One of the defining features of the season of Lent is the preparation for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation at the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night. According to the 1988 edition of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), there are several preparatory liturgical rites that take place during Lent, one of the first being the Rite of Election or Enrollment of Names on the First Sunday of Lent.
All catechumens will celebrate this liturgical rite which “is called election because the acceptance made by the Church is founded on the election by God, in whose name the Church acts. The step is called the enrollment of names because as a pledge of fidelity the candidates inscribe their names in the book that lists those who have been chosen for initiation” (RCIA, n. 119). A catechumen is an unbaptized adult, or child who has reached the age of reason, that is preparing for the sacraments of Christian initiation, i.e., Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.
The Rite of Election “closes the period of the catechumenate […], the lengthy period of formation of the catechumen’s minds and hearts”. The celebration of the Rite of Election also “marks the beginning of the period of final, more intense preparation for the sacraments of initiation, during which the elect will be encouraged to follow Christ with greater generosity” (RCIA, n. 118).
Preferably celebrated during the Mass of the First Sunday of Lent by the diocesan bishop in his cathedral, or by his delegate, the Rite of Election begins after the homily with the formal presentation of the catechumens. Their godparents (sponsors) are asked if the catechumens are “worthy to be admitted to the sacraments of Christian initiation”. After answering in the affirmative, the congregation is then asked if they are willing to support the catechumens “in faith, prayer, and example”. The bishop then addresses the catechumens directly:
“Your own godparents and teachers and this entire community have spoken in your favor. The Church in the name of Christ accepts their judgment and calls you to the Easter sacraments. Since you have already heard the call of Christ, you must now express your response to that call clearly and in the presence of the whole Church. Therefore, do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the eucharist?” (RCIA, n. 132).
After responding “we do”, the bishop directs the catechumens to offer their names for enrollment. The names of the catechumens are then either called out or entered in the Book of the Elect. The bishop then says: “I now declare you to be members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil” (RCIA, n. 133).
Following the intercessions for the elect, the bishop stretches his hands over the elect and says: “Lord God, You created the human race and are the author of its renewal. Bless all Your adopted children and add these chosen ones to the harvest of Your new covenant. As true children of the promise, may they rejoice in eternal life, won, not by the power of nature, but through the mystery of Your grace” (RCIA, n. 135, a).
Following an ancient tradition, the elect are then dismissed and the Mass continues with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Formerly known as catechumens, the elect now enter a period of purification and enlightenment coinciding with the season of Lent.
“In the liturgy and liturgical catechesis of Lent the reminder of baptism already received or the preparation for its reception, as well as the theme of repentance, renew the entire community along with those being prepared to celebrate the paschal mystery, in which each of the elect will share through the sacraments of initiation” (RCIA, n. 138).
This period of purification and enlightenment sees the celebration of several specific liturgical rites, most important of which are the scrutinies, celebrated on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. Following the celebration of the scrutinies, the presentations may also take place, unless this has already happened during the catechumenate. These presentations involve the Church lovingly entrusting to the elect the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, “ancient texts that have always been regarded as expressing the heart of the Church’s faith and prayer” (RCIA, n. 147).
As we begin the season of Lent, it would be good to consider adding to our daily prayers a prayer for all catechumens and elect, taken from the liturgy of Good Friday:
“Let us pray also for catechumens, that our God and Lord may open wide the ears of their inmost hearts and unlock the gates of His mercy, that, having received forgiveness of all their sins through the waters of rebirth, they, too, may be one with Christ Jesus our Lord…
Almighty ever-living God, who make Your Church ever fruitful with new offspring, increase the faith and understanding of catechumens, that, reborn in the font of Baptism, they may be added to the number of Your adopted children. Through Christ our Lord. Amen” (The Roman Missal, Third Edition, 2010).