Image: James Tissot, The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew (1886-1894)
By Simon Yeak, Archdiocese of Sydney
This article explores the Rite of Acceptance and how this major rite, given to us by the Church, impacts and provides a trajectory to becoming Catholic and intentional disciples of God. We will unpack this by means of first understanding what is the Rite of Acceptance, what it is in RCIA and how it is celebrated, and the personal significance of what is taking place in the relational journey of the candidate. By understanding the first major rite of RCIA and its spiritual, relational and human realities, it becomes evident that the Rite of Acceptance is an invaluable rite for RCIA team members to accompany their people towards communion with Jesus Christ.
The Rite of Acceptance is the first of three major rites of the RCIA process that prepares individuals for full communion with the Catholic Church. It takes place after the first Period of the Precatechumenate (or Evangelisation) when enquirers are discerning their faith journey. Having received an initial conversion in the first period, they are prepared to participate in this rite.
During the rite, enquirers publicly express their intention and desire to join the Church and continue their journey towards full communion. It is in the Rite of Acceptance that candidates are provided with a formal and public opportunity to declare their desire to become Catholic. It’s a significant moment when they make their intention known to the faith community.
Furthermore, it involves the faith community, emphasising the communal nature of the Catholic faith. Being a communion of persons as the People of God, the community pledges to support and accompany the candidates on their journey.
The liturgical elements of the Rite during the celebration are centred on the enquirers accepting the Cross of Jesus Christ. Their sponsors (or parish priest) trace the Sign of the Cross over their foreheads, eyes, lips, shoulders, hands, and feet, so that they may think, see, and speak the Gospel; traced on their shoulders to bear the gentle yolk of Christ; traced on their hands to do the work of Christ; and over their feet so they can walk in the footsteps of Christ. Upon asking them after the Rite and celebration concludes, many remark that it is the first spiritual experience they have ever received.
The Rite ends the first period and inaugurates the second period, the Period of the Catechumenate. This is where catechumens engage in a period of catechesis to deepen their initial conversion and relationship with Christ through understanding the teachings of the Catholic faith, practices, and traditions. This typically involves regular meetings with a sponsor or RCIA team member.
A helpful way of explaining the importance of the Rite of Acceptance is by seeing the RCIA process as a natural and relational journey that the enquirers take. The various stages of the RCIA can be compared with the movement from friendship to marriage:
Purification & Enlightenment
Since Sacred Scripture begins with a marriage (Adam and Eve) and ends with marriage (Christ and the Church), it is an apt analogy for seeing the relational journey that a person takes in RCIA and helps RCIA team members visualise all the moving parts.
The Period of the Precatechumenate, when people come to enquire about the faith – hence they are called ‘enquirers’ –, is much the same as when two people enquire about one another. In the case of RCIA, Christ is ‘the Other’ who desires to be with the person. In fact, He thirsts to be in communion with us, which is evidently expressed in His desire to satisfy the heart of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).
In the first period, the person is accompanied to realise that their heart desires more than the “well” that the world can provide, and having an initial encounter with Living Water, they recognise that only God can fulfil them.
When receiving an initial encounter/conversion, these enquirers recognise a change is needed. In fact, they can at times demand this change of themselves in order to receive Christ in a much deeper relationship. This brings about the desire to enter a formal relationship with Him by way of being part of His Church.
Just as a person desires to enter a formal relationship with the other person after a ‘period of enquiry’ (that happens to be another name for the Precatechumenate Period), they enter into a formal relationship with the Church in the second period, which is known as the Catechumenate.
In the typical dating/courtship relationship, the movement to a more formal relationship is marked by an engagement whereby the couple make a formal commitment to one another, usually accompanied with a public announcement of this commitment. The journey of an enquirer into a deeper relationship with Christ is analogous to this dating-to-engagement scenario. This analogy sheds some light upon the purpose of the Rite of Acceptance, for in the Rite, a person makes a public declaration to continue their journey of faith formally with the Church.
A formal relationship calls for two people to spend intentional time to get to know one another more personally, which is exactly what takes place in the Catechumenate as catechumens receive a full catechesis of the Church’s teachings, along with pastoral support suited to the individual’s needs.
Thus, in the Rite of Acceptance, the enquirers are brought into the liturgical life of the Church, where they formally declare their desire to intimately know Christ and His Church, and thus prepare them to spend the rest of their lives together. It is a time of great celebration among the parish community.
Simon Yeak MATS – Sacramental Life & RCIA Coordinator
Life Marriage and Family Office
Archdiocese of Sydney