer and inner recollection, and fast according to their ability. [15]
  2. That same day, if there is a meeting of the elect, some of the immediately preparatory rites may be celebrated, such as the recitation of the creed, the ephphetha rite, the choosing of a Christian name, and, if it is to be done, the anointing with the oil of catechumens.


27. The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and eucharist are the final stage in which the elect come forward and, with their sins forgiven, are admitted into the people of God, receive the adoption of the children of God, are led by the Holy Spirit into the promised fullness of time, and, in the eucharistic sacrifice and meal, have a foretaste of the kingdom of God.


28. The celebration of baptism, which reaches its high point in the washing with water and invocation of the Holy Trinity, is preceded by the blessing of the water and the profession of faith, which are intimately linked to the rite of washing with water itself.

29. The blessing of the water expresses the religious meaning of water as God's creation and shows forth to all present the beginnings of God's saving mystery; it recalls the unfolding of the paschal mystery and the use of water for its sacramental accomplishment, while during it the Holy Trinity is invoked for the first time.

30. In the rites of renunciation and profession of faith the same paschal mystery, already commemorated in the blessing of the water and soon to be professed briefly by the celebrant in the words of baptism, is proclaimed in the active faith of those to be baptized. For adults are not saved unless, coming forward of their own accord, they have the will to accept God's gift by their belief. They are receiving the sacrament of faith, which is not only the faith of the Church, but also the faith of each one of them; and it is expected that it will be active in each one of them. As they are baptized, far from receiving so great a sacrament merely passively, they enter into a covenant with Christ by an act of their own will, renouncing error and holding fast to the true God.

31. After professing in living faith Christ's paschal mystery, they come forward immediately to receive that mystery as expressed in the washing with water; upon their professing faith in the Holy Trinity, the Trinity, invoked by the celebrant, acts to number the elect among the adopted children of God and to make them part of the people of God.

32. Therefore the washing with water should be given its full importance in the celebration of baptism: it is the sign of the mystical sharing in Christ's death and resurrection that brings about in those who believe in his name death to sin and rising to eternal life. Accordingly, either immersion or infusion should be chosen for the rite, whichever suits individual cases better, so that in different traditions and circumstances there will be a clear understanding that this washing is not just a purification rite but the sacrament of being joined to Christ.

33. The anointing with chrism after baptism is a sign of the royal priesthood of the baptized and their enrollment into the company of the people of God. The white garment is a symbol of their new dignity and the lighted candle shows their vocation to live as befits children of light.


34. According to the ancient practice preserved in the Roman liturgy, adults are not to be baptized without receiving confirmation immediately afterward (see no. 44), unless serious reasons prevent this. This combination signifies the unity of the paschal mystery, the link between the mission of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the connection between the two sacraments through which the Son and the Spirit come with the Father to those baptized.

35. Accordingly, confirmation is conferred after the explanatory rites of baptism, the postbaptismal anointing being omitted (no. 224).


36. Lastly, the eucharist is celebrated. For the first time and with full right the neophytes take part in it. This is the culminating point of their initiation. For in this eucharist the neophytes, who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood, have an active part in both the general intercessions and, as far as possible, in the presentation of the gifts. With the whole community they take part in the celebration of the sacrifice and they say the Lord's Prayer, thus giving expression to the spirit of adoption as God's children that they have received in baptism. Then, by receiving the body that was given and the blood that was shed, they confirm the gifts they have received and have a foretaste of the eternal banquet.


37. After this last stage has been completed, the community along with the neophytes grows in perceiving more deeply the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives by meditation on the Gospel, sharing in the Eucharist, and doing works of charity. This is the final period of initiation, the time of the neophytes' mystagogy or postbaptismal catechesis.

38. The neophytes acquire a truly more complete and more fruitful grasp of the "mysteries" by the newness of what they have heard and above all by the experience of the sacraments they have received. For they have been renewed in mind, tasted more deeply the good word of God, received the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and discovered the beauty of the Lord. Out of this experience, which belongs to Christians and grows as it is lived, they derive a new sense of the faith, the Church, and the world.

39. just as the freshness with which they come to the sacraments enlightens the neophytes' understanding of the Scriptures, so also it increases their knowledge of other people and thus has an impact on their experience of community. As a result their interaction with the rest of the faithful is made easier and more beneficial. The period of postbaptismal catechesis is of utmost importance so that the neophytes, with the help of their godparents, may enter into closer ties with the other faithful and bring to the others a renewed vision and fresh energies.

40. Since the distinctive character and force of this period issue from the new, personal experience of the sacraments and of the community, the chief setting for the postbaptismal catechesis or mystagogy is the Masses called Masses for neophytes, that is, the Sunday Masses of the Easter season. In these celebrations, besides meeting with the community and sharing in the mysteries, the newly baptized will find the readings of the Lectionary particularly appropriate for them, especially the readings of Year A. For this reason, the whole local community should be invited to these Masses, along with the neophytes and their godparents. The texts of these Masses may be used even when Christian initiation is celebrated outside the usual time.

Table of ContentsII. Ministries and OfficesEndnotes

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