Initiation Rites in the Contemporary Catholic Church: What Difference Do They Make?
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Since 1988, well over one million individuals in the United States have been initiated into the Roman Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Studying the RCIA today promises to enrich understanding of contemporary rites of initiation for both basic and applied researchers. To this end, this article asks and answers two key questions: Do individuals who participate in the RCIA process in the Catholic Church experience an increase in ecclesial involvement and spiritual practice? If so, is the extent of that growth explained by aspects of the RCIA process itself? To answer these questions, I employ a quasi-experimental (noequivalent group, pre-test/post-test) design—collecting data on individuals at the beginning of their involvement in the RCIA process and after their initiation (N = 159)—to identify the extent of change in different domains of religiosity over the course of the RCIA process. I then use organizational-level data on characteristics of the RCIA process in 32 different parishes to explain differences in the extent of individual change. I find those who were initiated in parishes in which the RCIA process was more fully implemented were not only more actively engaged with their parishes (ecclesial involvement) but also grew in their level of spiritual practice. Substantive and methodological contributions of this research are discussed.
KeywordsInitiation rituals Roman Catholicism Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults Quasi-experimentation
The research on which this article is based was supported by grants from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and the Office of Research at the University of Notre Dame, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Religious Research Association, and the Louisville Institute for the Study of American Religion. Sarah MacMillen was a wonderful collaborator on this project in its early stages. Regular conversations with professional lay ministers Regina Wilson and Jay Landry kept me theologically and pastorally honest along the way, and Lynn Neal served as an ideal writing accountability partner. The efforts of the RRR editor and anonymous reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. And I cannot forget that nearly 200 individuals gave literally hundreds of hours to the project by completing surveys and interviews. For all of this assistance I am grateful, and for any remaining densities in the work I am solely responsible.
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