RCIA questions

August 17, 2006 | 20 comments

I’ve been chatting with our parish’s new RCIA director and the poor man always seems to be confused by our situation.

HIM: OK, so both you and your husband need to be baptized?
ME: Well, my husband was baptized in the Baptist church and I was baptized in the Catholic Church. So I guess not.
HIM: [Thinking that I am Catholic] Oh, so you don’t need to do RCIA then?
ME: Well, I don’t know, but I think I do. Don’t I need to do something else other than being baptized to be Catholic?
HIM: Well, have you [asks questions about things that I don’t understand like confirmation]?
ME: No. My baptism was the first and last time my parents took me to church.
HIM: So you weren’t married in the Church?
ME: No.
HIM: So one of you was married before?
ME: No. We didn’t have a religious ceremony because we weren’t very religious back then [understatement of the year].
HIM: OK…[confused silence]…let’s plan to just discuss this in person sometime this week.

He seems to be an extremely devout, religious man so I think he’s perplexed by our case. Anyway, in having these conversations I realized that I have no idea what needs to be done here. All I know is that I need to take a class called RCIA. I don’t know what goes on in those classes or what happens at the end of them.

In order for me to make my situation more clear to our adult education director, could someone give me the terminology for what it is I need to do to be in communion with the Catholic Church? My questions are:

  1. Do we just need to be “confirmed” or is there something else?
  2. What exactly is a confirmation? Is it just the first time you take communion or is there some other ritual involved?
  3. Does my husband need to do anything extra since he was baptized in a Baptist church?
  4. How does the RCIA class fit into all this — what’s its purpose? Is that where we learn about the Cathecism and Church history?

Thanks in advance.


  1. Christine

    Talking to him in person might help him because you’ll be able to tell him a bit more background information to put things into perspective. I suppose he’s probably thrown off a bit by two people who were Baptized but then raised outside the Faith.

    RCIA is different at every parish. Hubby went through it last year, and they studied Catholic beliefs, starting with the Creed. They also went into the Ten Commandments as well. There was a family in the program who took two years of RCIA before they were all Confirmed at the Easter Vigil.

    Probably what will help him a bit is to explain that, though you were Baptized Catholic, you haven’t received any other Sacrament (Confession, Communion, etc.). At least that’s the terminology he’ll be used to. 🙂

    I’m so happy for your family, Jen! I’ll keep you in my prayers!!!

  2. Jeff Miller

    Confirmation for both of you would be in order.

    The RCIA program has no set format so it varies from parish to parish.

    As for you since you were baptized Catholic you can go to confession and receive the sacraments. As for your husband, he would have to be received into the Church first and usually going to confession occurs just before that happens.

  3. Jennifer F.

    Wait a sec…I could go to confession now? I thought I had to do something else before I could receive that sacrament.

    Thanks for your help!!

  4. Therese

    I am a convert Jennifer.
    I would wait to meet with him and then (make sure your write down what you need to ask–it can be easy to forget!)
    make other decisions like when to go to confession etc.
    Some RCIA classes are great, some are really weak. We had a great one and a great Priest. I was fortunate in that my mom knew about all the Priests–a lot of them anyhow and so she sent us to the very best in our area. Even though our RCIA was very good I still read A LOT on my own. I read the Catechism–a Catechism by Father Hardon–simple and explained everything I needed to know simply. My husband had never read the Bible, so he read it cover to cover twice…
    I read a lot, watched EWTN all the time…pretty much if it wasn’t about the Church we didn’t talk about it or think about it for the first couple of years during our conversion.
    For us, we had both been married before so we chose the sacraments and lived as brother and sister for a little over two years until we went through the annullment process–never really knowing what would be decided! A real blessing in all of it. We truly got to set ourselves apart to become Catholic. The yoke was very light and we received a lot of healing through it all…
    We prayed the Rosary as a family every Sunday, never missed a mass and just really immersed ourselves in it all.
    The reason I say wait until you meet with him to make any decisions is that part of the journey is letting yourself be led.
    Learning obedience, taking your time, being patient etc.
    If you feel this isn’t the right priest then you might have to inquire elsewhere. That can happen. When my mom converted, she had to change priests due to the priest being unorthodox…
    Trust in God. All kinds of surprises happen along the way. Some good and some not so good! It is all part of though. We are the really blessed out there Jennifer–we converts.
    We know how bad it is “out there” outside the Church and how alone we were before God tapped us on the shoulder and asked us to follow Him and so we have a special grace in that knowledge most cradle Catholic’s never will have. I used to envy the cradle Catholics but now I see I need to remember being outside…it helps me stay in.
    God Bless you and your family!!

  5. SteveG

    I am typing up a longer post to give some details, but technically I think that is correct.

    The problem is that usually in the church, there are periods of preparation before receiving the sacraments.

    For example, typically where I am from, first confession and first communion are done within days of each other at around age 7, but after nearly two years of Catechism classes. Then confirmation is done at around age 14.

    I think, but don’t know, that most priests would discourage someone in your position from just walking into the confessional, and then taking communion without any kind of preparation to be sure you know what you are partaking of.

    I think that in cases such as yours case (identical to my brother who entered the church two years ago), it is very typical to do this through the RCIA program and to do this as part of the Easter Vigil.

    More shortly.

  6. SteveG

    Awright, here’s da scoop.

    You can probably get things started off by telling him plainly that you are both baptized (you in the Catholic Church, he in the Batpist), but are totally unchatechized, and neither of you received any of the other sacraments.

    You both will need to do the following to be fully initiated into the Catholic Church.

    1. You will both need to provide proof that you were baptized.

    For you that will consist of contacting your parish of record and asking them to send a copy of your baptismal certificate. Your church of record just so happens to be….your church or baptism. That is where the record of all your sacraments will be kept.

    That means for example that after you complete the upcoming process, your current parish will actually send documentation to your parish of record to be kept with your original baptismal certificate. But I digress. Someone who recalls where you were baptized will need to tell you the city and the name of the parish. You’ll then need to contact them (I can help you with that if need be) for the certificate copy.

    For him, this could be trickier. In some Protestant denominations, they don’t keep such thorough records. I am not even exactly sure what to say regarding that search. It will partly depend on whether anyone in his family (or he) recalls the specific church, what your parishes’ program will accept as proof of baptism, whether his church of baptism still exists, etc. But again, the simple first step is to contact the church he was baptized in and see what, if anything, they can provide.

    If that all falls through (meaning valid proof can’t be provided), they will likely suggest that at his reception into the church, he be conditionally baptized. This would look like every other baptism with the exception that a caveat of ‘If you have not already been baptized’ will be added to the beginning of the sacrament.

    The thing is that the Church doesn’t believe in rebaptism. The belief is that the reality of baptism is so profound and unalterable that to ‘redo’ it is sacrilege. It suggests that the first time didn’t ‘take.’ As long as the baptism can be proved and was done validly using water and in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then it’s valid.

    But there are times when all of that can’t be discerned, and only in an effort to be sure that the sacrament is validly done, the church will perform that ‘conditional baptism.’

    2. You will both need to be confirmed.
    Think of confirmation as the completion of your baptism. As a baby (for Catholics), you were brought to the sacrament by your parents and became part of the family of God. But at confirmation, this is supposed to be the time when you accept that reality for yourself. This will be more or less your public affirmation that you accept the faith of your baptism. I believe it mainly consists of a proclamation of the creed in an Question: ‘Do you believe…’ Response: ‘I do’ format, and then the bishop (on the vigil it’s the priest) imposing his hands on your head and praying for the Holy Spirit to come to indwell in you.

    3. You will both need to go to confession for the first time.
    This is generally done within the days leading up to the Easter liturgy. It’s not part of the rites that will bring you into the Church that night, but is a necessary step before hand as part of being sure you are in a state of grace before your first reception of the Eucharist. You’ll get more information on this during RCIA as the time gets closer.

    Interestingly enough, the only folks to whom this does not apply are those getting baptized. Since baptism remits all sin (original and personal), no need for confession prior is present. I honestly don’t know how this applies to conditional baptism, but I suspect it’s the same.

    4. The final stage of the Easter Vigil (which really is a mass as well) will be the reception of the Eucharist at the end of the Easter Vigil mass.

    As for RCIA itself, instead of typing up a description, I located an online outline of what it is, what it consists of, etc.

    I can’t vouch for the site (although it looks fine), but they outline they provide is very good.


  7. gabriel

    I’d agree with steveg, except in one particular. Although you could go to confession, and receive communion now, it would probably be best to go through RCIA with your husband and take your first communion alongside him when you are confirmed.

    I converted myself, and found that the period of waiting to receive the Body of Christ deepened my faith, and sacramental understanding.

    As for confession, though, I can’t think of a reason not to go- it’s not a sacrament administered in public, and so the whole joint path with your husband has lesser purchase on whether you should go to confession. I should ask a priest you trust and knows your situation if he will hear your confession.

    God bless you!

  8. SteveG

    That’s a great point gabriel. As I reflect on it, I can’t really think of a good reason to wait for confession either.

    Jennifer, If you decide to go that route there are plenty of good resources to help you understand what confession is, as well as the rubrics and how to. Let us know, and I am sure we all can offer some guidance on that.

    One thought right off is that if you choose go that route it might be wise to schedule a time with a priest to do it outside of regular confessions at the parish. That will take a bit of the pressure off.

    I would think that while showing up for the regularly scheduled confession time at your parish is legit, it might put a lot of pressure on both you and the priest to work through the first time while folks are waiting in line for confession

  9. Martin

    I agree with Steve and Gabriel.

    Strictly speaking, RCIA is designed for the non-baptized to become Catechumens, and Catechumens become full members of the Catholic Church by means of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Since you both have been already baptized, you all are considered “candidates”. The length of the formation process for candidates “depends upon the extent to which the baptized person has lead a Christian life within a community of faith and been appropriately catechized to deepen his or her inner adherence to beliefs expressed in our Profession of Faith.”

    But having said all that, more than likely, they’ll want you to go through the entire RCIA process given your background.

    What is Confirmation? Confirmation is one of the seven Sacraments and involves being annointed with consecrated oil by the Church. To quote the Catechism: “For by the sacrament of Confirmation, the baptized are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”

  10. Barb, sfo

    Yes–DO go through the whole RCIA process. I don’t know why the guy is so confused.

    Friends of ours, the husband was a devout Catholic and the wife was going through RCIA (she was born Chinese, not raised in any Christian religion, not baptized). After she was baptized and received her other sacraments at the Easter Vigil, our priest blessed their marriage very soon after. I imagine that you & your husband could do the same.

  11. Jennifer

    There is a book called the Catholic Source Book by Peter Klein, it may help you. An RCIA director I used to know would buy them for her class.

    I wouldn’t rush any Sacrament, even though you are ahead of most Catholics in your understanding.

    There are 7 Sacraments:
    1. Baptism – cleanses us of Original Sin
    2. Reconciliation – cleanses us of our mortal (& venial) sins
    3. 1st Communion (Eucharist)- receiving Christ
    4. Confirmation – receiving the Holy Spirit
    5. Matrimony
    6. Holy Orders – makes a man a Priest
    7. Anointing of the Sick – healing

    I hope that helps. Honestly, he might understand better if you told him you were raised an Atheist (not sure if you did).

  12. Adoro Te Devote

    Some people have said not to wait to go to Confession and Communion, but I beg to differ.

    The general process is for one to be FORMED in understanding of the sacraments before recieving them. I’m sure you are actually more knowledgable than many, but it is important to be humble, go through the process, and to be obedient. The time period until you are able to recieve the sacraments will strengthen you and help you to grow in holiness, and hopefully give you an even greater appreciation for what they mean.

    There are many RCIA programs out there, unfortunately not standarized or even organized. I pray that your parish, in spite of the apparent confusion of the RCIA director, will end up being solid.

    Have you ever visited the forums at Catholic Answers? You can often find some good advice there as well. (And sometimes not- be discerning)


  13. Tracy

    Jen it is after midnight and I simply could not go to bed until I had back read all of the achives (even TRA) and most of the comments up until now. I will be a regular reader now that I am caught up. So much I could say but I will just say ‘thanks’ for laying this all out here in blog world. I hope to get to know you and to become friends. Yuck that sounds so cheesy, but hey it’s honest! God Bless you.

  14. ferryg

    I concur. I am a Catholic convert myself. Having not been baptized at all, at the Easter Vigil I received the three sacraments of initiation into the church. Baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Since you and your husband have already been baptized, you will only receive the other two. However, prior to receiving communion at the vigil, you will probably be required to make your first confession.

    As far as the class goes…I agree with everyone here. It is different at every parish. Personally, I really like our priest and he taught the class himself. This does not happen at every parish.

    You basically are taught the core principles of the Catholic faith. You are going to need to do A LOT of memorizing and gain an understanding of gestures and actions during Mass.

    There are also several rites that will occur during RCIA. You will be involved in the rite of acceptance, the rite of election, the scrutinies, etc. It’s really not that bad. The rite of election was very nice for me. Everyone in the Diocese currently in the RCIA program and goes to a ceremony where the presiding Bishop will welcome you. You will also sign your name into a book pledging that you are doing this because you want to and will accept all of the doctrine of the church. I really enjoyed that. The scrutinies are also pretty interesting. Basically…for three consecutive weeks…your priest will bring you in front of the congregating and save several prayers while he places his hands on you. It’s basically just a show…but it’s intent is to exorcise all the bad things from you in order for you to be initiated at Easter.

    Hope that helps. If you really have NO idea what you are getting into…I would suggest several books. What I thought was a very good starter book was Catholocism for Dummies. It actually does a pretty good job touching on MANY, MANY topics and things you will encounter.

  15. SteveG

    steveg said: As I reflect on it, I can’t really think of a good reason to wait for confession either.

    Jen, sorry to be so wishy washy on this. In regard to confession, I said there was no good reason to wait, but that’s because in fact, I didn’t reflect on it enough.

    There indeed is a good reason, and of course AdoreTeDevote gave it. I cast my lot (for what it’s worth) with her wise advice.

  16. maggie

    Wow, that’s a lot of advice. Congratulations Jen! I’m excited to read about your journey.

  17. Tim

    I went throught RCIA two years ago. I now volunteer for our RCIA classes.
    I also think it would be best to wait to participate in the sacraments. You need confirmation and first communion which, as I’m sure you already know, you will receive during Easter Vigil mass.
    Jen, you are a joy to behold as you grow in the Faith!

  18. Jim McCullough

    Jen–Two things the director will need to clarify with you: baptism situation and marriage situation for both you and your husband. On the first, you fit into the category “baptized (Catholic) but uncatechized” that is, you were never taught nor raised in the faith. In our parish, such people join the RCIA as “Candidates for Full Communion with the Catholic Church” and we ask the diocese for permission to Confirm you at the Easter Vigil. Your husband, baptized as a Protestant, would also be a “Candidate.” Our parish accepts a witness’s account of the baptism if his old church does not have records, or even his own testimony if he was baptized at an old enough age. Your program may vary on this and may prefer to conditionally baptize.
    On marriage: the Catholic Church regards as valid, sacramental marriages many unions that people outside the Church believes she does not. For instance, marriages between baptized Protestants are considered valid unless it can be shown otherwise. If either you or your husband was ever married to anyone else, baptized or not, performed in any manner, for even a minute–the director needs to know this. Assuming this is the first and only for both of you, you will, since you are already baptized as a Catholic, need to have your marriage “convalidated,” a fairly simple process.
    All the best as you begin this wonderful pilgrimage. And patience, pilgrim, the journey itself is a walk with God in the company of His friends.

  19. Amber

    Just stumbled across your blog and wanted to say hello. I also will be taking RCIA this fall… and am on the journey into Catholicism from another Christian denomination.

    I actually met with the RCIA Director and spoke with her for nearly two hours to explain my whole situation, including what brought me into the search that led me to Catholicism, and I’m STILL not sure how it will all work out.

    I’m just hoping they understand what needs to be done for me before next Easter! 🙂


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