Prior to beginning the RCIA process, an individual comes to some knowledge of Jesus Christ, considers his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and is usually attracted in some way to the Catholic Church. This period is known as the period of evangelization and pre-catechumenate. For some, this process involves a long period of searching; for others, a shorter time. Often, contact with people of faith and a personal faith experience lead people to inquire about the Catholic Church.
After a conversation with a priest or RCIA director, the person, known as an "inquirer," may seek acceptance into the Order of Catechumens through the Rite of Acceptance. During this Rite, the inquirer stands amidst the parish community and states that he or she wants to become a baptized member of the Catholic Church. The parish assembly affirms this desire and the inquirer becomes a "catechumen."
The period of the catechumenate can last for as long as several years or for a shorter time. It depends on how the person is growing in faith, what questions they encounter along the way and how God leads them on this journey. During this time, the catechumens consider what God is saying to them in the Scriptures, what changes in their life they need to make to respond to God's inspiration and what Baptism in the Catholic Church means.
When a catechumen and the priest and the parish team working with him or her believes the person is ready to make a faith commitment to Jesus in the Catholic Church, the next step is the request for baptism and the celebration of the Rite of Election. Even before the catechumens are baptized, they have a special relationship to the Church.