to Become Catholic
Becoming Catholic is one of life’s most profound and
joyous experiences. Some are blessed enough to receive this great gift
while they are infants, and, over time, they recognize the enormous
grace that has been bestowed on them. Others enter the Catholic fold
when they are older children or adults. This tract examines the joyful
process by which one becomes a Catholic.
A person is brought into full communion with the Catholic Church through
reception of the three sacraments of Christian initiation—baptism,
confirmation, and the holy Eucharist—but the process by which one
becomes a Catholic can take different forms.
A person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at
that moment. One’s initiation is deepened by confirmation and the
Eucharist, but one becomes a Catholic at baptism. This is true for
children who are baptized Catholic (and receive the other two sacraments
later) and for adults who are baptized, confirmed, and receive the
Eucharist at the same time.
Those who have been validly baptized outside the Church become Catholics
by making a profession of the Catholic faith and being formally received
into the Church. This is normally followed immediately by confirmation
and the Eucharist.
Before a person is ready to be received into the Church, whether by
baptism or by profession of faith, preparation is necessary. The amount
and form of this preparation depends on the individual’s circumstance.
The most basic division in the kind of preparation needed is between
those who are unbaptized and those who have already become Christian
through baptism in another church.
For adults and children who have reached the age of reason (age seven),
entrance into the Church is governed by the Rite of Christian Initiation
for Adults (RCIA), sometimes called the Order of Christian Initiation
for Adults (OCIA).
Preparation for the Unbaptized
Preparation for reception into the Church begins with the inquiry
stage, in which the unbaptized person begins to learn about the Catholic
faith and begins to decide whether to embrace it.
The first formal step to Catholicism begins with the rite of reception
into the order of catechumens, in which the unbaptized express
their desire and intention to become Christians. "Catechumen" is a term
the early Christians used to refer to those preparing to be baptized and
The period of the catechumenate varies depending on how much the
catechumen has learned and how ready he feels to take the step of
becoming a Christian. However, the catechumenate often lasts less than a
The catechumenate’s purpose is to provide the catechumens with a
thorough background in Christian teaching. "A thoroughly comprehensive
catechesis on the truths of Catholic doctrine and moral life, aided by
approved catechetical texts, is to be provided during the period of the
catechumenate" (U.S. Conference of Bishops, National Statutes for the
Catechumenate, Nov. 11, 1986). The catechumenate also is intended to
give the catechumens the opportunity to reflect upon and become firm in
their desire to become Catholic, and to show that they are ready to take
this serious and joyful step (cf. Luke 14:27–33; 2 Pet. 2:20–22).
The second formal step is taken with the rite of election, in
which the catechumens’ names are written in a book of those who will
receive the sacraments of initiation. At the rite of election, the
catechumen again expresses the desire and intention to become a
Christian, and the Church judges that the catechumen is ready to take
this step. Normally, the rite of election occurs on the first Sunday of
Lent, the forty-day period of preparation for Easter.
After the rite of election, the candidates undergo a period of more
intense reflection, purification, and enlightenment, in which they
deepen their commitment to repentance and conversion. During this period
the catechumens, now known as the elect, participate in several further
The three chief rituals, known as scrutinies, are normally
celebrated at Mass on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The
scrutinies are rites for self-searching and repentance. They are meant
to bring out the qualities of the catechumen’s soul, to heal those
qualities which are weak or sinful, and to strengthen those that are
positive and good.
During this period, the catechumens are formally presented with the
Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, which they will recite on the
night they are initiated.
The initiation itself usually occurs on the Easter Vigil, the
evening before Easter Day. That evening a special Mass is celebrated at
which the catechumens are baptized, then given confirmation, and finally
receive the holy Eucharist. At this point the catechumens become
Catholics and are received into full communion with the Church.
Ideally the bishop oversees the Easter Vigil service and confers
confirmation upon the catechumens, but often—due to large distances or
numbers of catechumens—a local parish priest will perform the rites.
The final state of Christian initiation is known as mystagogy, in
which the new Christians are strengthened in the faith by further
instruction and become more deeply rooted in the local Catholic
community. The period of mystagogy normally lasts throughout the Easter
season (the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost Sunday).
For the first year of their life as Christians, those who have been
received are known as neophytes or "new Christians."
Preparation for Christians
The means by which those who have already been validly baptized
become part of the Church differs considerably from that of the
Because they have already been baptized, they are already Christians;
they are, therefore, not catechumens. Because of their status as
Christians, the Church is concerned that they not be confused with those
who are in the process of becoming Christians.
"Those who have already been baptized in another church or ecclesial
community should not be treated as catechumens or so designated. Their
doctrinal and spiritual preparation for reception into full Catholic
communion should be determined according to the individual case, that
is, it should depend on the extent to which the baptized person has led
a Christian life within a community of faith and been appropriately
catechized to deepen his or her inner adherence to the Church" (NSC 30).
For those who were baptized but who have never been instructed in the
Christian faith or lived as Christians, it is appropriate for them to
receive much of the same instruction in the faith as catechumens, but
they are still not catechumens and are not to be referred to as such (NSC
3). As a result, they are not to participate in the rites intended for
catechumens, such as the scrutinies. Even "[t]he rites of presentation
of the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the book of the Gospels are not
proper except for those who have received no Christian instruction and
formation" (NSC 31).
For those who have been instructed in the Christian faith and have lived
as Christians, the situation is different. The U.S. Conference of
Bishops states, "Those baptized persons who have lived as Christians and
need only instruction in the Catholic tradition and a degree of
probation within the Catholic community should not be asked to undergo a
full program parallel to the catechumenate" (NSC 31). For this reason,
they should not share in the same, full RCIA programs that catechumens
The timing of their reception into the Church also is different. The
U.S. Conference of Bishops states, "It is preferable that reception into
full communion not take place at the Easter Vigil lest there be any
confusion of such baptized Christians with the candidates for baptism,
possible misunderstanding of or even reflection upon the sacrament of
baptism celebrated in another church or ecclesial community . . . " (NSC
Rather than being received on Easter Vigil, "[t]he reception of
candidates into the communion of the Catholic Church should ordinarily
take place at the Sunday Eucharist of the parish community, in such a
way that it is understood that they are indeed Christian believers who
have already shared in the sacramental life of the Church and are now
welcomed into the Catholic Eucharistic community . . ." (NSC 32).
Christians coming into the Catholic Church must discuss with their
pastor and/or bishop the amount of instruction needed and the time of
Peace with God
The sacrament of baptism removes all sins committed prior to it, but
since Christians have already been baptized, it is necessary for them to
confess mortal sins committed since baptism before receiving
confirmation and the Eucharist.
In some cases, this can be difficult due to a large number of years
between the Christian’s baptism and reception into the Catholic Church.
In such cases, the candidate should confess the mortal sins he can
remember by kind and, to the extent possible, indicate how often such
sins were committed. As always with the sacrament of reconciliation, the
absolution covers any mortal sins that could not be remembered, so long
as the recipient intended to repent of all mortal sins.
Christians coming into the Church should receive the sacrament of
reconciliation before their reception into the Church (there is no
established point for when they should do this) to ensure that they are
in a state of grace when they are received and confirmed. Their
formation in the faith should stress that frequent confession is part of
Catholic life: "The celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation with
candidates for reception into full communion is to be carried out at a
time prior to and distinct from the celebration of the rite of
reception. As part of the formation of such candidates, they should be
encouraged in the frequent celebration of this sacrament" (NSC 36).
The Christian fully enters the Church by profession of faith and formal
reception. For the profession of faith, the candidate says, "I believe
and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and
proclaims to be revealed by God."
The bishop or priest then formally receives the Christian into the
Church by saying, "[Name], the Lord receives you into the Catholic
Church. His loving kindness has led you here, so that in the unity of
the Holy Spirit you may have full communion with us in the faith that
you have professed in the presence of his family."
The bishop or priest then normally administers the sacrament of
confirmation and celebrates the holy Eucharist, giving the new Catholic
the Eucharist for the first time.
Reception in Special Cases
In some situations, there may be doubts whether a person’s baptism
was valid. All baptisms are assumed valid, regardless of denomination,
unless after serious investigation there is reason to doubt that the
candidate was baptized with water and the Trinitarian formula (". . . in
the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"), or that
the minister or recipient of baptism did not intend it to be an actual
If there are doubts about the validity of a person’s baptism (or whether
the person was baptized at all), then the candidate will be given a
conditional baptism (one with the form ". . . if you are not already
baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit").
"If conditional baptism . . . seems necessary, this must be celebrated
privately rather than at a public liturgical assembly of the community
and with only those limited rites which the diocesan bishop determines.
The reception into full communion should take place later at the Sunday
Eucharist of the community" (NSC 37).
Another special case concerns those who have been baptized as Catholics
but who were not brought up in the faith or who have not received the
sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist. "Although baptized adult
Catholics who have never received catechetical instruction or been
admitted to the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist are not
catechumens, some elements of the usual catechumenal formation are
appropriate to their preparation for the sacraments, in accord with the
norms of the ritual, Preparation of Uncatechized Adults for
Confirmation and Eucharist" (NSC 25).
Waiting for the Day!
It can be a time of anxious longing while one waits to
experience the warm embrace of membership in the Church and to be
immersed into Catholic society. This time of waiting and reflection is
necessary, since becoming a Catholic is a momentous event. But waiting
can be painful as one longs for the sacraments, especially the
Eucharist, and the joys of Catholic life—the security that being a
faithful Catholic bestows. Yet even before being received, those waiting
to be fully incorporated already have a real relationship with the
For those who are already Christians, their baptism itself forms a
certain sacramental relationship with the Church (cf. Vatican II,
Unitatis Redintegratio 3; Catechism of the Catholic Church
1271). They are also joined to the Church by their intention to enter
it, as are the unbaptized who intend to do so: "Catechumens who, moved
by the Holy Spirit, desire with an explicit intention to be incorporated
into the Church are by that very intention joined to her. With love and
solicitude mother Church already embraces them as her own" (Vatican II,
Lumen Gentium 14:3; CCC 1249).
Thus, even before one is fully incorporated into the Church, one can
enjoy the status of being recognized by the Church as one of her own,
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
If you have
questions or interested in becoming a Catholic at St. James or St.
Mary's, call our office at 636-451-4685 and ask for Bev between 10am and
2pm, Monday thru Friday. (Right now we meet twice a month at St. James
Hall at 7pm.)