By FATHER VICTOR J. REYES-Special To The Bulletin | Published February 23, 2006
Approximately 1,300 men, women and children are preparing to be initiated into the Catholic Church at Easter in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
As they begin their final preparation, these catechumens and candidates will come together from every parish in our archdiocese to celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion celebrates both God’s call of the catechumens and candidates and their response to that call. Following this rite, the elect and candidates enter an intense time of preparation before their full initiation into the church at the Easter Vigil. This rite is so important that only the archbishop, a sign of the unity of the church, presides. The rite also affirms the archbishop’s role as the shepherd of the diocese who oversees the initiation of those brought into the church.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, which is celebrated by the Catholic Church throughout the world on the First Sunday of Lent, will take place at four different parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The rite will be held on Saturday, March 4, at St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta at 10 a.m., at Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta at 2 p.m., and at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw at 7:30 p.m. The rite will be celebrated on Sunday, March 5, at St. Matthew Church in Tyrone at 2 p.m.
The celebration has two major parts: the Rite of Election for the catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion for those already baptized. 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 focuses first on the catechumens. They are called by name, their parents and 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 to a deeper conversion. 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. The rite acknowledges that their names are already counted among the elect by virtue of their baptism. The candidates are also called to listen faithfully 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 marks a turning point in the process of initiation as Archbishop Gregory calls catechumens and candidates to the Easter sacraments. It is presumed that before they come to the celebration the catechumens as well as the candidates have gone through a slow, patient, gradual process of inquiry, catechesis and conversion. It is also presumed that catechumens and candidates have undergone a serious process of individual and communal discernment.
Prior to the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, the catechumens and candidates should 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. The parish community that journeys with them also discerns with them and sends them to the Rite of Election 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 date as far back as the fourth century describe details of this rite. The Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome includes a description of what ‘election’ might have been like in the fourth century. Election included an examination of the catechumen’s piety and works of Christian charity. Questions were asked such as, “Have they lived piously while catechumens . . . visited the sick . . . fulfilled every good work?” (ATXX.1)
The Apostolic Tradition established that there was a transition in the Catechumenate at this point, when certain of the catechumens were ‘chosen’ for baptism. It also established that from the earliest history of the Catechumenate, discernment by the church was thought to be necessary for this transition to take place.
The travel account of the Spanish nun Egeria provides a complete description of what the Rite of Election looked like in Jerusalem in the late fourth century. Egeria’s account of election in Jerusalem presents a scenario where the determination is made on the spot of actually deciding who is to go forward to initiation and who is to go home and try again the following year. Those sources describe how the Rite of Election profoundly 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 to this period before baptism 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 Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is indeed a turning point for catechumens, candidates and the whole church. Once the rite is celebrated, the church with her catechumens and candidates enters the beautiful season of Lent—fasting and praying, celebrating reconciliation, celebrating scrutinies and presentations, all leading to the celebration of the Easter Vigil—the climax of all the ritual that precedes it—and to a generous time of 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 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.” (Mi 6:8) It is a call to remember always and everywhere that our Savior Jesus Christ has done away with death and brought us new and abundant life—life everlasting.
For more information regarding particularities of the ceremony as well as directions to the different parishes, please visit the Archdiocesan Rite of Election Web site at www.archatl.com/liturgy/riteofelection.htm.