Dear Theologika,

I was invited by a friend to go with him to Mass at his church. I really like what I see in the Catholic Church and I would like to become a member. What do I need to know and how long does it take?

Looking into this.

Dear Looking,

That’s great. The Church is always happy to welcome others. It is not like community service organizations or club in which you take out a membership by learning something about the organization and paying your dues. Christians are called to be Christians from all eternity. Whether you are being called by the Holy Spirit to die and rise in Christ in Baptism and to live a life of love for your neighbor as yourself is something only you can come to in the deepest reflection of your heart with the help and guidance of Catholic Christians who will walk with you. This process takes whatever time it takes. It can take up two years or longer. Sometimes it is shorter depending on how you feel and think about your calling. This process is called discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit or discernment for short.

You didn’t mention whether you were baptized or not. If you are already baptized in another Christian church, most of the time the Catholic Church will recognize that baptism. A baptized Christian has already entered into the death and resurrection of Christ and is profoundly related to other Christians. An already baptized person would enter the Church by coming into full communion.

People who are not baptized enter the Body of Christ through the ancient process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or RCIA. People start at an inquiry stage and find out more about what it means to be a Catholic christian and what it means to live in Christ spiritually and in their lifestyles. This is not a class in which you learn certain things intellectually. Obviously you receive information, but it is meant to inform your heart and soul as opposed to just going into the memory centers of your brain. If you and the people (the RCIA team) who are walking with you on this journey feel that you are being called to move forward, you become one of those being instructed about the sacred mysteries (spiritual revelation) of encountering and living in Christ. The Greek word for this is Catechumen.This stage of the journey is about moving toward life in Christ in the assembly of the baptized. The old English word that we use for the assembly is church. If you and the representative of the assembly feel that you are being called¬†by the Holy Spirit to Baptism, you become one of the chosen or the Elect.You would then move on toward the three sacraments of initiation or becoming a Catholic Christian. These sacraments (or sacred mysteries in Greek) are baptism, confirmation, and first holy communion and you would generally receive them at the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection at the Easter Vigil ceremonies the night before Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday evening.

Non-catholics who are already baptized move toward coming into full communion by professing their acceptance of everything that the Catholic church teaches. They move on to preparing for the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Eucharist or Holy Communion.  The time this takes depends a lot on how much you already know about the Christian faith, the Catholic Church and how much that is reflected in the way in which you live. For non-Catholics who teach the Bible and the faith to others and mirror their faith in their lives, the time it takes to come into full communion is shorter. Again this depends on the discernment of the person involved and those Catholic Christians accompanying him or her on this journey of faith.

 

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