Catechumenate directors and newcomers to the faith operate in four distinct periods punctuated by three steps. Picking up on the theme of spiritual journey of section 5, the Church teaches:
6. This journey includes not only the periods for making inquiry and for maturing (see no. 7), but also the steps marking the catechumens’ progress, as they pass, so to speak, through another doorway or ascend to the next level.
1. The first step: reaching the point of initial conversion and wishing to become Christians, they are accepted as catechumens by the Church.
2. The second step: having progressed in faith and nearly completed the catechumenate, they are accepted into a more intense preparation for the sacraments of initiation.
3. The third step: having completed their spiritual preparation, they receive the sacraments of initiation.
These three steps are to be regarded as the major, more intense moments of initiation and are marked by three liturgical rites: the first by the rite of acceptance into the order of catechumens (nos. 41-74); the second by the rite of election of enrollment of names (nos. 118-137); and the third by the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation (nos. 206-243).
Working within the framework of the liturgical year, step three is the Easter Vigil. By long tradition the second step coincides with the commencement of Lent. Working backward from there, the first step may take place at any time. The assumption will be that the length of time between steps one and two accommodate nearly all of the spiritual journey. In the early Church that period lasted one to seven years. Today, in practice, a catechumenate period may last a few months, but most catechists would recommend a minimum of one year.