Their New Life Is a Gift to the Church
Lent, I trust, has special significance for any faithful Catholic. But, let me draw attention to one particular group for whom these 40 days have enhanced intensity.
I’m talking about our catechumens and candidates. These are the people, mostly adult, who look forward to full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil. A catechumen has never been baptized, but, by God’s grace and invitation, now wants to believe in Jesus within His Church. On Holy Saturday, these catechumens will be baptized, confirmed, and receive their first Holy Communion.
A candidate has already been baptized, and, at least nominally, has heard of and accepted Jesus. He or she may already be a Christian, while not a Catholic, or even a Catholic, who was never raised in the faith or participated in the sacramental life of the Church after baptism. At the Easter Vigil, these candidates will profess their faith, be confirmed, and make their first Holy Communion.
(You may wonder about the sacrament of penance, or confession. Our catechumens will not need it right away, since their baptism on Holy Saturday will wash away all their sins. They will be prepared for it, and make their first confession sometime after Easter. Our candidates will indeed be prepared for, and make their first confession sometime this Lent as the Easter Vigil nears. And, for those for whom it is necessary, our catechumens and candidates will celebrate their marriage within the Church as well.)
These committed people have been praying and preparing for Holy Saturday for months, at least since last fall, and have become part of a community within our parishes called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the R.C.I.A. Thanks to their sponsors, the catechists, and their parish priests and deacons, they already feel at home and part of the parish. You see them at Sunday Mass (although they cannot yet approach Holy Communion) and may even be jealous of them, because they get to leave Mass early!
This process is ancient in the Church. The Church is “in the business” of inviting new members. True, now most of us are “born into” the Church, and christened soon after birth. This was not yet the case in the first centuries of our history, when people heard of “the way, the truth, and the life”—Jesus!—as adults. Their eagerness to become a Catholic led to this ancient rite of prayer, discernment, conversion and study we now see in the R.C.I.A.
What a gift they are! In six weeks, close to 2,000 adults, in our 375 parishes, will unite with us in Christ and His Church. We may at times take our religion for granted. Not them! What an inspiration they are!
In the early days of the Church, Lent became the time of intense preparation for our catechumens and candidates. The entire community would stay close to them in deeper prayer, study, fasting, and conversion of heart. The readings from God’s Word at daily and Sunday Masses were geared especially for them (we still use the same ones to this day), and Lent became a season of grace and mercy for everybody.
Which should still be the case for today. When you think about it, we’re all in some way catechumens and candidates! We’ve all slipped and gotten slack in our faith; we’ve all lost some pizzazz in our relationship with Jesus and His Church. So, for these 40 days, we pray, fast, and love a bit more, closer to our Lord on His Cross, eager to be more profoundly united to Him in His Resurrection at Easter.
We all became “marked men and women” yesterday, Ash Wednesday. In 40 days, while we might not be baptized with our new R.C.I.A. friends, we will renew our baptismal vows and be rinsed with Holy Water at Easter.
In a way, it’s the journey of a lifetime…this life here and now, and everlasting life to come!
A blessed Lent!