During the time of their engagement a couple reassures one another that the loving commitment they offer is unconditional and freely given. With the joyous encouragement of their relatives and friends, they approach the celebration of their wedding day. For those who journey through the RCIA, their time of celebration begins at Easter, the culmination of Holy Week.
Holy Week, the most sacred week of the Christian year, commences with Palm Sunday (also called Passion Sunday). The Elect join in procession, carrying palm branches while recalling Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Soon the festive mood turns solemn as the Gospel account of Jesus’ passion and death is read. On this day all of us must ask ourselves why we sometimes abandon Jesus as did his first and most intimate disciples.
The final days of preparation for Christian initiation are celebrated during the last three days of Week, called the Triduum, from the Latin word for “three days”. On Holy Thursday the Elect are reminded of their call to a life of Christian charity and service as they remember Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples.
On Good Friday the Elect, together with the congregation, meditate on the self-sacrificing love of Jesus whose heart and body were broken so that ours might be made whole.
Holy Saturday becomes for the Elect, their Sponsors and Catholic friends, a day of prayerful waiting, anticipation, fasting and thanksgiving.
Finally, on Saturday evening, the congregation gathers in darkness and the Vigil of Easter begins. A flame pierces the darkness as a large ceremonial candle, symbol of Christ, is carried in procession into the church. The presider and the faithful sing of “Christ, the light of the World”, and Old and New testament passages are read, which recount the sacred stories of salvation. Now the journey of the Elect to the fullness of Christian initiation is completed. Following a litany of praise to the saints and a solemn blessing of the Baptismal water, the pastor invites those to be baptized to come forward. With a Sponsor’s hand placed on his or her shoulder, each of the Elect enters and emerges from the water, a sign of dying to self and rebirth in Jesus Christ. Immediately, the newly baptized is clothed in a white garment and receives a lighted candle – images of the radiance of new life and faith.
Next the pastor and his delegated priest confirm the newly received and baptized Christians by laying his hands on each person and anointing each of them with chrism oil. He prays with the community that they will be sealed with the Holy Spirit who is both our helper and guide.
Now at last, the newly initiated are invited to remain with the faithful to share in the Lord’s Supper. Now, for the first time, they may approach the table of the Lord and receive the body and blood of Christ. Surrounded by their Catholic sisters and brothers, they have journeyed to their true home.
Those who wish to enter the Catholic Church but are already baptized in another denomination may also complete their journey at Easter time. They, too, are formally welcomed into full membership in the Catholic Church and receive sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist.
Persons who are already baptized as Catholic and who participated in the RCIA process to gain a new awareness of their faith, join with the parish community in renewing Baptismal promises and celebrating Easter Eucharist.