It’s important to be clear about terminology. Before we leap into this optional “Rite of Welcoming the Candidates,” let’s recap:
- The unbaptized are in turn inquirers, catechumens, elect, and neophytes as they progress through the four stages.
- Unbaptized inquirers are accepted into the order of catechumens.
- Baptized, but uncatechized Christians are welcomed, thus becoming candidates for full communion.
- This rite of welcoming, and the optional rites that follow, are not intended for catechized Christians who wish to become Catholics.
That said, let’s review what the RCIA document has to say about this optional ritual, which parallels the required Rite of Acceptance.
411. This optional rite welcomes baptized but previously uncatechized adults who are seeking to complete their Christian initiation through the sacraments of confirmation and eucharist or to be received into full Communion of the Catholic Church.
412. The prayers and ritual gestures acknowledge that such candidates are already part of the community because they have been marked by baptism. Now the Church surrounds them with special care and support as they prepare to be sealed with the gift of the Spirit in confirmation and take their place at the banquet table of Christ’s sacrifice.
413. Once formally welcomed into the life of the community, these adults, besides regularly attending Sunday eucharist, take part in celebrations of the word of God in the full Christian assembly and in celebrations arranged especially for the benefit of the candidates.
414. The rite will take place on specified days throughout the year (see RCIA 18) that are suited to local conditions.
415. When the rite of welcoming candidates for the sacraments of confirmation and eucharist is to be combined with the rite of acceptance into the order of catechumens, the alternate rite found (in RCIA 505ff, Appendix I) is used.
The baptized are already part of the Catholic community. That’s what it says.
That said, not having been formed in the Catholic faith, the local church is pressed to show “special care and support” for those who need it.
Note in RCIA 413 that the baptized candidates “attend … Sunday Eucharist.” No dismissal is mentioned here, though special celebrations of the Word are to be “arranged.”
It’s been the regular practice in many American parishes to combine the catechumens and candidates in liturgical rites. My present parish offers a segregation. We do not combine acceptance and welcoming. We do not send candidates to the bishop for election. We baptized the elect last Saturday. We will receive candidates into full Communion this coming Sunday.
Obviously, the catechetical issues may be quite similar for people who have not been formed in any sort of Christian community, much less a Catholic one. Yet the Church is trying to impress on us the importance and dignity of baptism. Attend to issues of formation, practice, and knowledge, it insists. But do so with an awareness that for the candidate, we are awakening and enriching a faith that was begun, with however small a seed, at the moment of Christian baptism.