Baptism before finishing RCIA

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: If a catechumen wants to receive baptism before finishing RCIA, is that decision up to the pastor? The diocese norms? 

I have a friend who is going through RCIA that has had a major conversion, is convinced of the truths of the Catholic Church, spends much of his extra time learning about the Bible and spiritual reading, and regularly attends daily Mass. if “the point” of RCIA is to fully form adults to be as ready as possible to be fully initiated into the Catholic Church, why would we wait until the Easter Vigil if an individual seems ready well beforehand? It can seem like we are withholding the sacraments from someone who is open enough to receive them. 


A: First of all, “RCIA” stands for “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,” and it pertains to a series of rituals supported by catechesis. Parishes commonly refer to these catechetical sessions as “RCIA”, but they don’t exist apart from the rites.

So, from that perspective, your question about baptism before finishing RCIA is illogical. Baptism always is part of and completes the series of rites. That is universal in the Church.

But your question is really about something else: Could an adult be baptized sooner than Easter? The point of RCIA is not just formation, but initiation, and the long tradition of the Church links initiation with Easter for the sake of the symbols of new life in Christ. The Easter Vigil is replete with baptismal imagery that expresses the mystery beautifully. As I’ve said elsewhere, we don’t baptize when the person is ready or when the parish team is ready or when the priest is ready—but when the earth, the sun and moon are ready, when they have aligned into the northern hemisphere’s spring to help the cosmos echo the mystery of the resurrection of Christ into which a person is reborn.

That said, a bishop may give permission for adult initiation at a different time of year. He’d have to hear the specific reasons and then judge if it’s worthwhile. In my experience, the most compelling reasons pertain to someone who is not available at Easter due to military service, school, or work. It still requires ritual preparation such as an off-season rite of election and the scrutinies. Not sure if the bishop would go for it. But you may try.

Thanks for reaching out to help your faith-filled friend.