After Ash Wednesday, the First Sunday of Lent (6 March this year) will introduce us into a remarkably rich liturgical season. Lent is a time of personal and collective pauses. It enables us to reconnect with God, ourselves, other people and, indeed, the entire universe. It is a space for re-examining and recovering our deepest values and dreams, an opportunity to shed the dead weight and to continue walking our earthly pilgrimage with a renewed spring in our steps. The added bonus of this season is that none of us really does it alone, regardless of however private this exercise may seem to us individually. In fact, we are joining in a rhythm of breathing, so to speak, with the whole Church: ‘exhaling’ during Lent the harmful by-products of our living so that we can ‘inhale’ the fresh air of God at Easter and Pentecost.
This communal preparation does not happen by chance. It follows an ancient tradition of the early Christians who recognised the need of (what they would call) a time of purification preceding a celebration of the great mysteries at Easter. And the whole Church participated by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This practice was intimately linked with the process of preparing new members (called catechumens) for a reception into the Church at Easter Vigil. And you can well imagine the gravity of a decision to become a Christian when emperors’ edicts were flying around, stipulating that being a Christian was a capital offence. The sense of dying in a tomb as one was completely immersed in baptismal waters was very relatable, as was the sense of being reborn when one emerged from a baptistery (or a stream) into the light.
Today, we preserve this tradition of accompanying people on their journey into the Catholic Church specifically in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. This document is a liturgical road map for any adult wishing to become a member of the Roman Catholic Church. As we speak, there are people preparing to be received as full members of our communion, and 6th March will mark a very important step for them. They will gather with us in the Cathedral for what is called the Rite of Election and Enrolment of Names. This is a second big step on their journey, which closes their (often lengthy) period of preparation known as catechumenate. At this point, the Church is confident that they have undergone a conversion in both mind and action, learned enough about Christian faith to know what they are going to commit to and who is the God they desire to follow, and have fostered a spirit of faith and charity.
After the Rite, these people will no longer be called catechumens. They will become the elect, the chosen ones, because God will have called them by their very names through the voice of the Church, and they will have responded. This will be literally true because their names will be solemnly read out during this special Mass with the Archbishop. On the basis of the testimony of their godparents and catechists, these people will publicly reaffirm their intention to become Catholics. What is more, they will publicly inscribe their names into a book that lists those who have been chosen for initiation.
During this Mass, we normally also welcome the candidates from other Christian denominations who have decided to become Roman Catholics. As they are already Christian, their process is slightly different because they have already been baptised and have been following Christ. Yet, we will solemnly welcome them at this event, together with their sponsors, and issue a call to continuous conversion. In fact, this call is issued to the whole Church, to every single one of us. It is an invitation to journey into the same desert for cleansing and recalibration. A journey in which we are to unite in prayer and witness, modelling for the elect and the candidates the faith, hope and charity that is the hallmark of a life lived with God for the sake of all creation. It would be a lovely sign if many of us came on the First Sunday of Lent to the Cathedral to support the future elect and candidates for the reception into the Catholic Church. New faces as well as the Rite of Election ‘groupies’ are all welcome to come along and show these future new members that our communities care about them and pray for (and with) them.
More information about the Rite of Election Mass and the related events is coming out soon. If you would like to find out more, please contact the pastoral development department (firstname.lastname@example.org).