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Everything You Wanted to Know about RCIA & How to Join the Catholic Church

RCIA & How to Join the Catholic Church via @ACatholicNewbie

If you’re curious about the Catholic church, want to learn more about it or are even ready to convert, what can you do? Join your local Catholic church’s RCIA program.

What in the heck is RCIA, you ask?!

What is RCIA?

RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and it is the formal program that allows individuals to become members of the Catholic church. RCIA programs tend to start in the fall, so this is a great time to begin considering joining the program before they start up again in the fall.

Joining RCIA, however, does NOT mean you HAVE to join the church. You’re always welcome to just come and learn, and if you decide it’s not for you — or maybe you just aren’t ready yet because you have more questions — you can opt out or continue on again next year.

RCIA programs generally go from September through Easter, when individuals are officially brought in as members of the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass, which is the mass held the evening before Easter.

It is a beautiful mass and ceremony where you are baptized (only if you have not been baptized by a Christian church in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), confirmed and receive the Eucharist (which Catholics maintain is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ) in First Communion.

As a convert who went through RCIA for TWO years before converting in 2013 and now part of the team who helps lead RCIA for interested new members, I’ve spent many years surrounded in the joy of welcoming “newbies” into the Church. In fact, I feel it’s my calling!

How Do I Sign Up for RCIA?

First, visit a few local Catholic churches and find one that feels “right” to you. Then visit their website and look for Faith Formation, Adult Formation or RCIA.

If you can’t find it, simply call the main office at the church and tell them you are interested in RCIA or in learning more about the church as a non-Catholic and as an adult, and they will direct you to the correct person for more information.

RCIA programs usually meet once a week, some on weeknights, others on weekends. So you will want to consider a program that works for your schedule as well, as you’ll want to be there as often as possible.

What Is RCIA Like?

While each church is different, throughout the process you’ll learn about key tenets of the Catholic faith and its history, and have an opportunity to ask questions, inquire about your doubts and concerns and discuss different aspects of the faith, including how to live the faith in your daily life.

There are also various welcoming ceremonies held during mass to provide “grace” (help from God) and prayer as you go through this process so that God might guide you as grow in your learning and practice of the faith.

These ceremonies are no big deal — simply standing up at mass with the priest saying a prayer over you along with others in your group. The Catholic church wants to welcome you and educate you, never pressure you, and that is what the process is about.

If you find an RCIA group that does not feel like a fit, don’t be afraid to opt out and look for a different parish. Pray that God will guide you to where you need to be.

Why Do People Come to RCIA?

As I mentioned, I’ve been involved with RCIA at my parish both going through it and assisting for several years. We hear all kinds of stories of why people have joined RCIA.

Here are a few: someone who was inspired by Pope Francis, others who are marrying Catholics and wanting to raise kids in the same faith, spouses who are converting after as many as 20 years, those feeling a direct calling from God, and those who are simply just interested in exploring Catholicism more in depth and learning the truth about the faith.

We’ve had people who are already Catholic who don’t feel like they know as much as they’d like about their faith and others who simply just come to welcome newcomers to the church. They are single, married, in high school, grandparents, pregnant, going through an annulment, former atheists, Baptists and Methodists. You name it, they’ve been there!

So never feel like you’re alone or have too unusual a story to join the group.

What questions do you have about RCIA? What’s stopping you from signing up? How can I help?

5 Surefire Ways to Get Involved at Your Catholic Church

5 Ways to Get Involved in Your Catholic Parish via @ACatholicNewbie

Are you struggling to feel a part of your parish? Do you walk into Mass only feeling like your fellow Catholics are passing acquaintances? Tried different activities with no luck?

Here’s the bad news: It took me 3 years at my parish before I really felt like I belonged.

The good news: I think I’ve figured out the keys to success!

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After three years of actively trying to get involved and really get to know others at my parish, here are my 5 surefire tips to help you feel at home (hopefully quicker than I did ;-):

  1. Get active and involved – The first step is on you; you have to make the effort and be willing to keep trying until you find the right thing. Don’t give up after your first activity or two or three or four are not a success. Keep on, keepin’ on! If I can do it for three years, so can you :). Showing up at Mass is NOT enough to get to know others.
  2. Choose small group activities – You are not likely to get to know people well by attending big events like parish missions, Mass or even being one of 100 Eucharistic ministers. While these are all wonderful — and Mass, critical — things to participate in, they are not necessarily the activities that lend themselves to making friends. Select intimate book groups, small committees, small group outings, discussion groups and Bible studies.
  3. Look for activities that require interactivity – Can you help with food prep for the Seder Meal where you’ll interact with others in the kitchen, go on a volunteer outing to the local food pantry, participate in a study group that requires discussion? This is how you’ll start to become more than just a face to these people.
  4. Go on a retreat – If your parish has a retreat, such as Christ Renews His Parish, DO IT! Over a retreat, where you spend many hours with the same folks, you’ll develop a rapport and special camaraderie with  some (not all) of the attendees. I highly recommend Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) specifically, which has an ongoing component after the retreat. CRHP is designed to give you a group of people that you get to know REALLY well and whom you can count on to be a support group for you within your parish. CRHP is not available at all parishes but inquire if it is available at yours.
  5. Learn people’s names – Once you meet someone, make an effort to commit their name to memory. Whenever you see them or give them peace at Mass, USE THEIR NAME. Make a point to ask them how they are doing, or how the weather is treating them, or how their kids are getting along in school. Continue to break the ice until it’s broken! Plus, everyone likes to hear their own name 🙂 (that’s an old Dale Carnegie trick).

Now, with those tips in mind, I’m going to tell you how it all finally turned around for me. Once I became interested in Catholicism several years ago, I began going to daily Mass quite often. I saw the same people over and over but never got to know them, because Mass is just not the place for chit-chat or in-depth discussions.

Last Lent, thanks be to God, it all changed. The wonderful Catholic evangelist Hector Molina led our parish mission. I was SO excited, having heard him on Catholic Answers on EWTN radio, that I wanted to attend everything he participated in. While he was visiting, he agreed to attend coffee after daily Mass to socialize with any interested parishioners, so you’d better bet I was there everyday. This ended up being only a small group of about 8-10 people (what a shame that so many missed out on his wisdom), and through these intimate, one-on-one discussions with Hector, where we all asked deeply personal and nagging questions about Catholicism, the ice broke. Suddenly, I had 8-10 new people I knew by name and knew something about them personally!

Around this same time, a woman who worked for our parish, whom I knew in passing because we had children the same age, invited me to coffee to ask for some public relations advice, since that is my profession. In meeting with her, I offered my time to help with several projects she had going on at church and as a result of those, met a few women, who I also could call by name.

I also finally signed up to participate in CRHP that Lenten season, and that was the final turning point. Not only did I get to know the personal stories of the women leading the retreat, but I met 8 other wonderful women who attended with me. We continued to meet weekly for a long while and now meet every so often but I continue to interact with many of them on a more frequent basis. Now I feel comfortable enough to call on them for anything I need, to ask them to meet for coffee or just to ask advice or lend an ear.

Another great activity I joined last fall was an educational study where we weekly watched the video series Epic on early Church history, and then broke into small groups to discuss afterward. This is the most like-minded group I’ve found within my church to date and is the activity I most look forward to. More friends made :). I’ve also gotten involved with RCIA and gotten to know that team of parishioners and many new Catholics, as well as agreed to teach 5th/6th grade religious education class where I’ve met yet another amazing woman who co-teaches with me.

Now, I have the problem of being asked to help out more often than I can, but I’ll take that any day. And I know SO many people at Church. This, literally, all in the course of a year. You can do it, too!

I must point out that over those three years, I signed up for many things at church that just were not a fit for me. Please know it’s OK to realize something just doesn’t work and move on to something else. You will hit upon the right thing eventually and the dividends will be marvelous!

What tips do you guys have for getting involved at your parish? How did you do it? What didn’t work?

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Read More:

From RCIA to Confession, My 10 Most Popular Posts

From RCIA to Reconciliation, @ACatholicNewbie's Tip 10 Posts

I continue to see that specific posts consistently have the most readers, so I thought I would compile a list of some of the most popular topics I’ve written about. Please enjoy the following Top 10 Most Popular Posts on Catholic Newbie listed in order of popularity:

  1. 10 Things I Wish all Non-Catholic Christians Knew about Catholicism
  2. How to Start a Conversation about Catholicism Anywhere
  3. 13 Things to Do After RCIA to Keep Your Faith on Fire
  4. Tweet These Companies that Support Planned Parenthood
  5. 11 Ways to Work the Rosary into Your Busy Day
  6. The 1 Thing I Wish All RCIA Candidates Knew About Confession
  7. My Conversion Story
  8. The Spiritual Riches of Catholicism: From Prayer Groups to Spiritual Bouquets
  9. 5 Must-Dos for the RCIA Candidate
  10. My First Reconciliation Through RCIA

Thanks to all of you for continuing to give these posts life by sharing them on your favorite social networks and via email, parish newsletters and beyond!


What to do When you Disagree with a Catholic Teaching

As a newbie to Catholicism or as someone exploring the faith, you will likely find one or more teachings that you just can’t get your head around — or flat out disagree with. Oftentimes, these are teachings like the saints, Mary, purgatory or contraception. Don’t worry about this; you are not alone! Most of us struggle with multiple teachings as we learn more about the faith.

Here are some suggestions to help you if you find yourself stuck in this situation:

1) Keep searching – Read, read and read some more. Listen to Catholic radio and watch EWTN. Look it up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Find Bible verses about the issue. Ask your RCIA leader or another Catholic well educated in the faith. Keep reading different explanations and really delve deeply into the whys of the teaching, and I promise, you will find one an explanation eventually that makes sense to you. I found that every issue I did not understand I eventually came to terms with. Several issues for me included contraception and purgatory.

Gifts of the Visitation, Ave Maria Press, Denise Bossert2) Write a petition – I just finished reading “Gifts of the Visitation” by Denise Bossert (Ave Maria Press, 2015), a convert to Catholicism, who explores the Visitation (when Mary and Elizabeth meet and John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb) in detail and shares along the way her conversion to the faith. The daughter of a Protestant minister, she felt called to Catholicism after her father’s death, but especially struggled with the Church’s teaching on Mary’s Immaculate Conception. This teaching is that Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb free from original sin.

After many attempts to understand this teaching, her RCIA leader advised her to write a petition to Mary, asking her to show Denise the truth. What a wonderful idea! Here’s what she wrote:

Mary, if you are as the Catholic Church says, and if you love me, please answer this petition. I want someone to communicate with me by your inspiration. Mary, I want the message to come from you to the ears of one who could know no other way. Please choose someone who, for me, would represent the universal Catholic Church. Then I will know I am right where I am supposed to be and that the Church’s teachings are all correct, terra firma, especially the teachings about you. Please answer my petition before the end of the year–I know, that’s just two weeks.

Thinking it unlikely she would receive a response, she was surprised that the day after she wrote the petition, she received a letter from a woman she had written to after seeing her on EWTN’s The Journey Home. The letter, dated Dec. 8 had hand written beside it “The Feast of the Immaculate Conception.” That was her answer.

While God sends me these types of messages and reassurances quite often — now that I’m looking for them! — I too had a WOW moment after praying to my confirmation saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, for a specific intention. Known for sending roses as signs, as soon as I woke up the next morning and stumbled outside to pick up my paper, I opened it to find giant picture of a rose across the whole paper and a story about decorating your home with roses. Thanks St. Therese!

How did you come to terms with a Catholic teaching you were struggling with?