By FATHER VICTOR REYES, Special Contributor | Published March 11, 2004
Children, men and women throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta are preparing to be initiated into the Catholic Church at Easter. As they begin the final weeks of their preparation, these catechumens and candidates came together from every parish in our archdiocese and celebrated the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion with Archbishop John F. Donoghue on Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Georgia International Convention Center.
This celebration had two major parts, the Rite of Election for the catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion for those who have already celebrated the sacrament of baptism. The combined rites are celebrated in a way that maintains the important distinction between the catechumens—those preparing for baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist—and the candidates—those who already are one with us by baptism and who seek to be brought into full communion with the Catholic Church.
The combined rite is celebrated to focus first on the catechumens. They are called by name, their parents or godparents recommend them for initiation and then they are declared among the Elect of God by the archbishop. Then the rite turns to the baptized candidates. After the church hears the testimony of their sponsors about their readiness for initiation, they are called by the archbishop to a deeper conversion.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion mark a turning point in the process of initiation. Before they come to the celebration, the catechumens as well as the candidates have gone through a slow, patient, gradual process of inquiry and catechesis, as well as a serious process of individual and communal discernment.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion also presumes that a celebration of sending has taken place within the parish community. Prior to this rite the catechumens and candidates have spent considerable time reflecting on who they are, their own stories, how God has called them and how the Christian story touches their lives. Those elements of reflection create the context for their particular journey of faith. In addition, the parish community that welcomed them and accepted them has continued to journey with them throughout their conversion experience, knowing them and inviting them to know the community. The process becomes a two-way road for the journey: Catechumens and candidates are invited to fall in love with the church and all of us—the redeemed, the forgiven, the repenting and the grace-filled members of the Catholic Church—are invited to fall in love with them. The church community that learns to love them also discerns with them and sends them with a blessing at the Rite of Sending.
The history of the Rite of Election or Enrollment of Names goes back to the early centuries of the church’s life. Sources that describe details of this rite date as far back as the fourth century. The “Apostolic Tradition” of Saint Hyppolitus of Rome is the earliest liturgical source that describes the catechumenate in any detail with a brief instruction on the election of the catechumens. The travel account of the Spanish nun, Egeria, however, provides a complete description of what the Rite of Election looked like in Jerusalem in the late fourth century. Those sources describe how the Rite of Election marked a particular transition in the catechumenate into a time of deep preparation immediately preceding the celebration of baptism. This particular time also coincided with Lent. The transition took place after the testimony of their godparents was heard and accepted by the church at a celebration presided over by the bishop. In this rite of election or enrollment, the catechumens also gave their names and became the elect of the church.
The restoration of the catechumenate that took place after the Second Vatican Council remained faithful to the historical sources. Therefore, the publication of the modern Order of Christian Initiation incorporated the basic elements of the ancient rites. The editio typica of the Order of Christian Initiation describes a Rite of Election presided over by the bishop. It takes place on the First Sunday of Lent and only after a careful discernment regarding the readiness of the catechumens has taken place. The rite contains three basic actions: the calling forward of the catechumens, the enrollment of their names and the testimony of their godparents.
The Call to Continuing Conversion for the candidates reflects a renewed sense of the meaning of baptism. The baptized candidates are called to a deeper appreciation of their baptism in which they were joined to Christ and the church. They are called to acknowledge that their names are already counted among the elect by virtue of their baptism, to faithfully listen to the kerygma of the church, to reflect on and appreciate the traditions of the church, and to advance in a life of service to others.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion are indeed such turning points for catechumens, candidates and the whole church. Once the rite is celebrated the church with her catechumens and candidates enters the season of Lent fasting and praying, celebrating scrutinies and presentations, all leading to a breathtaking Easter Vigil—the climax of all the ritual that precedes it—and to a generous mystagogy.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is precisely about election and call. It is about God’s grace working in our midst, in the catechumens, in the candidates and the entire church. It is about the body of Christ bringing children of the promise to a new birth in Christ. It is a reminder of God’s call “to be holy as I the Lord your God am holy” (Lv 19:2). It is a call to all of us catechumens, candidates and church to a continual conversion of heart, “to act justly, to love tenderly, to walk humbly with God” (Mc 6:8). It is a call for us to “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12) and to “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19) as we journey through life.
Father Reyes is pastor of St. Michael Church, Gainesville.