Before we get to the rubrics, let me type the outline of the rite as given in RCIA, tucked in between sections 47 and 48, and also give you the section numbers where each part is treated in the rite:
RECEIVING THE CANDIDATES (RCIA 48)
Opening Dialogue (50)
Candidates’ First Acceptance of the Gospel (52)
Affirmation by the Sponsors and the Assembly (53)
Signing of the Candidates with the Cross (54)
– Signing of the Forehead (55)
– (Signing of the Other Ssnses) (56)
– Concluding Prayer (57)
Invitation to the Celebration of the Word of God (60)
LITURGY OF THE WORD
(Presentation of a Bible) (64)
Intercessions for the Catechumens (65)
Prayer over the Catechumens (66)
Dismissal of the Catechumens (67)
LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST (68)
I didn’t mean to gloss over the issue raised in RCIA 44 on when the Rite of Acceptance takes place. For some reason, Catholic parishes seemed to be stuck in an annual mode of First Sunday of Advent. That was always a headscratcher to me, and probably one of the worst times to celebrate Acceptance. The documentation we’ve seen so far suggests a catechumenate period of one to several years. Keeping in mind the need for flexibility, I think three times of the year lend themselves well: immediately prior to Lent, before the summer months, and probably in the Fall, well before Advent. Of course, if a number of inquirers are ready to go, there’s nothing wrong with slotting Rite of Acceptance in at a different time.
Now that we’ve got the when out of the way, let’s look at how. RCIA 48 gives the basic instruction for part 1, “Receiving the Candidates”
48. The candidates, their sponsors, and a group of the faithful gather outside the church (or inside at the entrance or elsewhere) or at some other site suitable for this rite. As the priest or deacon, wearing an alb or surplice, a stole, and, if desired, a cope of festive color, goes to meet them, the assembly of the faithful may sing a psalm or an appropriate song.
There’s a lot here, and we’ll proceed with the usual Roman assumptions that the first listed choice is preferred, and other fallback options are given to accommodate local or practical need.
First, note that a group of parishioners are to gather with the candidates in advance of this liturgy. Who might that be? Every latecomer? The catechumenate team? Friends and family of the participants? Probably all of these, but let me add to the list: the parish council, other parish committees, those who have hosted social and prayer gatherings of the inquirers, the parish staff, the school staff, confirmation candidates, leaders and representatives of parish groups like the Knights of Columbus or other similar organizations. What about the most recent batch of initiated Christians? I’m sure the commenters can think of some more.
Second, notice where the rite begins: outside the church. When might it begin inside? Probably when the weather is inclement. When might it begin “elsewhere?” Perhaps if a parish has a courtyard, or if the main entrance doesn’t lend itself well to the numbers of people expected.
Third, notice the rubric for a “cope of festive color.” In the four-color liturgical universe, that would mean white. Beyond the basic four, I would think something of gold, silver, or bright/pastel colors would set the tone for festivities. Such “festivity” probably should be extended indoors, too, and if celebrated on an ordinary time Sunday, it should probably include the chasuble used by the priest at Mass and any other liturgical coloration used.
Last, my eyes and ears always perk when I see rubrics for music. The direction is that the waiting assembly is singing a psalm (first choice) or an apporpriate song (second choice). My interpretation is as follows: such a piece would reflect the role of those singing it. What does that mean? These are the people left behind in church. (In the next post, we’ll see what the outside folks are to sing.) Presumably, they are there to pray for the candidates, and secondarily, to pray for the evangelization apostolate that has brought these newcomers to their doors this day. The rite gives no suggestions, but let me offer a few from the psalter:
– Psalm 84 with the refrain “Happy are those who dwell in your house! They never cease to praise you.” (84:5)
– Psalm 92 with the refrain, “Planted in the house of the Lord, the just shall flourish in the courts of our God.” (92:14)
– or even Isaiah 26, especially verses 1-9 with this refrain, perhaps: “You have increased the nation, O Lord, to your own glory, and extended far all the borders of the land.” (26:15)
I’ll leave the appropriate song suggestions for the commentariat. As well as any other comments.