One of the most important ministries at every parish in the world is the ministry that prepares individuals to receive sacraments of initiation. I struggle to think of any task more essential to the very nature of the Church than equipping those called by God to be cleansed of sin in the sacrament of baptism, strengthened by the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation, and nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Here at Sacred Heart, we have a number of folks who are part of this process, which we call the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Each of their stories is different, but they are all marked by the witness of faithful Catholics in their lives who demonstrate that our faith is something worth living, because of the amazing blessings we already receive from God, and the hope for eternal life that motivates us. They have been in a formation process for months, learning more about the depth and beauty of our faith, which has consistently reinforced their desire to continue their journey.
Like any journey, the RCIA journey involves distinct steps. Our inquirers have already become catechumens, the special designation for those who have been formally studying our faith. They’ve now arrived at the point of making an important transition, which we call the Rite of Election. We affirm their election by God, in whose name the Church does everything. This rite is evident in the experience of the early Church, who was often at risk from being infiltrated by heretics and imperial spies. Early writers like St. Paul, St. Justin Martyr and Tertullian describe an extended process of formation which includes a moment when the Church affirms the divine activity working in each person’s heart calling them to the sacraments.
To highlight the importance of this pivotal moment, the bishop of each diocese normally celebrates this rite. In past years, our coordinators and catechumens have taken a day trip to Roanoke where they celebrated this rite with others from throughout the western part of the Diocese of Richmond. However, because of the impropriety of gathering during a pandemic, this year Bishop Knestout has delegated all pastors to celebrate this rite with the catechumens from their own parishes. I’m excited, for the first time ever, to celebrate this rite myself!
At the 9am Mass on Sunday morning, February 21, we will affirm the God-given desire of Shelly, Ava, Jackson, Amanda, Elicia, Eliana, Emilia and Mateus to be reborn in the saving waters of baptism. (Six of these catechumens are students at Sacred Heart Catholic School!) In the rite, we will hear from their godparents and those who have been responsible for their formation, testifying to their conversion of mind and heart. Our elect, as they will be called, will write their names in the Book of Elect, which indicates their affirmative reply to God’s gracious invitation.
We have other members of our RCIA program who are already baptized in other Christian denominations, and are looking to be received into the Catholic Church. Additionally, we have members who are lifelong Catholics who have not received the sacrament of Confirmation. In the months ahead, I look forward to sharing more about their journey and how it will culminate in their experience of sacraments.
If you know somebody who has never received, but desires to receive, one or more of the sacraments of initiation, please encourage that person to speak with me or with Joyce Bustamante, our Director of Faith Formation. We absolutely love such conversations! There is no specific date when the process either begins or ends, so a person can begin their exploration at any time.
As we approach the Rite of Election this Sunday, and as we move beyond it, please join me in praying for our catechumens.