The Catholic Communications Network has efficiently compiled a report of the numbers attending a Rite of Election, held on either Saturday or Sunday of last weekend (1st of Lent) from each of the dioceses in England and Wales. Once again the numbers reveal a consistent response from people who have made an active choice to come into full communion within the Catholic Church, which also affirms and celebrates the process of welcome, accompaniment and formation which is obviously happening throughout the country.
It also reminds us that not all parishes are able to, or chose to, attend the central Rite of Election which means that the ‘numbers’ tallied each year are only a benchmark. They are also somewhat misleading due to the fact that we don’t see the distinction between catechumens and candidates. However, the implication of increasing totals each year can only be Good News.
Listening to the different ways in which the Rite of Election is celebrated led me to reflect on our experience here in Southwark. We begin planning the Rite in October, reflecting on scripture, music and liturgical art options. An invitation is sent to all parishes in January with a Registration form where the names of those catechumens and/or candidates expected to attend are recorded. As the Diocese is quite large we group the registration of parishes and attendees by area: South East, South West and Kent.
The Rite is held at St George’s Cathedral for everyone registered and is a collaborative effort between the parishes, the Chancery and the Auxiliary Bishops, the Cathedral staff, Liturgy & Music Committee, the Christian Education Centre and a wide variety of volunteers.
Because the Rite of Election is a liturgy unlike any other there is a vibrancy and chaos that brings its own joys and challenges. In the planning we remember this may be the first, and possibly only, time that many of those attending will have been in their metropolitan church. Several ‘Preview Evenings’ are held for RCIA co-ordinators, teams, catechumens and candidates in order to give them a sense of the liturgy and what to expect. We receive many positive comments about how helpful these evenings have been.
We use the Combined Rite #547-561 with Election for Catechumens and Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates. A service booklet is prepared with the hymns, scripture references, prayers and responses. The Book of the Elect is symbolically located in the Baptistery and once the Catechumen has signed it they are seated with their Godparent in a group on and around the sanctuary. Candidates and their Sponsors are seated as a group in the central nave.
Just as the Book of the Gospels has been brought forward in procession and proclaimed, so too is the Book of the Elect. Three readers, representing the three areas, and the Auxiliary Bishop of that area take turns to proclaim the parish name and the person’s name: St Francis, Maidstone Sally Tracey, Robert Stillwell, etc …. It takes ages, but as each catechumen stands with his or her godparent the Cathedral comes alive. The presider then enters into dialogue with the godparents, the assembly and the catechumen. A joyful acclamation is sung to acknowledge the presentation and election of these catechumens and then we repeat the proclamation of parishes and people’s names as the candidates are presented.
The affirmation of the sponsors and assembly and then the Act of Recognition is a powerful witness of ongoing conversion and community support.
This year 88 parishes were represented giving the catechumens and candidates present a glimpse of Southwark’s boundaries while inviting them to see themselves as part of the wider Church.
As we move further into the stage of Purification and Enlightenment let us pray:
Father of love and power, it is your will to establish everything in Christ and to draw us into his all embracing love. Guide these chosen ones: strengthen them in their vocation, build them into the kingdom of your Son, and seal them with the Spirit of your promise. We ask this through Christ our Lord….Amen.