Catholics welcome adults into the church through a process called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The church teaches that through the application of water -- baptism -- a believer is cleansed from sins and begins a new life. Before baptism, adults undergo a preparatory period to introduce them to the church's teachings, creeds and prayers. The baptism ceremony is public and is usually held during the Easter Vigil service on the day before Easter.
What is Adult Baptism?
As in the baptism of infants, adult baptism is a sacrament -- sacred act -- involving the application of water to the head by a bishop, priest or minister of the Catholic Church. Catholics believe that baptism is the initial step to come into communion with Jesus Christ and his church because the act of baptism saves people from their sins, brings them into a new life and makes them true adopted children of God through God's grace. Unlike infants, when adults are baptized they also receive two other church sacraments -- confirmation and the Eucharist meal of bread and wine.
Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
If an adult wishes to be baptized in the Catholic Church, but has never been baptized into any Christian denomination, he will be invited to follow the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults -- the formal program to initiate unbaptized persons into the Catholic Church. The RCIA is comprised of four phases: an initial phase of inquiry where the candidate expresses interest in being part of the church; the second phase, called the catechumenate, teaches the candidate to live as a Catholic; the third phase, known as the purification and enlightenment, occurs during Lent and is a period of intense preparation, culminating in the baptism ceremony; the final phase, mystagogy, which lasts until Pentecost, is the time for the newly-baptized member of the church to worship with other believers during the Eucharist and to learn about the mysteries of the Catholic faith.
Adults are encouraged to get baptized at the Easter Vigil service, but can also be baptized during any other designated mass. The adult is accompanied during the ceremony by his sponsor -- a person of faith, member of the Catholic church chosen to aid the candidate in his growth in the Christian faith. Adult candidates are encouraged to wear white to symbolize purity and cleansing from sin or, at least, their "Sunday best."
The baptismal rite is divided into four parts and can either be a stand-alone ceremony or part of a Mass. The latter is preferred. As a symbol of the candidate's process of initiation into the church, the rite begins in the Narthex, then proceeds slowly forward to the church building, then the nave until the candidate reaches the baptismal font. The ceremony has many symbolic moments. The priests pronounce two prayers of exorcism, asking the impure spirits to leave and requesting that the candidate's ears and mouth be opened to hear and proclaim the Word of God. The priest also anoints the candidate with oil and places a white garment on the candidate, indicating the candidate is cloaked in Christ. He then lights a candle at the end to symbolize the light of Christ. The candidate renounces his sins and the devil and stands as the priest applies water to his head in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In addition to the rite of baptism, adult candidates also receive confirmation and the Holy Eucharist at the same time, bringing them fully into the church. Persons who have been baptized in other Christian denominations are not required to complete the RCIA from start to finish. Instead, they may express their wish to become a Catholic, receive instruction in the Catholic tradition and their baptism in the other denomination will be recognized by the church