How does one return to the Catholic Church? - Catholic Courier

How does one return to the Catholic Church?

Q. I have two friends who left the Catholic Church years ago, one because he became disillusioned with a priest, and the other just stopped attending Mass. Now they both want to return but don’t know how. Someone said they must go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process, which doesn’t make sense to me. Another said they must talk with a priest, make a good confession and that is all.

I’m sure other former Catholics would also like to know how to come back. (Maryland)

A. You are right. Many Catholics have departed from the practice of their faith and sometime later wish to return, but are discouraged because they envision some complicated process to do so.

Most of us don’t realize how hesitant and afraid Catholics can be who have been away, perhaps feel some guilt and frequently see themselves as somehow unworthy to be active in the church again.

Encouragement and support from people such as you is invaluable. I thank you for being interested in their struggle, and I hope other Catholics who have friends like this will follow your example.

The second person you refer to is basically correct. Theoretically, all one needs to do is return to the sacraments — penance and the Eucharist — and resume a prayer life and regular participation in the Mass.

In practice, however, most of the time something more is at least helpful, if not practically necessary. If one has been away for a number of years, for example, much may have happened in the intervening time that could be unfamiliar; they need to catch up.

Particularly, anyone who has not been to Mass for the past 30 years or so will have missed many changes in the liturgies of the Mass and sacraments that will confuse them if they’re not prepared.

Perhaps most obviously, experiencing and trying to participate in the Mass in English will be puzzling unless someone helps them understand reasons for those changes and how they enhance and enrich our Catholic worship.

Another factor in helping them return could be the reason they stopped living a Catholic life in the first place. A real or perceived injury suffered from a priest or other representative of the church, or just a serious misunderstanding, is the reason a huge number of Catholic people stay away, often for years. They need help in healing.

Whatever the reason, I believe it is well worthwhile for “former” Catholics to meet with a parish priest or other parish minister to find out what is necessary and ease their return.

Of course, a priest also will be able to help such individuals deal appropriately with other possible factors, previous marriages for example, that will necessarily be involved in renewing their practice of the Catholic faith.

Q. Nine years ago my daughter married and joined the faith of her husband. They have since divorced and she is thinking of returning to the Catholic faith. Can she just go to confession, or does she need instructions of some sort to return to the church? (Illinois)

A. From the information you give, all she needs to do to become again a full member of our faith is receive the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist, and resume the other aspects of faithful Catholic life.

When she goes to confession she need only tell her story to the priest and ask forgiveness for any personally sinful actions she has committed. It’s very simple.

Beyond that, it is important for her to recognize that she has missed much about the Catholic faith during these years and needs to do some serious reading about Catholic life and spirituality that will keep her return from being just a formality and that also will nourish her relationship with God. There are some excellent Catholic books and magazines that can help her do that.


A longtime columnist with Catholic News Service, Father Dietzen died March 27, 2011.

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