As we move into the Year of Mark with the dawn of the First Sunday of Advent upon us we are challenged in the short gospel to really go against the grain! I don’t know about you, but with dark nights that begin ever earlier and dark mornings that last ever longer, I really want to spend more time sleeping and dosing my way towards the shortest day. But the gospel and the season we are about to enter are very definitely about ‘awakening’ and ‘staying awake’. It’s perhaps a good time to encourage those we are accompanying to take stock of their journey of awakening to God and God’s call in their lives and perhaps to discern their readiness to celebrate the Rite of Welcome or the Rite of Acceptance. At the same time it’s worth asking whether the parish community is ready too and to consider the best ways of celebrating so that candidates and catechumens become the focus for all to experience the power these rites can have when celebrated well.

I used to only consider a combined rite celebration when dealing with both baptised and un-baptised enquirers and worked hard to differentiate the different elements of both rites so that all involved could appreciate what was happening. But it often failed to impact on the parishioners in the pews who seemed a bit confused and nonplussed and now I’m not so sure that combining these two rites is the best way forward. If we’re working hard to make explicit the importance of the whole parish community in our enquirers’ journeys, then these two key moments along the way are wonderful opportunities to move that forward. Rather than using a combined rite at one Sunday Mass, if you have both baptised and un-baptised enquirers ready to make that first witness within the parish community then why not celebrate ‘Welcome’ during one Sunday Mass and ‘Acceptance’ at another Sunday Mass a couple of weeks later, and maybe at a different time (Saturday evening Vigil perhaps). This will enable the parish community to see clearly that there are differences but more importantly, to have the opportunity of welcoming on a more personal and individual level. It will also encourage a more discerning spirit within the RCIA group as it decides who might be ready for these end of first stage rites. Finally, it can help to prevent that programmed sense of “We’ll celebrate Welcome and Acceptance’ next week because it’s Advent and that’s when we always do it!”

This First Sunday’s readings also provide us with a rich array of images of the God who calls us and working with these would provide a lovely reflective session as part of the discernment process. How and where in our awakening to God might we have encountered God as:

Father, Redeemer, Ancient One, Guide, Melter of Mountains, the Presence, God as Face Hider, Creator, Potter, Shepherd, Planter and Protector of vines, Life Giver?

Not to mention ‘the unexpected owner of the house who looks for a wide awake welcome’!