Initiation prior to Vatican II – Updated

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Regarding your post on the initiation of adults before Vatican, II (see post below), the previously baptized, after a period of private instruction with the priest would be conditionally rebaptized (most often) after a profession of faith — usually done in a private small ceremony. First Communion would be given the next time the person went to Mass.

Confirmation was delayed until the Bishop would come ’round for the adolescent teen Confirmation experience.
For those coming to the church unbaptized, ritually — similar. The person would be subjected to the entire ritual of infant baptism — which was simpler than the one for adults, but still pretty complicated. 

The revolution of Sacrosanctum Concilium was the drawing up of an adult catechumenate that is primarily one LITURGY of Initiation carried out over a period of months or years, punctuated by appropriate inquiry, catechesis, or study of and reflection on the Word. 

The revolution for the previously baptized was that: 1) a ritual should be drawn up to express what is really happening — a person previously validly baptized is coming into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church, 2) it can be done after an appropriate period of catechesis — depending on the religious and faith background the person brings with him/her. It is NOT to be done with any sort of hoopla or triumphalism, and should be celebrated when the person is ready.  In the study group and approval process of the first ICEL/USA edition of the RCIA, the book and ritual was only reluctantly approved to be done together with Full initiation at the Vigil — “to ameliorate a bad situation” — as the RCIA had taken off in the US with most parishes having no true catechumens.


A: Thanks for more background on this question. I agree that the simpler form of receiving validly baptized Christians into the full communion of the Catholic Church is better on Sundays than at the Easter Vigil.


Q: I’m working with RCIA directors and team members in formation, and someone has asked about historical resources on adult initiation practices prior to Vatican II. She’d like to read more about what they looked like. After talking to a few others, we’re all coming up short! Do you have any suggestions? 

Thank you!


A: I have some information about this near the end of my book Hallelujah Highway. I understand that the most popular pre-Vatican II textbook was Father Smith Instructs Jackson. I remember seeing an updated version of it some years ago, but it still promoted private instruction by a priest, rather than the full parochial involvement of the RCIA.