Question: I am unclear as to whether validly baptized Protestants should go through the catechumenate before being received into the Catholic Church. Some pastors think that they should, and others think otherwise. Also, should baptized Christians be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil?
— Deacon John Kranz, Holladay, Utah
Answer: The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) faces the challenge of dealing with a diverse group of people. At one end of the spectrum are people who have never been baptized validly into any Christian community and have little or no knowledge of Christian faith. At the other end are people who have been active members of an Orthodox Church and who have been validly baptized, confirmed and received holy Communion. In between are people with various experiences of faith and differing degrees of contact with the sacraments.
To handle this diversity, the RCIA makes a fundamental distinction between “catechumens” (people who have never been validly baptized and are now being prepared for entrance into the Church through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist) and “candidates” (people who have been validly baptized into a Christian denomination and now await reception into the Church through confirmation and first Communion). The 1986 National Statutes for the Catechumenate state: “Those who have already been baptized in another Church or ecclesial community should not be treated as catechumens or so designated” (No. 30).
Can or should validly baptized Protestants be part of the catechumenate process? The statutes state: “Those who have been baptized but have received relatively little Christian upbringing may participate in the elements of catechumenal formation so far as necessary and appropriate, but should not take part in rites intended for unbaptized catechumens” (No. 31). The bottom line is the following: “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” (ibid.).
Should baptized Christians be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil? Maybe. The statutes state: “The reception of [already validly baptized] 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 upon their profession of faith and confirmation ... before receiving the Eucharist” (No. 32). However, the statutes go on to state: “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 [negative] reflection upon the Sacrament of Baptism celebrated in another Church or ecclesial community, or any perceived triumphalism in the liturgical welcome into the Catholic Eucharistic community” (No. 33). Nevertheless, the statutes allow for the reception of candidates into the Church at the Easter Vigil, as long as the distinctions already mentioned are maintained (see No. 34).
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.