5 Surprises I Encountered in RCIA
When I first started RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), back in the “precedented times” of 2019, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All of my Catholic friends had always been Catholic and received the sacraments at various times in their youth and I didn’t know anyone who had gone through the RCIA.
Here are a few things that surprised me, and may surprise you, about RCIA and joining the Catholic Church.
1. It probably won’t be as “Catholic” as you’re expecting.
Depending on your faith background, RCIA might not be as Catholic-specific as you’re expecting because (wait for it), the basics of the Christian faith are pretty similar in both the Catholic and Protestant churches. I think I expected it to focus on the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, but for the most part, RCIA highlight for me the unity.
My RCIA began with the story of creation and what it meant to be made in the image of God, went through the Fall of Man and the impact of sin on the world, then traced the covenants God made throughout the Bible culminating with the New Covenant that Christ established. As someone who grew up in a devout Protestant home, most of RCIA was surprisingly similar to what my parents had been teaching me since infancy.
2. You can get involved in your parish community right away!
In most parishes, there is so much community to be found! From coffee hours after Mass to Bible studies to prayer groups – I promise things are happening! I went through a study my parish was offering and quickly connected with several, wonderful women. If you’re having trouble getting connected, ask your RCIA director or priest if there are opportunities for you to get involved. They will be eager to help get you connected!
I was a little bit nervous about going to my first parish event. I didn’t want people to think I was “lapsed in the faith” or assumed I had been Catholic for years and use lingo I didn’t understand. The first evening I walked into the parish hall, I was anxious and uncertain as to how/when to share about my faith journey. Deep down, I wondered if I would be accepted or if people would question if I was “Catholic” enough.
My priest saw me (we had met once a few weeks before when emailed the church office and asked if I could ask some questions before starting RCIA) and immediately started grabbing people from the parish to introduce me to, telling them, “This is Bailey, she’s really on fire for the Lord.” No one was waiting to see if I was “Catholic enough” – they’re eager to welcome me and encourage me in your faith. In the weeks that followed, women in the church reached out to pray with me and invite me into their homes.
3. There are so many resources in the Church, but you might have to seek some of them out yourself.
I think because the focus of RCIA was primarily on the basic tenants of Christianity, the unique gifts found in the Catholic Church weren’t always emphasized. Pray your rosary! Go to Adoration! Pick up a book to familiarize yourself with some of the Saints! Invest in a good copy of the Catechism (I like this one) and read the Bible references in the margins!
While some of these tools were gifted to me by my RCIA instructors, there is only so much time each week and there are thousands of years of traditions to explore. If something intrigues you during class, ask your instructors where to go to learn more. They’ll be eager to help you dig deeper into topics that interest you or to connect you with someone who can point you in the right direction about specific devotions or traditions.
4. There are several rites, the Easter Vigil isn’t the only step!
Between beginning RCIA and receiving all of the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, there are a few little rites along the way! One in December (Rite of Acceptance) and one at the start of Lent (Rite of Election) with churches from around your diocese and your bishop. Because everyone posted about the beauty of the Easter Vigil and their reception into the Church, I assumed that it was the only step along the way. I also assumed I would not need to choose a sponsor until the springtime and was quite surprised when I found out I needed one in December!
Each of the rites is a baby step leading up to the Easter Vigil. Each is beautiful and has its own purpose and meaning but my personal favorite was the Rite of Election.
5. Your First Confession can be overwhelming but is also wonderful.
I was nervous before my first confession. I had twenty-some years of sin to sort through and confess. To be honest, it felt embarrassing. My husband jokingly asked what I possibly confessed and I laughed but deep inside, I felt the poignant reminder that I wasn’t the “good Christian girl” I’d always projected, I was a sinner in need of a savior. I went into the confessional a little apprehensive, I felt in tears because it was the most real God’s mercy and love had ever been made to me.
All of these things were little or practical surprises I experienced during RCIA but the biggest surprise was something I experienced after RCIA, after the Easter Vigil. I felt like I had finally come home in my faith. I felt secure in my faith in a way I had never experienced and didn’t know I was missing.
I always would have logically and even in my heart said that I knew I was saved, but the Church has welcomed and embraced me in a way that truly feels like home. I have known Jesus all my life, but I have felt sustained and equipped by Him in a powerful, real way.
If you have questions about RCIA, please leave a comment below or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (I’m not very good at email but I promise I will try to respond with roughly the same speed at which I fold laundry, 10-14 business days).