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Monday, March 30, 2015

Why non-Catholic Christians Should Not be Received into Full Communion at the Easter Vigil

I love the Easter Vigil. I love the new fire, I love the candles, I love the Exsultet, and I love the baptisms. It's a beautiful service to which I look forward every Lent with anticipation.

Less happy for me is when I see Christians from other traditions being received into the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. I need to explain this. I am myself a convert to Roman Catholicism - I've described this transition to Rome elsewhere - so I'm obviously not opposed to the idea of non-Catholic Christians becoming Roman Catholics. What I object to, rather, is receiving these Christians into the Church at the Easter Vigil.

In the history of Christianity, the Easter Vigil was traditionally the time when catechumens were baptized after a long period of preparation. Those who had not experienced new birth through water and the Spirit experience that new birth at the Easter Vigil as we celebrate the renewal of life in and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In recent decades, those catechumens went through a process of catechesis known as RCIA - Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Unfortunately, Christians already baptized in non-Catholic traditions who wish to become Roman Catholics have been asked to go through RCIA themselves, this despite the fact that RCIA was developed specifically for those with little to no exposure to Christian history and theology, and not for those who were practicing members of their own non-Catholic traditions. With non-Catholic Christians and catechumens taking RCIA together, the Easter Vigil has become a time when both catechumens are baptized and non-Catholic Christians are received.

None of this is in accord with the National Statutes of the Catechumenate, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1986. The statutes can be found in Appendix III of the RCIA ritual book, and they can also be found here. The key statutes are nos. 30-33, and I've pasted them below:


Statutes nos 30-31 stipulate that not all non-Catholic Christians should participate in the full RCIA program. Each case is to be assessed individually. At the moment, the RCIA has become something of a 'catch-all' for everyone, regardless of their earlier formation and participation in another tradition. I suspect this is due to a lack of resources, though I do not think this is a good excuse.

Statutes nos 32-33 are the important ones in terms of receiving non-Catholic Christians at the Easter Vigil. The USCCB is very clear here that such Christians should not be received at the Easter Vigil due to the ecumenical implications of doing so. The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium - affirmed that, despite the disunity that exists throughout Christianity, we are truly one through the Holy Spirit who we received at baptism, no matter where that baptism took place (see Lumen Gentium 15). There exists "a true union in the Holy Spirit" among Christians, despite our lack of Eucharistic communion. In other words, non-Catholic Christians are really and truly actual Christians with whom we share the grace of the Holy Spirit (I pray that this is not news to anyone, but I know I shouldn't be optimistic).

To receive non-Catholic Christians at the Easter Vigil is, however subtly, to negate the ecumenical insights of Lumen Gentium. For at the Easter Vigil we have over the centuries celebrated the gift of new life in and through the Holy Spirit given in baptism to those not previously baptized. When we receive non-Catholic Christians at the Easter Vigil, we give the mistaken impression that these Christians are in the same state as the catechumens, that it is the same thing to belong to another non-Catholic tradition as it is to belong to no tradition at all.

Statutes nos 32-33 wisely recognize this danger, and for this reason the USCCB makes clear that non-Catholic Christians should be received into full communion at another date other than the Easter Vigil.

I vented about this point on Twitter the other day, and a few people commented to me that their priests are clear at the Easter Vigil about the difference between catechumens and those being received into full communion. I'm glad about that, but no matter what the priest says or doesn't say, it is powerful and problematic symbolism to receive non-Catholic Christians at a time when we're to be celebrating the new life of the Holy Spirit which they have already received.

It also seems to be to be a very easy thing simply to receive non-Catholic Christians at a regular celebration of the Sunday mass, as the National Statutes themselves suggest to do.

Can I make a suggestion? If non-Catholic Christians are received at the Easter Vigil, celebrate with them and welcome them wholeheartedly.  But when the dust of the Easter Vigil settles, might I suggest that you charitably talk to your priest about the National Statutes of the Catechumenate, and request that, in the future, such receptions into full communion take place at another time?

My hunch is that most priests simply don't know these statutes, and that most would be very receptive to making a change in conformity to the directives already stipulated by the USCCB.

Update (March 31)
Since publishing this post yesterday, I was happy to learn that the Archdiocese of Denver reemphasized these statutes this year. Very good news indeed. I pray that more dioceses and parishes follow suit.

36 comments:

  1. Very interesting post.

    I was received into the Church, via profession of faith, during Saturday Vespers in the Great Fast. I was received into fully communion from the Orthodox Church within the Eastern Catholic Church. Simply put, I accepted the Roman primacy and that was it.

    I think that part of the problem that you are referring to is that Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is the only basic catechism class that is offered in the Roman Catholic Church for converts (protestant or non-Christian). A convert to Catholicism needs to receive catechism but of course that will vary from convert to convert. Some many need more (as a non-believer entering the Church) and some will need less (like a High-Church Anglican).

    A solution would be to develop a separate catechetical program for baptized Protestants coming into Catholicism who would need the sacrament of confirmation, first confession and Eucharist.

    BTW: Would love a Twitter follow @GreekCatholicSD

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Nelson. I think the issue has less to do with catechesis (though that is part of it) and more to do with the unecumenical symbolism of receiving non-Catholic Christians on an evening focused on baptism.

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  2. In Los Angeles archdiocese, in 2005, we were given the directive to have only catechumens receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil Mass. We schedule the Profession of Faiths and First Holy Communions at other Masses throughout the Easter Season. We still get some complaints about it mostly from people who experienced the 'everyone enters the Church at the same time' at Easter Vigils in the 1980's-2000's.
    Stefanie

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  3. I disagree. I was 49 years old with a theology degree, a professing Christian and I am glad for every minute spent in the whole RCIA program {which stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults by the way, not Roman Catholic Initiation for Adults}. Ditto my wife. Ditto my daughter. Ditto a friend of mine. My son went thru a process ending in December and regrets not being part of some of the additional rites.

    Fact is, as protestants, we have so many misbegotten ideas about the Church I think it should be essential that all simply go thru the process. It is informative, educational and spirit building. It is wonderful and we shoud never opose sight of the fact that it is a major part of our conversion process. I have met a number of incompletely formed Catholics who skirted by in their RCIA process and it hurts them and it hurts the Church. The better the formation, the more healthy the convert.

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    1. As the bishops make clear (and I as argue above), such things should be done on a case by case basis. I'm not saying that non-Catholic Christians should not take RCIA no matter what. I'm saying that it shouldn't be a given that they should have to take it. More central to my argument above, however, has to do with when they are received into the church. Whether they take RCIA or not, the US bishops are clear that non-Catholic Christians should not be received at the Easter Vigil. While some may feel like they're missing out, it is vital for other Catholics to understand that there is something significantly different between being received into the church and being baptized into the church. The symbolism of having both take place at the Easter Vigil goes against Vatican II's clear statements re: our union with other Christians through baptism.

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    2. Hi, I agree that we should make our very best that non-Catholic be not received into the Catholic Church on the Easter Vigil and the theology and Norms backing that. I do not think it says that they cannot be received on the Easter Vigil either and if any non-Catholic comes into the Catholic Church, then they must make an act of profession of faith. And that comes from the RCIA. So if RCIA means the catechumenate, which is solely for the unbaptized yes. They do not belong to that category. But if they non-Christians there are rites for them that they are entitled to (Rite of Call to Continuing Conversion). I do not see it says it is an optional rite, but it does say it "may"...The Statute after the one you cited allow the celebration of both rites. But you are correct. It is most desired it be celebrated otherwise. Thank you for the moral support to effect good change!

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  4. I totally agree with the above as when brought in from a fundamentalist background i required RCIA and vast amounts of personal reading to deprogram. I may as well have been pagan despite a christening previous. And every Easter Vigil now i relive the singlemost beautiful night of my entire life and see the same joy reflected in the new faces. The US Bishops and this original post show far more concern about PC appearances than concern about proclaiming the Truth. I do not know a single protestant, including my own mother, disturbed over what day i was brought into the Church.

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    1. Please see my reply to the previous comment.

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    2. My experience is that i knew much more that catechists. But, this still has more to do with weak kneed bishops afraid of ruffling ecumenical feathers when we are the only ones trying anyhow. Again, point out a single protestant you know who was disturbed about what day or night anyone is brought into the Church. We are supposed to hide it from them?

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    3. This is *not* about Protestants being offended. This is about the Catholic Church being true to the ecclesiology it teaches, particularly in Lumen Gentium. I'm far more concerned about Catholics not getting the wrong idea of other Christian traditions than I am about the perceptions of others, as are the bishops as you can read in the statutes above.

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  5. This year at our parish we only have one individual in RCIA who is new to the Church...not sure of the details of her religious background. The also have several lapsed Catholic couples who are going through RCIA to re-establish communion. This seems a bit cockeyed, but had these people been properly catechized the first time around, they might not have left. However, given the lack of knowledge on the part of much of the congregation, maybe everyone should go through.

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  6. Is it possible for Christians to believe that by receiving Communion by non Christians, is a wonderful path to becoming Christians? I care not for institutional dogma that creates exclusion rather than inclusion. Christ himself was most assuredly inclusionary, but Christians are not. Hmm. Maybe more study of the Bread of Life Discourse is in order for those exclusionary, unloving Christians who think otherwise about non Christians.

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  7. I few years ago, I very much wanted to enter full communion with the Catholic church. My wife was, and is, very much opposed. I was directed to attend the RCIA program at the local RC church. When my wife asked me about it, I couldn't help laughing as I related what we did and discussed. I think it's a good evangelistic program for evangelizing and preparing the unbaptized, but I was wanting to discuss delve into my questions that had come up from reading numerous articles and intense study, but it was obvious that RCIA was not the place to do that. Frankly, I didn't want to encourage my wife to attend RCIA. It wouldn't have made her more interested in entering full communion with the church.
    Respectfully,
    JWH

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  8. I agree that the Easter Vigil should be reserved for the catechumen. However, I offer a few corrections to your post: Firstly, RCIA is not "Roman Catholic Initiation for Adults" it's "Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults." Secondly, the term "Roman Catholic" is unhistorical and rooted in 19th century Anglican Protestant "branch theory" ecclesiology. The Church never refers to herself as "Roman Catholic" - she either indicates "Roman Church" (when specifically referring to the Diocese of Rome) or "Catholic Church." I highly recommend reading the appendix to Kenneth Whitehead's book, "One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic" for further treatment on this subject. God bless!

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    1. http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/HOWNAME.HTM

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  9. Greg: You make a very good argument here. For full disclosure, however, I think it is important to also include statute #34, which does make provision for reception of Candidates at the Easter Vigil

    34 Nevertheless if there are both catechumens to be baptized and baptized Christians to be received into full communion at the Vigil, for pastoral reasons and in view of the Vigil's being the principal annual celebration of the Church, the combined rite is to be followed: "Celebration at the Easter Vigil of the Sacraments of Initiation and of the Rite of Reception into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church." A clear distinction should be maintained during the celebration between candidates for sacramental initiation and candidates for reception into full communion, and ecumenical sensitivities should be carefully respected.

    To be clear: I agree with you - I just want to include another voice in this discussion. Clearly the statute intends for this to be an exception, but it is important to acknowledge that it is not unprecedented to receive a candidate into Communion with the Church at the Vigil.

    Great post!

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    1. Statute #34 does indeed allow for inclusion at the Easter Vigil, as you point out. And perhaps I should have included that statute as you suggest. But the bishops' clear preference is for this not to occur, and it is this that I wanted to place emphasis.

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  10. Greg, great quotes for discussion! JWH- I've never been through another RCIA program, but the one I help coordinate is precisely the place to discuss deeper theological concepts. In my experience over the last five years, the Christian unity (and especially in America) is experiencing a deeper divide. Partially not the Church's fault when one of the wealthier countries decide that the definition of the word good is subjective, and act that way whether Christian or not, especially regarding marriage. The quotes of the Catholic Bishops above make it seem as if Baptism comes with catechetical teaching or that if it does, that teaching is close to authentic. Only large parts of protestantism interprets the Bible like Islam interprets the Qu'ran; the differces are so vast but it sets them up for disunity from a fundamental standpoint and is what I would think is an abundance of, well, it abundantly lacks catechetical teaching that's for sure. Then some of the unbaptised people we see come in with a better understanding of Christendom as a whole than the baptized do. Even some atheists know that science and religion gets along perfectly fine, whereas some Christians are shocked to learn that one can believe in evolution and be a great Catholic Christian simultaneously. It's not that I doubt the Holy Spirit's ability to unify, our biggest draw are from other Christian denominations, but I frequently doubt that two nondenominational mega-churches are on the same page when it comes to Biblical interpretation on a myriad of topics too numerous to list here, but first and foremost, what makes on Christian in the first place.
    -BB

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  11. Anonymous, one cannot be a "great Catholic Christian" and believe in evolution of the species. It is a false theory used by Communists even more than Das Kapital. Communists in China did not give the students Marx to read but Darwin. Evolution mocks holy scripture and compromises the account of the Fall and original sin. Anyone who believes that Adam and Eve had apes for parents is a heretic and just plain stupid.

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    1. You may want to give the catechism another read. And also Pope St John Paul II.

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  12. As a 30+ year RCIA instructor, I have experienced both the "Combined Rite" in which both catechumens and candidates(baptized Christians) have been received at the Easter Vigil, (with proper recognition of their differences) and the separate rites, when candidates are received at a different time. The "liturgically correct" method - separate receptions - requires our baptized candidates to wait until after the unbaptized have been welcomed to the Table, and also creates a lot of pain for these people who have bonded strongly on their shared journey towards the Catholic Church; they feel torn apart rather than united in their quest. How about caring for our people?

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    1. A valid concern, and I appreciate you raising it. I have to say, however, that in my opinion the unfortunate and ecumenically problematic symbolism of receiving candidates at the Easter Vigil at the same time as catechumens are baptized outweighs the issues of having the two rites occur at different times. The concern is about staying true to an ecclesiology that honours where these candidates came from, and about separate rites being important teaching moments for congregations.

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    2. If you'd like to have the law changed, then you should petition the bishops to change it.

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    3. As you can see my blog post, the law doesn't need to be changed. The statutes are already on the books. What is needed is for dioceses to follow the statutes already approved by the USCCB in 1986. The Archdiocese of Denver, for example, does just that.

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  13. Sadly, too many dioceses and parishes fail to comply with this. I quite agree, there is a difference between catechumens and candidates and dioceses would do well to remind their pastors and RCIA folks to make this distinction.

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  14. This seems like a case of nit-piking. The Easter Vigil liturgy is the richest, most magnificent, symbolic liturgy of the entire Church year. I'd question the motivation of any catechumen who objected to being received into the Faith that night! Sounds like a "I'm better than you because I'm already baptized" attitude. And, since the National Statutes DO allow for both groups to be received together, there's nothing wrong with it! The desired result in that you are now a full member of the Catholic Church, the One Church founded by Our Lord. Get over it, & give your heart fully to Him.

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    1. The statutes allow for this to occur, though the bishops clearly emphasized that this was not ideal at all. My own reluctance to be received at the Easter Vigil - I ended up being received at Pentecost - had nothing at all to do with a sense that I was better than the catechumens, but to a strong belief that the church needs to be true to its own ecclesiology as articulated in Lumen Gentium and in the National Statutes I outlined above.

      I'll note as well that it is precisely because the Easter Vigil is the richest liturgy of the year that the most symbolic damage is done ecumenically by receiving non-Catholic Christians on that night.

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  15. This whole entire argument sounds like nit-piking to me. No. 1: the National Statutes DO allow for both groups to be received at the Easter Vigil! The author seems to have a "I'm better than you because I'm a baptized Protestant" attitude. Doesn't matter. You were still NOT a Catholic & required catechesis! Show some humility & charity, & if you truly know so much about the Catholic faith that you can catechize the non-Christians being received, then provide that help. But, practice some humility, please! The Easter Vigil is the pinnacle of the Church year, the richest of all Catholic liturgies in the year! Why would ANY potential convert be foolish enough to NOT want to be received during it?? I'd question the sincerity & true reason for their conversion, quite frankly.

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    1. I responded to your previous comment, and my response to this one would be the same. You appear to miss the point of my piece.

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  16. I feel sort of uncomfortable at Easter vigil because they ask the congregation during mass questions about the catechumen. Some people don't know the person being baptized so I feel it is unfair to ask us.

    And why are non-Christians supposed to wait until Easter to be baptized? The reason the Catholic Church wants the infants of Catholic parents baptized is because they'll go to hell if they die before baptism because of original sin from Adam and Eve. What if the catechumen wonders into a bad section of town and gets shot before baptism or has a heart attack? We don't know for sure if they had a baptism of desire before that. It's like having to have a perfect contrition instead of being allowed to go to the sacrament of confession with an imperfect contrition.

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  17. It seems to me that these 'non-Catholics' are Catholics de jure et de facto by the time Easter Vigil begins, and certainly by communion. If the primary purpose of the Easter Vigil is to celebrate baptism, perhaps we should all refrain from receiving communion in union with the very new Catholics for whom remains an impediment to receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our risen Lord.

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  18. I should also disclose that I am in full communion with the Catholic Church, through a powerful and Holy Spirit directed RCIA program in 2004. My Christisn background was baptism in the Sourhern Baptist Church. The RCIA process revealed to me that while I was by definition a baptized Christian, I was tethered only by my baptism. The cathechesis I received through the RCIA was fundamental necessary to becoming fully Catholic.

    As to the reception of 'non-Catholics' during the Easter Vigil mass, the Statutes expressly provide for such a combined ritual, as set forth in the next two paragraphs from the Statutes you provided. In my Archdiocese, ( Kansas City in Kansas) Easter Vigil is recognized as the proper time for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, but we also allow candidates (non-catechumens) to take place at a time other than the Easter Vigil.

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  19. As I read the comments, I can't help to be amused by all the self congratulating that intellectuals receive being so well versed in dogma. It also reminds me of a quote of Jesus talking to the Pharisees in Matt; 23. Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees.
    1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples,
    2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
    3Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.
    4 They tie up heavy burdens* [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.
    5 All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
    6 They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
    7greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
    8 As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
    9 Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.
    10 Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah.
    11 The greatest among you must be your servant.
    12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

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    1. The point of being open-minded is to find the truth. Once the truth is found being open-minded to the other choices after the fact is a form of denial. So don't complain that we're happy to know the truth of Catholic dogma. Jesus's opinion is not schizo. He does not believe two opposite things at once. It's not Pharisaical to say you're happy you've found the truth.

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  20. Glad you raised this issue I was received into unimpaired communion with the Apostolic See mid summer not the vigil. Another issue is the use of the term 'convert'. Is it appropriate to call a baptised Christian a convert?

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