Many RCIA teams and many more catechumens seem to not quite clearly grasp the reason that a Rite of Election is included in the initiation process. Many believe the purpose of the rite is to introduce the catechumens to the bishop. Or, as an extension of that, to show the catechumens that they are joining the Catholic Church, which is made up of many, many parishes — not just their home parish. Some seem to see the Rite of Election as the catechumens’ final choice to be baptized — a grand public declaration that they have finally decided to sign up, literally.
If these are the dominant themes we see in the Rite of Election, then it makes sense to apply the ends equally to the baptized candidates. They, too, will benefit from meeting the bishop, being welcomed to the larger church, and making public their decision to become Catholic.
The purpose of the Rite of Election
None of these, however, are reasons we celebrate the Rite of Election. The reason we celebrate this ritual is given to us in the introduction to the rite:
Thus the Church makes its “election,” that is, the choice and admission of those catechumens who have the dispositions that make them fit to take part, at the next major celebration, in the sacraments of initiation. (119)
This choice is made by the Church (headed locally by the bishop) as an outward expression of the choice already made by God. Only those catechumens who are “fit” are chosen. I’m not a Latin scholar, but other translations of the original could have been “able” or “qualified.”
God, through the church, is choosing those or are “fit” or “able” or “qualified” to do what? Not to meet the bishop, or see how many parishes make up the diocese, or even to choose for themselves to become Catholic. God is choosing those, who are able, to be disciples of Jesus. Those chosen are expected to be initiated into a life in Christ, which necessarily means of a life of mission. Before we send the catechumens for election, we must discern not if they know enough to ascent to Catholic belief, but if they are fit enough to take on the rigors of missionary discipleship.
Fit for duty
If we understand the primary purpose of the election rite is to choose those who are “fit for duty,” we can see that this rite is not especially appropriate for baptized candidates. All baptized Christians, Catholic or not, have — through the grace of baptism — been made ready for discipleship. All baptized Christians have already been chosen — been “elected.” They cannot be chosen again. Becoming Catholic is a fullness of expression (full communion) of God’s choice, but it is not fundamentally a new choice by God.
This teaching of the church — that baptism makes us disciples — presents us with a conundrum. Every day we see scores of Christians who engage in decidedly undisciplined (un-disciple-like) behavior. This has been a problem from the beginning. Even the original disciples were often undisciplined. Much of Mark’s gospel seems to be images of Jesus shaking his head and muttering, “When are they going to get it?” But as clueless and as inept as the original disciples sometimes were, Jesus never unchose them or rechose them. The choice had already been made, and it was irrevocable.
Are they ready?
So as we prepare our catechumens for the Rite of Election, let’s help them focus on what is actually happening in the rite. The church (symbolized by and embodied in the bishop) acts in God’s name to choose them — your catechumens.
If they don’t really know or understand what God is choosing them for, they probably are not yet ready to be enrolled in the ranks of the elect.
If the baptized candidates are disappointed because they are not going to be publicly chosen along with the catechumens, we probably need to do more work helping them (and maybe ourselves) understand the dignity and grace of the baptism we have already received.
3 thoughts on “What are we doing at the Rite of Election?”
Love RCIA. I have taught RCIA and Faith Formation for 11 years. One thing though that I have struggled with is choosing who is ready and who is not. We had a DRE who turned people away. Either kids with ADHD, kids who had anxiety and would not speak. She turned away a family who were prepared to the the Rite of Election, that very morning. They never came back. What I am getting is, it is not us who do. It is God. I am 64 years of age, went to Catholic schools for 13 years. At the age of 8, I was not ready for First Holy Communion, at the age of 12, I was not ready for Confirmation. My parents and the nuns, did not deny me the sacraments because I was not ready. They saw the bigger picture, down the road. This is not a 2 year journey, it is a life long journey. If I had not received the sacraments at those stages in my life, I most likely would not be teaching today. I look at the entire person. Not just that they do not seem ready. I have faith that they will do what God wants them to do. When? That is not my concern. My job is to bring them into contact with God. So when I hear, are they ready, it depresses me. At 64, I am still in inquiry, I am still a catechumen, I am still a neophyte. We complicate things too much. Too many rules, too many laws. Not understanding the circumstances of those coming in. I had a young man in my class a few years back. An Atheist, Dark. Disrupted the class. The other students asked to get rid of him. I said no. We have to have patience, pray. 3 weeks into class, as class was ended, I asked if he watched the boxing match the previous Saturday…………From that point on, it was like a new person. Still struggling, but opening up. Plus we had another thing in common, we both played drums. This is the essence of the life of Christ. Spending time with the students, Not making a personal agenda call and just saying they are not ready. I sat in a meeting with the DRE, am mom and her child. The DRE told the mother the child is not ready that the child is 12 but acts like 8. I tried to speak, I was shut down. The family left the church. completely. Went to another faith. The DRE said if they are so weak in faith, let them leave. That to me is an abomination.
Wonderful! Thank you!
So often, in this process we fail to see that God is acting and look simply to our “activity”.This helps to redirect our thinking.
If you permit I would love to quote you in either the bullet and web or a separate handout.
Thank you Ralph, I have been in RCIA for 4 years now. I was baptised in the Assembly of God church. There were many obstacles to overcome , prior marriage, second marriage to a fallen away Catholic , an annulment , the list goes on. I am in full communion with the church now. My cradle Catholic wife returned to her faith and brought me along with her. Was I fit for service and ready for the rigors of the missionary ? No, am I now? Barely , you are correct that this is a life long process and will take a life of the rigors of service just to train me for the basics of Discipleship or anyone for that matter. We have a very good RCIA program in our parish. At times though,the teaching becomes too complicated and the real meaning of what we are doing gets lost. Unfortunately I feel Jesus is still shaking his head at times as we just don’t get it. Too much information and too many words fit into an hour and a half once a week, doesn’t work. As a sponser now my mission is to try to understand the Rites and keep them simple in description. Often we are more focused on how the process works than why we are doing it. Thank you again for your comment it is righr on the mark. YBIC Fred.