Discernment by the bishop
In the ancient church, the catechumens who wanted to be baptized that year would give their names to their pastor sometime before Lent. If the pastor thought they were ready, he would submit their names to the bishop. At the beginning of Lent, all those seeking baptism would go before the bishop who would question (scrutinize) the catechumens and their godparents about the catechumens’ lifestyle. If the bishop discerned the catechumens were ready, their names were inscribed in a book or on a scroll. For those catechumens who the bishop thought needed more formation, he would send them away, telling them to amend their lives and return again next year.
Godparents can sign the book
In our current Rite of Election, godparents may inscribe their names next to their elect. This is a tradition that has been carried over from the ancient church. However, it is seldom implemented today.
Parish vs. cathedral
When the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults first began to be celebrated in the United States (around 1974), the Rite of Election took place in parishes. It wasn’t until about ten years later that the rite began to shift to the cathedral and was presided over by the bishop. This shift had an impact on who gathered to celebrate the rite. In the 1970s and early 80s, the parishioners who had supported and helped form the catechumens made up the assembly. Once the rite became a diocesan liturgy, the assembly was composed of clergy, catechumens, godparents, catechists, and family members from across the diocese.
Rite of Sending only in the United States
In order to fill the need for a parish celebration with the soon-to-be-elect, the church in the United States developed the Rite of Sending. However, churches in other countries, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, do not have an official Rite of Sending.
From Mass to word service
When the Rite of Election was held in parishes, it was almost always celebrated in the context of Mass. When it became a diocesan celebration, it shifted to a Liturgy of the Word service without Mass.
Sunday plus weekdays
In some dioceses, the large number of catechumens who are asked to come to the cathedral for election means that not everyone can be accommodated in a single liturgy. So in many places, the Rite of Election is celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent and on an additional weekday (or two or three), thereby breaking the symbolic connection of the Rite of Election with Sunday.
The shift to a diocesan celebration has also unintentionally shifted the climax of the rite. In the ancient church and in the modern rite when it was first celebrated in parishes, the climax of the rite was the declaration that the catechumens who had enrolled their names were now elect, who would be baptized at the next Easter Vigil. In the current manifestation of the rite, the climax has become the moment when the catechumen “meets the bishop,” often including an extra-liturgical episcopal handshake.
The rite for baptized candidates
The Rite of Calling the (baptized) Candidates to Continuing Conversion is a parish rite and is not celebrated on its own as a cathedral rite with the bishop (see RCIA 446-448). The rite may be combined with a diocesan celebration of the Rite of Election, but there is no provision for a diocesan Rite of Calling to Continuing Conversion outside of the combined rite. Also, the combined rites of election and calling to continuing conversion exist only in the United States.
What do you most look forward to during the Rite of Election? How are you preparing your catechumens for that celebration? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
1 thought on “A few things you probably didn’t know about the Rite of Election”
If we are called to a year round process then the Call to Continuing Conversion should not be held once a year with the Rite of Election. It should be held 3-4 times a year to accomodate those who are ready to complete their initiation.
Combining the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion conflicts with the year round process and reinforces the school year model.