A number of years ago I was on holiday on the 3rd Sunday of Lent in Venice. Venice was not too crowded and the light was bright and clear. It was sunny but you still needed a coat – holiday tips over.

At the end of Mass in Murano we were handed a prayer card. Today the new bishop of the diocese was to be installed in St Mark’s basilica. Back in Venice going up the Grand Canal we were aware that groups from parishes we beginning to congregate on the canal side with posters and banners welcoming the new bishop. In the end we decided to hang around and see what was going to happen and eventually there was flotilla of boats and gondolas with trumpeters and attendants dressed in finery as the bishop approached his Cathedral. It was truly a spectacle but a thoroughly inculturated one too.

And the connection with RCIA?

Well the prayer card. The image on the front was the Jesus and the Woman at the Well. It was taken from the mosaics in St Mark’s basilica – more inculturation. The story was told in two scenes – like two frames from a film – Jesus talking to the woman at the well and then the woman proclaiming the good news. Firstly it was a reminder that on that Sunday the Church across the world was feasting at the Table of the Word on this story – it is a sign of our communion, what we hold in common. Also it was a reminder for me that this is a story that has been retold across the centuries. The stories which are illustrated in mosaics, a slow laborious process, are the stories which a community held to be important.

In the renewal of the Lectionary following the Second Vatican Council the story of the Woman at the well was restored to the 3rd Sunday of Lent, and the Man born blind and the raising of Lazarus on the subsequent Sundays. Great importance is placed on these stories. Even where there are no elect to be initiated at Easter these readings from Year A may always be read. Where they are not read on the Sunday the Lectionary encourages that they are heard at Mass at some point in the following week. Where there are Elect, and so the Scrutinies are being celebrated, these readings are used whatever year it is in the Lectionary.

It is worth emphasising that there are few other Sundays where the choice of Gospel is so singular.

The importance of these stories is in part a sign that Initiation is that important – It’s unavoidable. It is also a reminder of the richness of these stories.

  • If you were to choose two snapshots from these Gospels what would they be?
  • What caption would you give them?

In reflecting on the mosaic in St Mark’s I was struck that this was an unequivocal example of a woman being the first to proclaim and preach the good news in a particular place.

The Word we proclaim is never just a ‘once upon a time’ tale. It is always being fulfilled in our hearing but perhaps the best chance for these readings to be fulfilled is where there are elect – people waiting for baptism. When this happens we may begin to realise that we can never hear enough of this good news. We sometimes speak of RCIA being normative but the truth is that it is evangelising and initiating adults which is normative of being Church.

The mosaic can be found on the website of St Mark’s Basilica –> follow the link to [The Stories of Christ]. It is not possible to copy the image from the site.