I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: parishes with RCIA programs are incredibly blessed – and particularly so during Lent – because the presence of those seeking entry into the Church re-energizes the entire community.
It’s not uncommon for those of us who are cradle Catholics to become so fixated on details such as “What am I giving up?” or “It’s Friday. What should I make for dinner?” that we lose sight of why we engage in acts of fasting, penance and charity during this special season. But as parishes with RCIA programs watch participants take their final preparatory steps toward being baptized at the Easter Vigil, the entire congregation witnessing this process is offered a powerful reminder that Baptism is a profound gift.
That, in turn, should highlight the fact that Lent, with its penitential tone, is not a negative, gloomy time but in fact a period to be embraced with joy. Lent is a time for us to do a little spiritual house cleaning, an opportunity to ready ourselves to recall and celebrate the gift our own baptisms and to better live out our baptismal promises.
Formerly known as catechumens, those seeking to be baptized Catholics are now known as the elect, a nod to their participation in the rite of election on the First Sunday of Lent. During this rite, often celebrated by the bishop at the local cathedral, the Church indicates that those seeking entry are sufficiently ready and, in turn, the catechumens express their desire to receive the sacraments of initiation.
The rite of election heralds the beginning of what is known as the period of purification and enlightenment, a time of intense prayer and reflection. The prayers of the community are always welcomed during this time by the elect, who are grateful for the hospitality and support these prayers represent.
On the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, the elect will engage in special prayer ceremonies known as the scrutinies. The elect will also be presented with copies of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, symbolizing their embrace of the beliefs expressed in these two essential prayers.
A journey of faith should never be a lonely passage; by offering our support and journeying with those in an RCIA program, we demonstrate that the Church is a place of hospitality and welcome.
But as with any gift, the experience of giving is a reciprocal one. The opportunity to witness the elect be baptized is a humbling privilege for those of us who were brought into the Church as infants. Seeing this demonstration of living faith reminds all of us that the Church is alive and well and vibrant, a reality that should inspire us to call out our own responses to the renewal of baptismal promises with enthusiasm and energy.
-Catherine Mulroney, Editor of Living with Christ, Canada’s companion to praying and living the Eucharist.