By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary
Last week, you welcomed 331 women, men and children who will enter the Catholic Church in their parishes at the Easter Vigil. Why was this “Rite of Election” so important and why should we be so joyful?
It was my joy to meet each of the 331 people who will enter the church at the Easter Vigil. It’s always a powerful celebration. I heard so many stories. A woman who told me she is in her 80s said she had been wanting to do this for 20 years and finally was able to take the joyful leap of faith and become part of our Catholic family. I also heard from a child in middle school that she was deeply influenced by her friends who are Catholic and taught her a lot about the Catholic Church, so much that she desired to enter our family. Because of her entrance into the church, her parents are now interested in becoming Catholic. It’s my privilege to let them know they have my prayerful support along with the prayerful support of everyone else in the archdiocese.
Can you explain what went on at the Rite of Election?
We had two services. One was celebrated on Sunday afternoon, March 10, at St. Joseph Church in New Orleans, and the other was celebrated the next evening at Most Holy Trinity Church in Covington. The people who came forward are those who have participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The RCIA also has a process adapted for children. The process was established in the early 1970s by the Vatican, with the goal that anyone above the age of 7 who desired to enter the Catholic Church would use this process as a period of prayer, discernment and study. Prior to that time, persons wanting to enter the church normally took private instructions from a parish priest, who would talk with the person about the teachings of the church and usually give the person some readings about the church for homework. Usually, that was done out of sight of the congregation. Even the baptism of the person entering the church was normally celebrated privately. What the RCIA process insists on is that entire parish community should be made aware of the presence of these people and pray with them and for them and get to know them. That period of prayer, discernment and instruction culminates with a public celebration at the Easter Vigil.
Can you explain the difference between “catechumens” and “candidates”?
Those who desire to enter the Catholic Church and have not yet been baptized are called catechumens. They enter into a period of prayer, discernment and study of the teachings of the Catholic Church. During this process, they are called catechumens. During the Rite of Election, the church accepts their desire to be baptized and to belong to the Catholic Church – and, thus, they become known as the “elect.” They are elected – chosen by God – to enter into his family, the Catholic Church. At the Easter Vigil, they will celebrate baptism, confirmation and participate in our eucharistic meal for the first time.
The candidates already have been baptized in other Christian faiths. They have answered God’s call to become Catholic, and most often they join the catechumens for that same period of prayer, discernment and instruction. They will make a profession of faith in the Catholic Church and will celebrate confirmation and receive the Eucharist for the first time. The RCIA indicates a preference that the candidates complete their initiation to the Catholic Church at a Sunday liturgy during the Easter season rather than at the Easter Vigil, but often the candidates are fully initiated along with the catechumens at the Easter Vigil since they have journeyed with them. At last week’s ceremony, we sent the candidates forth for ongoing conversion and preparation for the Easter mysteries.
One of the other differences between the “elect” and the “candidates” is the sacrament of confession. Because the elect have never been baptized, that sacrament at the Easter Vigil takes away all sin. The candidates already have been baptized. They have the opportunity to go to confession before they receive the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
What’s it like to meet everyone personally?
It’s really a great joy. What I see most of all is the joy on their beaming faces, which tells me how much they love Christ and the Catholic Church and eagerly look forward to becoming part of our family. I ask everyone within the Archdiocese of New Orleans to kindly remember them in prayer as the elect and the candidates move forward to their reception of the sacraments at the Easter Vigil. By their entering the church, our church not only becomes larger but stronger. May God bless them on their continuing Easter journey.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.