The Sacraments of Initiation


It would be tempting to think that the process of initiation (see Becoming Catholic: the RCIA) is over with the final alleluia of the Easter Vigil. However, the life of discipleship and mission has only just begun. To make this clear, the newly initiated enter into a fourth stage that coincides with the Easter season. This stage is called the Period of Postbaptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy. During this period they reflect on what they experienced during the Easter sacraments, they participate in the Eucharist, they meditate on God’s word, and they participate in the life and mission of the parish.

The sacraments of initiation

We address each of these sacraments individually, but here we consider them together. The first thing to note is that we are always in need of initiation into the Body of Christ. We are a people on a journey. First to define our terms, it is not intended to undermine the significance of our initial encounter with the three sacraments of initiation. Instead, it is meant to highlight their importance. The sacraments of Initiation are essential moments in themselves, but they also present a paradigm that governs the ongoing Christian conversion experience. You are baptised into the life of Christ, and each day you are being baptised into his life. You are confirmed in the Holy Spirit, and each day you are being offered the Holy Spirit’s gifts and his healing. You are brought into communion with Christ and his body, and each day you are being called more deeply into that communion. To relate to these realities only as past experiences with which we are no longer concerned is to fail to understand what they were all about in the first place. Each of us is continually on a pilgrimage that will only reach its goal and achieve its purpose when we come face-to-face with the One for whom (and by whom) we have been created.

That having been said, the significance of these sacraments is not limited to their ongoing relevance. They are also what could be described as ‘culmination’ sacraments. That is to say, they represent the culmination of what God has already been bringing about in the lives and hearts of the individuals who experience them. The action of God predates the reception of the sacraments themselves, and the spiritual effect that each of the sacraments brings about is already operative in the experience of the individual concerned. If this were not the case, the desire to receive the sacrament would not be operative.[1]

Understanding that these sacraments are both pre-echoed and echoed in the life of an individual is perhaps helped with an image: a stone dropped in a pond. The sacramental experience itself is that stone. The pond is a person’s life. The ripples radiate out in all directions – both forwards and backwards. So it is that the whole of a person’s life is sanctified: past, present, and future. Therefore we can say that the catechumen is no stranger to the sacraments he or she is receiving, as the grace of the sacraments has already been operative in his or her life to bring him or her to the moment of receiving those sacraments. The sacraments of initiation are, in many ways, merely the culmination of what has already been happening in the spiritual life of the individual.[2]

[1] This observation is premised on the spiritual journey of the adult catechumen. An obvious complexity arises in the case of children (particularly infants). The same considerations apply but in a modified form.
[2] It is for this reason that the Church contends that, in circumstances where the sacraments cannot be received, the grace of the sacrament is still operative. The person who desires the life that Christ alone can give is not denied that life if circumstances prevent the reception of the sacraments of initiation.

Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo By Michael King

Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019

30 October 2019

Back to top