RCIA teaches about liturgical beauty and Church facts Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kat Wagner, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Bishop Robert C. Morlino receives candidate Kimberly Kazort during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at St. John the Baptist Church in Waunakee on March 13, 2011. (CH file photo)MADISON -- The annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is approaching for the catechumens and candidates in the Diocese of Madison who are seeking the sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church.

It’s an annual rite, taking place the first weekend of Lent, and it serves as a very public witness to the Church at large of the renewal and growth of our faith. It is filled with small rituals: the presentation of the catechumens, the Act of Election and the signing of the Book of the Elect, the presentation of the candidates, the Act of Recognition, the affirmation by sponsors and the faithful.

Rite of Election
The Rite of Election of Catechumens and Call to Continuing Conversion for Candidates of Full Communion in the Catholic Church will be held on Sunday, Feb. 26, at St. John the Baptist Church, in Waunakee. For more information about this celebration, click here.

For the Catholics not involved in RCIA, this is sometimes the last seen of these Church-seeking individuals until the Easter Vigil. Especially for longtime Catholics, there can be a vague idea that they return to classes to learn their catechism, facts about the Church, and exactly how one is supposed to genuflect in front of the tabernacle.

But RCIA is a deeper, richer process than that image provides. In the 1988 edition of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, it describes the structure of the process as gradual, as a journey that includes “not only the periods for making inquiry and for maturing . . . but also the steps marking the catechumens’ progress, as they pass, so to speak, through another doorway or ascend to the next level.”

The decree on the revision of the rite from the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1972 says that the time of the catechumenate, “intended as a period of well-suited instruction,” is “sanctified by liturgical rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.”

What are the rites?

Most Catholics know about the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, which will take place Sunday, Feb. 26, and of Baptism and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil, this year on Saturday, April 7. Some parishes also make visible, perhaps by including it following the homily at a Sunday Mass, the Rite of Sending, which takes place prior to the Rite of Election.

Some Catholics might even know of the scrutinies, the presentations of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, and the rites on Holy Saturday.

But sprinkled along the RCIA journey are more rites that expose those entering the Church to our rich liturgical tradition as well as prepare them to board the bark of Peter, the “battleship” of the Church, as Bishop Robert C. Morlino has called it frequently in previous years during his Rite of Election homilies. Among these are some optional rites, such as minor exorcisms, various blessings, and the anointing of the catechumens.

Minor exorcisms, which when done are carried out by a priest, deacon, or qualified catechist appointed by the bishop, are less about expelling demons than about purifying the catechumen, said Dr. Patrick Gorman, director of the Madison Diocesan Office of Worship.

The rite describes it as being in the form of petitions that “draw the attention of the catechumens to the real nature of Christian life, the struggle between flesh and spirit, the importance of self-denial for reaching the blessedness of God’s kingdom, and the unending need for God’s help.”

In other words, Gorman explained, “it’s thought to be a symbol of the conversion process, that you become turned away from what’s bad and turn toward what’s good.”

There are also many blessings that can be given, signs “of God’s love and of the Church’s tender care,” the rite explains. As catechumens do not have the grace that comes through the sacraments, these blessings provide them with “courage, joy, and peace” during their journey into the Church.

Another rite that can provide them with strength for their journey is the anointing of the catechumens, which can be done several times during the course of the catechumenate. The anointing with oil (in this case, the oil of catechumens which is blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass), “symbolizes their need for God’s help and strength so that, undeterred by the bonds of the past and overcoming the opposition of the devil, they will forthrightly take the step of professing their faith and will hold fast to it unfalteringly throughout their lives.”

When there is a particular need for this strengthening rite, Gorman said, “the oil is seen as both healing and protecting.”

Rarity of the rites

But as the rite itself acknowledges in its pages, these minor rites are optional. The majority of parishes don’t incorporate them into their programs for various reasons.

Sr. Denise Herrmann, the director of liturgy, worship, and RCIA at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Madison said it’s not only a matter of these rites being exclusively for the catechumens, when most programs serve both catechumens and candidates, but also scheduling, to find a time when priest or deacon and the catechumens can come together. “Part of it is you’re growing together as a group,” she said, “But year after year you see it gets harder time-wise. Everyone’s schedules get tight.”

But especially with the new translation, which highlights the liturgical beauty of our faith traditions, it’s possible that these rites will eventually make their way into the mainstream, Gorman said.

“The whole thought of RCIA is to make it a model of parish life,” he said. “It’s easy to learn stuff; it’s hard to be converted. It’s also easy to pray a lot and not learn anything. The challenge is to do both.”

And that challenge is not just for those in RCIA, but also those in the wider parish. Sister Denise ensures that, along with encouraging her catechumens and candidates to be ready for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, those in the parish see at least portions of the RCIA journey, whether through bulletin pieces explaining the process or the sending forth rite at the Sunday Mass.

Recently, in fact, a woman on a parish committee mentioned that, with it taking place year after year, she now sees what’s happening and understands it better. “It’s interesting,” Sister Denise said, “because this person from the pews saw that something deeper is going on.”

It’s more than just the facts. It’s the whole faith tradition.


Edited 02-16-2012 to correct date of Easter Vigil.

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