Room at the Font

Is the RCIA Still Working?

It's the night of the Easter Vigil. After the lighting of the new fire, the glow of candles in a darkened church is a vivid reminder that the light of Christ, shared in baptism, lights up our common life. The restoration of the baptism of adults to its primary place in the church’s ensemble of rites for the Easter solemnity underscores the treasure we have, and share, in baptism. But baptism is in trouble in the United States. Not only is infant baptism declining throughout Catholic dioceses, but adult baptism has been diminishing too—and at a startling rate.

In 2000, the U.S. bishops published a scientific study (the only one to date) about how the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is faring. The news was encouraging. Seventy-five percent of U.S. Catholic parishes were using it. Most people who participated rated their experience “good.” RCIA was also shown to have the best retention rate of any sacramental preparation process in the church today: 64 percent of Catholics who went through RCIA attended Mass weekly after initiation; 50 percent were active in parish ministries and committees.

The bishops affirmed that the RCIA “has the power to transform parishes when implemented as the rite is intended.” No other rite of the postconciliar era has received such a strong evaluation, but the bishops’...

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About the Author

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press).