Choosing a program, part 1: The importance of Shopping

Anyone seriously interested in Catholicism will be directed to an RCIA program, since it is designed to provide a forum where questions can be asked and answered. Logically, the parish church - the one serving your geographic area, which likely will be geographically closest to you - is the place to start.

Catholics may, however, choose to register as a member of any Catholic church they choose. The church where they register will be the one they attend regularly and support with gifts and service. The reasons Catholics choose one church over another are similar to those that guide protestants' selection of denomination and congregation. The central doctrine of Catholicism is homogeneous, but there are differences in attitudes, culture, and certain beliefs (such as whether the Mass should be conducted in the parishioners' language or exclusively in Latin) that lend different flavors to each church.

RCIA, similarly, can vary from church to church. Several factors could influence whether you attend the program at your parish church or another, such as the time and length of classes, the program schedule, the attitudes or skills of the RCIA team members, or the composition of the RCIA class members. In subsequent posts I will discuss questions to ask and points to consider. I recommend you attend several churches in your area to determine which best suits you, and then talk to the RCIA program coordinators at those you like best.

You can also attend an RCIA session or two at the churches you like best early during the inquiry phase. After the first two or three sessions, though, it is best for you to select the program you like and complete inquiry there, so you and the RCIA team members can become acquainted.

The first "rite", normally called the Rite of Initiation, occurs at the end of the inquiry phase. Your participation in this rite is, very simply, your declaration of genuine interest in further studying Catholicism with the likely intent to convert, and the church's formal acceptance of responsibility for teaching you the faith so you may make an informed decision about conversion. You will be expected to complete RCIA at the church where you participate in that rite.

If you become disillusioned with some aspect of the program after that point, you almost certainly will have to drop out until the next year's cycle begins at another church. It is possible to change programs after this point, but it is frowned upon, entirely at the discretion of the receiving church, and normally not permitted unless some external circumstance, such as a physical relocation from one geographic area to another, is involved.