Q&A: Reception of Baptised Christians into Full Communion

At one of the Masses last weekend in my home parish (the parish in which I’m also currently assigned), it was a pleasure to be assisting as an altar server as we received a new member – an already-baptized Christian – into full Communion of the Catholic Church. It was a special moment for me, because the woman who came into Communion of the Church is a fellow parent at our kids’ school, and is the wife of one of my old grade school classmates.

One of our friends from the parish asked a question on Facebook earlier, and I thought it would be helpful to answer it here for posterity. He asks, “At the 4 PM Mass there was an adult Baptism. Father did not pour water on the head of the person being baptized. My question is why.”

I’ll refer to the woman who was received into the Church here as “Catherine,” since that was the name that she took as her patron.

First, I’ll clarify that what happened at Mass was not a baptism. Because Catherine had already been baptized into a Christian church whose baptism we acknowledge as valid, she can’t be (and doesn’t need to be) baptized again. As the Church came to understand through the Second Vatican Council, she was already a member of the Church, the Body of Christ, by virtue of her Baptism, even if she wasn’t in communion with the Church from a “juridical” standpoint. After all, as we profess in the Nicene Creed, we “confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” (See: Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1246, and Code of Canon Law Canon 864) Since we recognize her Baptism as valid, nothing new would be gained by receiving the sacrament a second time, and it would be inappropriate to “baptize” her a second time.

What happened at Mass on Saturday is from the instruction on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), Reception of Baptised Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church (see section 5, starting on page 41 of the linked PDF): “This is the liturgical rite by which a person born and baptized in a separated ecclesial Community is received, according to the Latin rite, into the full communion of the Catholic Church. The rite is so arranged that no greater burden than necessary (see Acts 15:28) is required for the establishment of communion and unity.”

Since she was already a baptized Christian, and had been catechized and active in her Christian faith through her life, she simply underwent a catechetical program customized to her needs in order to be ready to be received into the Church, made a confession of sins privately beforehand, and then made a profession of faith within the context of the rite within the Mass. In this case, she was then Confirmed and joined the community in reception of the Holy Eucharist.

The ritual moment is described quite simply by Joseph Marrotta in his 2008 paper, “The Reception of the Previously Baptized into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church“:

“The actual ritual used to receive someone previously baptized into the Full Communion of the Church is simple. The preferred form takes place within the Eucharistic liturgy. After the entire group of faithful (not just those to be received) make a profession of faith (either the Nicene Creed or a renewal of baptismal promises), the celebrant asks the candidate or candidates to affirm that they “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.” (RCIA, 491) The priest or bishop then proclaims that the person has been received into the full communion of the Church. Many are surprised at the simplicity of the ritual.”

Marrotta continues:

“Viewed from the perspective of article 14 of Lumen Gentium, however, this rite makes perfect sense. A community of believers gathers. The presumption is that all are in a state of grace, each having celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation if necessary. They profess their faith; calling to mind the baptism that each has already received. To this point, the rite is a celebration of the full theological communion that already exists. Then, the candidates are asked to assent to the teaching authority of the Magisterium. By doing so, they are received into the juridical communion necessary for full communion to exist. Later in the celebration, all receive the sacrament that recognizes and nourishes the full communion of the Church – Holy Eucharist.”

It was a joy – a simple joy, at that – to receive Catherine, already baptized, into full Communion of the Church at Mass on Saturday evening. We join in prayer with and for her and all Christians.

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