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General Definitions

Sacraments of Initiation: This is a collective term that refers to the three sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation which the Catechumen receive on the Easter Vigil.

Triduum: The “three-days” of Easter: Day 1, Holy Thursday evening to Good Friday evening; Day 2, Good Friday evening to Holy Saturday evening; Day 3, Easter Vigil to Easter Evening Prayer.

Rite: A rite is another word for a formal ceremonial act often used in a liturgical setting.


Inquirer: A term used by the early Church to refer to the unbaptized (i.e. pagans) who were beginning their preparation for entrance into the community of faith. This preparatory stage was marked by the inquirer’s demonstration of conduct befitting a life (i.e. repentance, turning away from sin, etc.) of faith in Jesus Christ.

Catechumen: This was a name used in the early Church for those who were unbaptized (i.e. pagans) and were undergoing a course of preparation for that purpose. Such a person today is considered a catechumen after the Rite of Welcome & Acceptance, leading to full communion with the Catholic Church by means of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist on the Easter Vigil. These specific sacraments are collectively called the Sacraments of Initiation.

Elect: A name given to catechumens chosen by God and affirmed by the Church as ready to celebrate baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist at the next Easter Vigil; catechumens who have gone through the Rite of Election (see below).

Neophyte: The term means “new plant” and refers to a newly baptized person. This term stays with the newly baptized for their first year of full communion with the Catholic Church.

Candidate: Refers to adults who were baptized as infants either as Roman Catholics or as members of another Christian community but did not receive further catechetical formation, nor, consequently, the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. They are considered a “candidate” for the Roman Catholic Sacrament of Confirmation and a candidate preparing to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. Their candidacy is derived from their Baptism.

Sponsor: A companion that walks with a catechumen or candidate through the catechumenate process. The main purpose of the sponsor is to assist the candidate or catechumen with their entrance into the parish community. In addition, the Sponsor serves as a resource to questions that may not be addressed throughout the formal process as well as a confidant. At S. Thomas the sponsor is assigned to the catechumen or candidate by the parish. 

Periods within the RCIA Process

Pre-Catechumenate: This first phase of the RCIA process is the least formal and structured of all the phases. The main purpose is to give the inquirer an opportunity to question and explore many different aspects of the Catholic faith, while introducing some of the Gospel values. Within this phase, the beginnings of Christian faith start to become evident.

Catechumenate: This is by far the longest and most formal part of the process. During this phase the catechumen is expected to participate with the whole Catholic community in their Sunday celebrations. The catechumen participates by sharing in the Liturgy of the Word. Through prayer, learning and coming to know other Catholic Christians, catechumens discover the love and power of God in their lives and in the church. This phase is meant to be one not only of intellectual and faith formation, but also one of great delight and opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the parish community. The focus clearly is on a conversion of heart, through prayer and good works, but also of conversion of the mind, in which we start to see through the eyes of God, to think, perceive and act as Christ desires. The process at St. Thomas is particularly intellectual with the belief that the more we know and understand, the more we are able to love!

Purification and Enlightenment: This period corresponds to the Lenten season (Lent means “spring” as it occurs during spring and is a prepatory time for Easter) and is marked by its ascetical atmosphere (i.e. repentance, small acts of mortification, acts of charity, fasting etc.). The Church as a whole joins the candidates and catechumens by means of offering up periods of mortification for themselves and for those in the RCIA process. 

The centerpiece of this period of prayerful preparation is the celebration of the Scrutinies (see below). Although the candidates will not be the subject of the Scrutinies, catechesis for both the elect and the candidates during this period is related to the celebration of the Scrutinies.

The elect and the candidates are advised to refrain from their usual activities on Holy Saturday, spending that time in prayer and reflection, and as far as they can, to observe a fast.

Rites Within the Process

Rite of Welcome & Acceptance: This liturgical rite marks the beginning of the catechumenate proper, as the candidates express and the Church accepts their intention to respond to God’s call to follow the way of Christ. The Rite of Acceptance is for the catechumen and the Rite of Welcome is for the candidates. Both happen together in the same Mass for St. Thomas Aquinas.

Breaking Open the Word (BOW): Beginning immediately following the Rite of Welcome and Acceptance (see above), both candidates and catechumens are dismissed after the homily at the 6pm Mass each Sunday. A RCIA leader will be present to lead the group downstairs where they will reflect more deeply on the Scriptures and the Homily. This period continues until Easter where all those prepared come into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Rite of Sending: Immediately before the Rite of Election (see below), this Rite is celebrated at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. The pastor as well as the parish community formally “send off” the candidates and catechumens with their blessing to be formally accepted by the Church in the Rite of Election.

Rite of Election: This is where the Church formally ratifies the catechumens’ readiness for the sacraments of initiation by means of presenting each candidate and catechumen to the Archbishop of Denver at the Cathedral downtown. The Rite recognizes the candidates preparing for Confirmation and Eucharist or reception into full communion of the Catholic Church.

Before this rite is celebrated, the catechumens and candidates are expected to have undergone a conversion in mind and in action and to have developed a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching as well as a spirit of faith and charity.

Scrutinies: These are particular Rites celebrated on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of the Lenten season. These rites offer a time of prayer on behalf of the Catholic community for the strength and courage of the catechumen as they approach full acceptance into the supernatural life of Christ through the Sacraments of Initiation.

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