Adult Religious Education
How Does a Person Become a Catholic?
There are several ways. The Catholic Church warmly welcomes new members and tries to provide appropriate spiritual formation according to each person’s needs. In general, though, people who are becoming Catholic fall into three categories: infants and young children; people who whether baptized or unbaptized, have had little or no affiliation with or religious training in the Christian faith; and baptized people who have been active members in other Christian denominations.
Infants and Young Children
Children who are born or adopted into Catholic families usually are baptized as infants, a practice that began early in the church’s history. This makes sense because the children will be raised in a Christian environment, learning the ways of faith from their parents and other family members and eventually receiving formal religious training through their parish school or religious education program.
People with Little or No Christian Background
Many adults who wish to join the Catholic church have never been baptized. The church offers unbaptized adults a process of formation in the Catholic Christian faith and way of life called The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Christian initiation is a gradual process; it begins somewhat informally. Interested people are invited to meet with others who are exploring the possibility of becoming Catholic. They have the opportunity to ask questions about the church and to hear about the message of Jesus Christ and how it is lived out in the Church.
As the process moves along the Period of the Catechumenate begins and provides a structure for catechesis which is the passing on of the teachings of the church. During this time each catechumen is paired with a sponsor who can serve as a spiritual companion and offer support and encouragement. Through the various rites of the catechumenate the church marks a person’s journey to full membership. The climax of the RCIA is the celebration of the sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and eucharist — at the Easter Vigil, followed by a period for reflection on the sacraments and for integration into the life and mission of the church.
Baptized People Who Are Active Christians
People who have been active members of other Christian denominations seek membership in the Catholic church for many reasons. Often they are attracted by the church’s liturgies or by its stance on issues of life, justice and peace. Sometimes they are married or engaged to a Catholic. These candidates join with the catechumens in the RCIA to learn more about the Catholic church and to prepare for their reception into full communion with the church at the Easter Vigil.