BECOME A CATHOLIC
Becoming a catholic is one of the most profound and joyous experience of life. Some are blessed enough to receive this great gift while they are still infants, and the course of time they grow into a recognition of the enormous grace that has been bestowed upon them, of the dignity and wonder of their identity as Catholics. Others come into the catholic fold while they are older children or adults. In these cases it is necessary for people to have a grape of the joyful process by which one becomes a catholic.
A person is brought into full communion with the catholic church through reception of the three sacraments of Christian initiation-baptism, confirmation, and the holy Eucharist-but the process by which one becomes a catholic can takes different forms.
A person who is baptized in the catholic church becomes a catholic at moment. One’s initiation is deepened by confirmation and the Eucharist, but one becomes a catholic at baptism. This true both for children who are baptized catholic ( and receive the other two sacraments later) and for adults who are baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist at the same time.
Those who have been validly baptized outside the catholic church become Catholics by making a profession i=of the faith and being formally receive into the church. This is normally followed immediately by confirmation and the Eucharist.
Before a person is ready to receive into the catholic church, whether by baptism or by profession of faith, preparation is necessary. The amount and the form of this preparation depends on the individual’s circumstance. The most who basic division in the kind of preparation needed is between those who are unbaptized and those who have already become Christian through baptism in different denominations. For adults and children who have reached the age of reason ( age seven ) , entrance into the church is governed by the Rite of Christian Initiation Adults ( RCIA ), sometimes called the order of Christian Initiation for Adults (OCIA).
Preparation for the Unbaptised
Preparation for reception into the church begins with the inquiry stage, in which the unbaptized person begins to learn about the catholic faith and begins to decide whether to embrace it.
The first formal step on the road to becoming a catholic takes place with the rite of reception into the order of catechumens, in which the unbaptized express their desire and intention to become Christians. “catechumen” is a term the early Christians used to those preparing to be baptized and become Christians.
The period of catechumenate lasts for a variable period of time- sometimes even years – depending on how much the catechumen has learned and how ready the catechumen feels to take the step of becoming a Christian. However, the catechumenate often lasts for something less than a year.
The purpose of the catechumenate is to provide the candidates with a thorough background in Christian teaching. “A thoroughly comprehensive catechesis on the truths of catholic doctrine and moral life, aided by approved catechetical texts, is to be provided during the period of the catechumenate” ( U.S. Conference of Bishops, National Statues for the Catechumenate, Nov. 11, 1986). The catechumenate is also intended to give the candidates the opportunity to reflect upon and firm up their desire to become Catholics, and to give them the chance to show that they are ready to take this serious step ( cf. Like 14:27-33; 2Pet. 2: 20-22 ).
The second formal step is taken with the rite of election, in which the catechumens’ names are written in a book of those who will receive the sacraments of initiation. At the rite of election, the catechumen again expresses the desire and intention to become a Christian, and the Church judges that the catechumen is ready to take this step. Normally, the rite of election takes place in the cathedral with all those in the programme from all over the Diocese.
After the rite of election, the candidates undergo a period of more intense reflection, purification, and enlightenment, in which they deepen their commitment to repentance and conversion to the Christian faith. During this period the candidates, now known as the elect, participate in several further rituals.
The three chief rituals, known as “scrutinies,” are normally celebrated at Mass on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of the Lent. The scrutinies are rites for self-searching and repentance. They are meant to bring out the qualities of the candidate’s soul, to heal those qualities which are weak or sinful, and to strengthen those which are positive and good.
Normally during this period, the candidates are also formally presented with the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, both of which they will recite on the night they are initiated.
The initiation itself usually occurs on Esther Vigil, the evening before Esther Day. That evening a special Mass is celebrated at which the candidates are baptized, the given confirmation, and finally receive the holy Eucharist. At this point the candidates becomes Catholics and are received into full communion with the Church.
Ordinarily the bishop oversees the Esther Vigil service and confers confirmation upon the candidates, but often -due to large distances or numbers of candidates-a local parish priest will perform the rites.
The final state of Christian initiation is known as mystagogy, in which the new Christians are strengthen in the faith by further instruction and becomes more deeply rooted in the local Catholic community. The period of mystagogy normally lasts through the Esther season ( the fifty days between Eastern and Pentecost Sunday ).
How Do I Choose My Sponsor?
Choosing a sponsor or godparent may be the most important decision you ever make. Hopefully we can answer any questions you may have about the role of a godparent or sponsor. Godparent is the same person as sponsor, but they both have mostly the same specification when it comes to guiding a person through their faith journey in the Christian life.
The person who is not baptized will be picking a godparent to help guide them in the Catholic life they are choosing a sponsor as their guide in the Church. People baptized as Catholic but not brought up in a practicing household, this person would need much the same teaching in the faith as a person who is learning about the Catholic Church and our practices, customs, traditions and doctrine. The catechumen ( non baptized person ) will probably have the same person who is their godparent at the Esther Vigil become their sponsor for confirmation, which will happen directly after their baptism the same night. Choosing this person should be done with much thought and prayerful consideration.
Q ~ When will your sponsor first meet with you and start coming to the weekly meeting?
A ~ The first time you meet with your sponsor will be a week or two before the Rite of Acceptance. Then the role of the sponsor will be an active role from that time, hopefully for a very long time. This person will meet with you before the Rite of Acceptance to get to know you, and maybe ask you some questions. Your sponsor will be introducing you to our worshipping community, so they can accept you into their midst and recognize you as a new member of the Church. If you do not know anyone from your parish who can be your sponsor, let the parish priest or catechist know. They can assist you in your search.
Q ~ What requirements and qualities should I look for in a sponsor or godparent?
A ~ The requirements are that your godparent / sponsor be at least 16 years old, and that this person be a ” practicing ” Catholic. The qualities this person should possess are that this is someone you admire because of their unquestionable faith, someone who walks closely with God, and lives their life as closely to the Gospel teaching as possible. ( I do realize that no one is perfect! ) According to the Catholic Catechism of the Church ( #1255 ) ” this person must also be able and ready to help the newly baptized adult on the road to Christian Life”. Also remember that you may not choose a parent to be a sponsor or godparent.
Q ~ Can I choose a sponsor or godparent who lives far?
A ~ Ideally a sponsor or godparent should be someone who lives nearby and that this person be a member of your parish. The sponsor is a person who represents the worshipping community in your parish; your sponsor speaks on the behalf of those assembled at each Rite we celebrate. However the most important aspect of this relationship between you or your sponsor is that you can see it developing into a long-term commitment with each other. This is a person with whom you can share your faith, and other personal aspects of your life.
The time commitment for a sponsor or godparent in the RCIA process is a weekly one. Can you see this person as being there for you 100% when you need them? Is this person someone who can celebrate your new life in Christ with you throughout the coming year? Is this person of prayer, who can help to guide you in the Catholic tradition? If you can answer these questions in a positive way, then this person will be an excellent sponsor for your continuing life journey through life with the Holy Spirit as your guides.