The significance and power of the celebration of ‘Election’ never ceases to amaze me. Each year, the Cathedral fills, as people from parishes all over the diocese come, in cars, buses, trains, coaches – catechumens with their Godparents and parish ‘team’, flood in. For most of the catechumens it is their first experience of the wider church, being in the Cathedral and celebrating with the Bishop. This year, the Cathedral was decorated with banners and an altarpiece designed and made by the local Catholic College – depicting the call of Samuel, and the call of the first disciples, which we had as our Scripture readings for the Rite (which we hold on the Sunday afternoon). They are very touched by the ’embrace’ of the welcome, the physical space and the visual ‘invitation’, and then the movement into the Liturgy, itself. Many spoke of it afterwards as being a special moment, a real marker on the journey. In the Rite, the Bishop addresses them directly: ‘Your own godparents and this entire community have spoken in your favour. The Church in the name of Christ accepts their judgment and calls you to Easter Sacraments…. you must now express your response to that call clearly and in the presence of the whole Church: Do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist?’ And they call out ‘Yes, we do!’ That is a deeply joyful moment for everyone, particularly those who have walked the journey with them to this point, helping them form the habits of disciples, and at the same time, growing in our own following of Christ. And it is our task from this point on to ‘accept them as chosen in the Lord, and continue to sustain them through loving care and example ‘ as they come to share in the sacraments of God’s life. And so we enter the period of purification and enlightenment together.
In our diocese, as in every other diocese in England & Wales, we celebrate the CALL TO CONTINUING CONVERSION immediately following the Rite of Election. Some would say that this takes away from the significance of the Rite of Election and call to Baptism, and perhaps this needs to be looked at. We know that Candidates can be received at any time in the year when they are ready, and anything that makes them look like catechumens is to be absolutely avoided – ie we respect the quantum leap of baptism! However, over the years, this rite too has proved to be a moment of real significance for our candidates, particularly for those who have been baptised as babies in another denomination, and have received little or no catechesis. This rite – the affirmatin by sponsors, the affirmation by the assembly, and the recognition of their desire to share at Christ’s eucharistic table – is experienced as a marker in their final period of preparation. For those coming from a practicing Christian faith, all their lives, it can also be significant – but without any ‘trumpet blast’. It is simply a recognition of their journey, their seeking, and that the Catholic Church welcomes them and supports them with continuing guidance, prayer and affection. However, to make it clear that baptised candidates are 100% different from unbaptised catechumens, we must be explicit! Perhaps it is time to have diocesan and national conversations about the Call to Continuing Conversion, and whether we could celebrate this at another time, separately from the Rite of Election, or whether the advantages of the ‘double’ celebration outway the concerns.