ROME, 9 MARCH 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ
Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina
Q: We celebrated the Rite of Election of Catechumens. I am
confused about the rite of purifications during the Sundays of
Lent. My understanding is that with the rite of election the
catechumen has given his consent to God to be baptized in the
Catholic Church. Am I wrong in presuming that it is God who
calls the catechumens to conversion? The Church is only the
medium for God to act. Please explain why it is compulsory for
the catechumens to undergo these rites if they have already
consented to become Catholics and the Church has accepted them
as the elect to be baptized during the Easter Vigil. —
C.A., Muar, Malaysia
A: Our reader refers to adults who will be baptized during the
Easter Vigil Mass. The various rites and stages that they are
required to undergo before baptism are described in the
introduction to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. We
shall base our reply on the English language version although
there may be some differences between countries.
No. 6 of the introduction describes the principal stages that a
person seeking baptism usually goes through:
"6. On this journey, besides periods for making inquiry and for
maturing (see no. 7) there are stages or 'steps': the progress
of the catechumen is, as it were, a passage through a gateway or
the climbing of another 'step.'
"a. First stage [catechumenate]: at the point of initial
conversion, they wish to become Christians and are accepted as
catechumens by the Church.
"b. Second stage [final preparation]: when their faith has grown
and the catechumenate is almost completed, they are admitted to
a more intense preparation for the sacraments.
"c. Third stage [sacraments of initiation]: after the spiritual
preparation is completed, they receive the sacraments of
No. 7 fleshes out these periods a bit more:
"7.The stages lead to the periods for making inquiry and
maturing; alternatively, the periods may also be considered to
prepare for the stages.
"a. The first period consists of inquiry on the part of the
candidates and of evangelization and the precatechumenate on the
part of the Church. It ends with entrance into the order of
"b. The second period, which begins with this entrance into the
order of catechumens and which may last for several years,
includes catechesis and the rites connected with catechesis. It
comes to an end on the day of election.
"c. The third period, shorter in length, ordinarily coincides
with the Lenten preparation for the Easter celebration and the
sacraments. It is a time of purification and enlightenment.
"d. The final period goes through the whole Easter season and is
devoted to the postbaptismal catechesis or mystagogy. It is a
time for deepening the Christian experience, for gaining
spiritual fruit, and for entering more closely into the life and
unity of the community of the faithful."
Our correspondent's question refers especially to the rites
pertaining to the second stage (or No. 6.b) and the third period
(or No. 7.c).
Some time before the immediate Lenten preparation, the
candidates would have already been admitted as catechumens. This
is done once they have acquired the fundamentals of Christian
teachings, the beginnings of the spiritual life, and the first
stirrings of repentance. This moment is described in No. 14 of
"14. The rite described as the 'entrance into the order of
catechumens' is of the utmost importance. Assembling publicly
for the first time, the candidates make their intention known to
the Church and the Church, carrying out its apostolic mission,
admits those who intend to become members. God showers his grace
on them, as this celebration manifests their desire publicly and
marks their reception and first consecration by the Church."
After this is a period of formation that varies from country to
country but usually lasts one or two years. Once the candidate
is ready to receive the three sacraments of initiation the
immediate preparation, usually coinciding with Lent, begins.
This period of "Purification and Enlightenment" is admirably
described in the introduction:
"21. The time of purification and enlightenment of the
catechumens customarily coincides with Lent. Both in its liturgy
and in its liturgical catechesis, Lent is a commemoration of
baptism or a preparation for it and a time of penance; it
renews the community of the faithful together with the
catechumens and makes them ready to celebrate the paschal
mystery, which the sacraments of initiation apply to each
"22. The second stage of initiation begins the period of
purification and enlightenment, marked by a more intense
preparation of heart and spirit. At this stage the Church makes
the 'election,' that is, the choice and admission of the
catechumens who because of their dispositions are worthy to take
part in the next celebration of the sacraments of initiation.
This stage is called election because the admission made by the
Church is founded on the election by God, in whose name the
Church acts. It is also called the enrollment of names because
the candidates, as a pledge of fidelity, write their names in
the book of those who have been elected.
"23. Before the election is celebrated, the candidates are
expected to have a conversion of mind and conduct, a sufficient
acquaintance with Christian teaching, and a sense of faith and
charity. A decision on their suitableness is also required.
Later, in the actual celebration of the rite, the manifestation
of their intention and the decision of the bishop or his
delegate should take place in the presence of the community. It
is thus clear that the election, which enjoys such great
solemnity, is the turning point in the whole catechumenate.
"24. From the day of their election and admission, catechumens
are called the 'elect.' They also are called competentes
('competitors'), because they vie with each other or compete to
receive Christ's sacraments and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
They are also called illuminandi ('those to be enlightened'),
because baptism itself has the name 'illumination' and sheds the
light of faith on the newly baptized. In our times other terms
may be used that, depending on regions and cultures, are better
suited to popular understanding and the idiom of the language.
"25. During this period, a more intense spiritual preparation,
which involves interior recollection more than catechesis, is
intended to purify hearts and minds by the examination of
conscience and by penance and also to enlighten those hearts and
minds with a deeper knowledge of Christ the Savior. This is
accomplished in various rites, especially in the scrutinies and
The 'scrutinies,' which are celebrated solemnly on Sundays, have
the twofold purpose mentioned above: to reveal anything that is
weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect, so that
it may be healed, and to reveal what is upright, strong, and
holy, so that it may be strengthened. For the scrutinies are
intended to free from sin and the devil and to give strength in
Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life of the elect.
The 'presentations,' by which the Church hands on to the elect
its ancient texts of faith and prayer, namely, the creed and the
Lord's Prayer, are intended to enlighten the elect. The creed,
recalling the wonderful works of God for the salvation of the
human race, suffuses the vision of the elect with the light of
faith and joy. In the Lord's Prayer, they recognize more fully
the new spirit of adoption by which they will call God their
Father, especially in the midst of the eucharistic assembly."
As can be seen from the text, the preparatory rites are not
intended to cast doubt upon the elect or their response to God's
call but to accompany and spiritually strengthen them so that
they may receive the holy sacraments with the greatest degree of
knowledge and commitment.
* * *
Rite of Election of Catechumens [3-23-2010]
Our comments regarding preparation for adult baptism at Easter
(see March 9) brought to mind another e-mail. A reader described
"During the second week of Lent, our DRE [director of religious
education] approached our RCIA coordinator to let her know that
this year confirmation was not going to take place during the
Easter Vigil for our newly baptized. While I was attending a
class on canon law, Fr. X stated that all three sacraments —
baptism, confirmation and first Communion —
should all be conferred upon the newly baptized. When I
mentioned this to the DRE, I was told that Fr. Z said that it
was going to be done that way [that is, no confirmation] and
that he has the authority to make those changes. I had asked Fr.
X in regards to 'pastor privilege,' and he said that there was
no 'pastor privilege' —
this was 'full initiation' and all three sacraments should be
done together. My only thought is that all of the newly baptized
will be missing out on a very important sacrament and there is
nothing that I can do to help."
In this case, Fr. X is correct that a pastor does not have
blanket authority to omit confirmation to adults baptized during
the Easter Vigil. The fact that canon and liturgical law grants
the baptizing priest the faculty to confirm on this occasion is
a clear sign that this should be the normal process.
In some dioceses the bishop prefers to do most adult baptisms,
but this does not change the fact that all three sacraments are
That said, however, it is necessary to point out what the Rite
of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) says in No. 24: "In
certain cases when there is a serious reason, confirmation may
be postponed until near the end of the period of post-baptismal
catechesis, for example, Pentecost Sunday."
The RCIA, unfortunately, does not give examples of what a
"serious reason" might be. The reason is certainly not a large
number of catechumens; No. 23 already foresees this possibility
and suggests that the solution is celebrating several full
initiations during the Easter octave.
Nor would it usually be the case of lack of preparation, because
if an adult is unprepared for confirmation, he or she would be
equally unprepared for baptism.
It can only be supposed that No. 24 refers above all to special
one-off cases and not to an entire catechumen class. It is
certainly not a simple option or alternative that can be adopted
for supposed pastoral reason.
Since serious reasons are required for postponing confirmation,
the candidates have a right to know those reasons from the
pastor himself. "Because I said so" is not an adequate response.
The faithful have a canonical right to receive the sacraments
from the sacred ministers unless they are subject to some
legitimate impediment. The pastors have a corresponding duty and
responsibility to provide the spiritual blessing to the faithful
who request them and are adequately prepared.
In our column of Aug. 29, 2006, we presented the case of the
Holy See's telling a bishop to confirm a young girl who was
adequately catechized, had spontaneously requested the
sacrament, but was refused because she was below the diocesan
age of confirmation.
If this is the attitude shown by the Holy See toward a child,
then it can only be supposed that it would hold the same stance
in favor of adults, unless there were authentic serious reasons
for acting otherwise.
If the pastor cannot justify his decision, then it might be
necessary to bring up the issue with the bishop.