Easter is coming soon, and one of the things that makes this liturgical feast so special is all the catechumens and candidates who've gone through the R.C.I.A. process (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) will finally be received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.
There will be brand new Catholics running around your parish soon, which is very exciting! And it's very important to do what you can to get them well-prepared for their completely new life in the Church.
To clarify some terminology, a catechumen is someone in RCIA who has not been baptized and who will receive this sacrament along with Confirmation and First Communion at the Easter Vigil. A candidate is someone who has already been validly baptized in another Christian tradition and will receive Confirmation and First Communion at the Easter Vigil. Sponsors are Catholics who have "adopted" a specific catechumen or a candidate and who volunteer their time to help initiate them into the Church.
If you're an RCIA sponsor, or if you have a friend or family member in RCIA, these are my top five must-have R.C.I.A. gifts for everyone being received into the Church.
Obviously at the top of the list, this is the inspired Word of God and everyone should have their own copy. People who are converting from a Protestant tradition may not have a Catholic Bible, which contains the seven books that are missing from Protestant Bibles.
It would also be helpful to give new Catholics guidance on how to navigate the Bible so that they will make good use of it. The best way to do this is to have them follow the daily Mass readings. This can be done with a Roman Missal. If they follow these over a three year period they will not only have read almost the whole Bible, but they will have read it following the liturgical calendar which assists in understanding God's Word with the mind of His Church.
This is an authoritative handbook and guide for understanding the Catholic faith. It's formatted in an easy-to-navigate reference style organized by topic. With the Catechism, every Catholic can have at their fingertips the Catholic position on every issue regarding faith and morals, with helpful footnotes backing up Catholic teaching with scripture and references to other Church documents. Hopefully everyone in RCIA will be given one of these for their reference, but don't count on it. Make sure they are equipped with this book.
If they already have the Catechism, a good companion book is the Compendium to the Catechism or other catechetical books for their library such as the Baltimore Catechism (light reading that doesn't skimp on depth - and great if they have kids) or the Catechism of the Council of Trent (heavy reading - for deeper theological study).
Praying the rosary is imperative, as recommended by countless saints and popes. In days past there was a general knowledge of Christianity in society and of right and wrong according to natural law, which in turn informed our laws and behaviors. Now this is either gone or strongly attacked. Outside of the Sacraments, praying the rosary is the best way for new Catholics to stay firm in their faith through its meditations on the life of Christ and the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The kind of rosary to choose for someone new to the faith can be tricky. Your best bet is to go simple, such as a plain wood bead rosary or a knotted cord rosary, which doesn't look intimidating to those new to praying the rosary. If they already have a rosary, a great accessory for beginners would be a rosary meditation book or even a more comprehensive Catholic prayer book that includes a guide on how to pray the rosary well.
The crucifix is the distinctive mark of a Catholic Christian. There is a crucifix in every Catholic church, on every altar, and in every Catholic classroom. Every Catholic home should have one, too. It's a reminder of our calling as followers of Christ, that is, to offer ourselves in Christ-like, self-sacrificial love to God the Father. We must never become complacent and forget the redemptive suffering component of Christianity. If they already have a crucifix, having another is no problem since one can go in every room of the home. You might also want to consider a crucifix necklace as a gift as well.
This one is a little more subjective. Find out what the candidate or catechumen is interested in or still has questions about, and get the appropriate Catholic books regarding the topic. The main point is for the new Catholic to keep learning more about their faith, and to acquaint them with all the great literature available. For example, the Jesus of Nazareth series by Pope Benedict XVI; Catholic apologetics books by authors such as Peter Kreeft, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, Dave Armstrong; or books on spirituality and catechesis such as Mike Aquilina's A Year with the Church Fathers.
You can also consider classics that would be a great fit for any home library, such as the Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis or Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. Books on the lives of the saints are great choices too, especially if you can find a book on their chosen Confirmation saint. If they aren't much of a reader, there's also a lot of great Catholic DVDs and CDs available as well.
What else would you add to this top 5?
For more specific gift ideas, see our Our RCIA Gift Guide: Heaven Will Be Celebrating These New Catholics, and So Should You!
This article has been updated and was originally published in January 2013. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.