by Father Mike Stubbs
When an adult joins the Catholic Church, typically the process takes about a year, especially if it includes preparation for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.
In some countries with a non-Christian background, the process may take even longer.
In Sunday’s first reading — Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — though, we see something very different.
After Peter preaches to the crowd, they immediately line up for baptism. He tells them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Consequently, a huge number receive the sacrament: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.”
We should remember that all this happens on the day of Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, a Jewish feast when pilgrims would visit Jerusalem. Peter was addressing a large audience to begin with.
They originated from every corner of the Roman Empire. That meant that they could share the good news about Jesus Christ to others when they returned home. Their conversion would help spread the faith throughout the world.
The pilgrims would stay in Jerusalem only for a short period of time, not nearly long enough for what we would now consider adequate preparation for baptism.
But Peter thought otherwise. He recognized that this Jewish audience had already received preparation through their Jewish faith.
They already had a belief in the one God. They were familiar with the Old Testament. They were expecting the arrival of the Messiah.
Peter only had to connect the dots. That is why he goes ahead and immediately baptizes them.
Eventually, the church would take a different approach. Severe persecution of the Christians meant that they would need longer and more rigorous preparation to strengthen them in their faith in order for them to hold fast to it in the face of possible martyrdom.
Also, more and more of the converts to the Christian faith would come from a Gentile, rather than a Jewish, background. They would have no concept of the one God, but instead would have been accustomed to many gods.
The Old Testament would have been completely foreign to them, as well as the concept of a Messiah.
The church started to require a longer and more intensive preparation for baptism. This resulted in the catechumenate, which we now know as the RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.