It was time to put my toe into the water. Time to figure out more about the Catholic Church. Time to figure out exactly how they pitch their faith to sincere, interested prospects.
I was blessed having several friends who attended a local parish. I had visited several times before – a friend’s funeral, special events at my friend Marcie’s invitation and for Mass. I first attended their Friday morning men’s group at my friend Jack’s invitation. In short, I was familiar with the place and knew a few people there. That was before I ever thought, in my wildest dreams, that I would one day be interested in joining.
(Perhaps you don’t know anybody at your local Parish. That’s OK too. You probably won’t be alone in that regard. Maybe you will meet a few other folks that only know 1 person. No big deal. Just call the Parish office and ask for the RCIA coordinator’s contact info.)
It was different now. I was led to the Catholic Church and wanted to seriously consider it. I didn’t know much about how one does that. Might there be some sort of brief introductory class followed by a ceremony some Sunday where you join? Lots of churches are like that.
Well, not exactly. The Church really, really wants you – but they also know how important it is that you first understand the core beliefs of the faith and make an informed decision. They call this inquiry, and it is an informal, interactive class held over several weeks. The next step is to dig deeper through classes called RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). In this phase you are on the path to joining but are free to jump off or continue in RCIA until you feel ready. There is no test, no one pressures you in the slightest way… you alone make the call.
There can be complications getting started. The Catholic Church recognizes your Christian baptism, so long as it was made in the Trinitarian formula (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). If you were baptized in any other way it can not be considered valid and you will need to be baptized properly. If you have no record of your baptism then perhaps family members witnessed it. If it just can’t be determined if you were baptized properly or not, a conditional baptism may be necessary (conditional because you can only have one real baptism).
Another complication may be marriage. If you were married, divorced and remarried — that can be an issue. Marriage is a vocation and sacred covenant. It can not be “undone” through a civil or any other process. However, there may be extenuating circumstances that render an earlier marriage attempt invalid and subject to annulment.
Baptism and marriage status are very important. If your situation is complicated then speak to a Priest, Deacon or RCIA coordinator for guidance. They are compassionate and want to help.
These were not complications in my case. My close friend Rigsby invited me back to the mens group where I met Deacon John, and he asked why I was interested. I explained the best I could without going into a really long explanation (which as you can see, I am perfectly capable of!). That Sunday after Mass I met Vince, our local RCIA coordinator. It wasn’t just any Sunday, it was the day those who were entering RCIA had their Rite of Welcome – a truly beautiful ceremony.
My timing was excellent [heavy sarcasm] as always. For my specific background the inquiry classes would probably not be too helpful. Starting with RCIA seemed the most appropriate approach… but I missed it by one week. Vince discussed my situation with Deacon John, and he agreed it would be OK for me to jump right in.
I guess the bottom line is everyone’s circumstance is different. The process of joining – or potentially joining – the Catholic Church is not rigid. It is focused on you personally. Speak with a Priest, Deacon or RCIA coordinator. You are not a number to them and they care about you individually.
So, I have taken that first big step. What was it like? Nothing I was expecting.
The Catholic Church is incredibly welcoming. People you meet as well as people you have long known are so happy you are there. Not because it bumps up their membership. Not because you validate their faith. They are genuinely happy for you. You are immediately embraced as a potential new parish brother or sister at the start of your journey. The joy is deeply sincere.
Details of RCIA programs vary slightly by parish. In my parish, we meet on Sunday morning and are able to attend the first half of Mass. Those interested in joining, the Catechumenate (not baptized) and candidates (baptized), are called together and dismissed as a group. This is a wonderful, ancient practice and happens after the Liturgy of the Word (readings and homily) but prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist (which we are not yet ready to receive). One thing I will always treasure is the dismissal hymn by Christopher Walker sung for us as we leave for class each week. “May the word of God strengthen you; May the word of God nourish you; May the word of God comfort you… all your life.” There are a lot of people at Mass making this prayer for us, and it is sincere every time.
This is my Conversion Story, part 3 of 4. Please also see:
- Part 1: How I came to be an ex-Protestant
- Part 2: How in the world did I end up here?
- Part 4: The journey