How to become a Catholic

JESSICA ASKS:

What would I need to do to become [a Catholic]? Some guidance would be great!

THE GUY ANSWERS:

Jessica was baptized a Methodist, later attended services off and on with her Catholic father, has now reached “a new-found happiness in the Catholic Church” and is engaged to marry a Catholic. Apparently she has not yet consulted her parish priest or officials with the local diocese, so here’s a summary of what she’ll learn when she does:

Jessica can relax on one of her major concerns: The Catholic Church does not require converts from most other churches to undergo a second baptism, certainly so for a Methodist. Catholicism believes that valid baptism must be performed with the common ecumenical formula “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” so new Catholic baptism would be needed for e.g. a convert from “Oneness” Pentecostalism, which baptizes only in Jesus’ name and also denies the orthodox belief about the divine Trinity. Similarly with a Mormon, due to disagreement over ecumenical beliefs about God and Jesus Christ. (Necessarily, baptism is also required for converts from the Quakers or Salvation Army, since these groups do not baptize their members.)

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a well-defined process for conversions under the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This program encompasses both new Christians who are candidates preparing for baptism and those who “have already been baptized and committed to Jesus Christ.” Procedures are different but those in each category undergo instruction on Christian basics and formally enter the Catholic Church and receive their first Communion together in a special service the day before Easter.

Presumably Jessica will formally convert before her wedding so hers will not be a “mixed marriage.” Each marriage of a Catholic with a Protestant who does not convert requires permission from the local bishop, which these days is customarily granted without difficulty. Jessica says she and her fiancee plan to raise their children as Catholics. They are wise to decide this important question in advance, because later disagreement can easily damage a marriage. Catholicism’s Code of Canon Law (sections 1124-1129) specifies that the Catholic party in a “mixed marriage” must always “make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.” The non-Catholic party is informed “at an appropriate time” about this vow taken by the Catholic party but is no longer expected to make  the same promise, either verbally or in writing.

U.S. bishops’ RCIA memo:

www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/who-we-teach/rite-of-christian-initiation-of-adults

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.


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