Rite of Election 2016 - Westminster © Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

Rite of Election 2016 – Westminster

The beginning of Lent marks a significant stage for many on the RCIA journey. Those who are ready are ‘elected’ to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the coming Easter Vigil. This happens on the first weekend in Lent at the diocesan cathedral with the Bishop. For all who participate this is a celebration of great joy. Often for those taking part, catechumens (unbaptised) and candidates (baptised into another Christian denomination), this is their first experience of the wider Church that people from across the diocese are on a similar journey.

For those looking for a story in the figures it is quite diffuse. We like a simple narrative where everything is  either up or down – and then we can connect it with this or that national or global theme. In reality people seek to join the Church not because of front page headlines but because the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives and they find in their local Catholic Church a place where that begins to make sense and where they are welcomed. Comparing the total figures with last year 5 dioceses show an increase, 3 diocese are about the same – but this is not the whole story.

One development the figures do reflect is the continuing increase of the number of catechumens to candidates.  In some dioceses (e.g. Cardiff, Nottingham, Southwark) the number of catechumens is the larger group. This may represent a demographic change – fewer people are baptised as infants – but is also a sign of an awareness of parishes to look outwards.

It is too simple to look for cause and effect in the figures – they are not an opinion poll on the state of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. What such stories miss is that the journey of faith takes time. The growth in catechumens is shaping how parishes approach and understand the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Parishes understand better that there is a distinction between those who have been baptised and those who have not — and that the length of their time of preparation may therefore be different. Someone may be received into the Church throughout the year whereas for adults to receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) this happens once a year at the Easter Vigil. This year Easter is relatively early (27 March) and so some will discern that they are not yet ready for baptism and will choose to wait.

For those at the Rite of Election this journey of faith has a goal, the Easter Vigil, which is not an end-point but a new beginning. We journey with then through Lent, praying for them, reflecting on our own baptism. As is said in another context they are a ‘reason for the season’. The questions which the bishop asks the godparents about the catechumens may also provide a Lenten examination for us as we respond to the call for continuing conversion.

Have they faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the Church?

Have they responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence?

Have they shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer?

The RCIA Network provides a number of Resources for Lent.

Rite of Election Statistics

Each year the figures for the Rite of Election are collated. They may not represent the total number of all who will become Catholics this Easter but it offers an annual snapshot.

 Diocese Adult Catechumens Adult Candidates. Child Catechumens Child Candidates Unknown Total Catechumens & Candidates
Arundel and Brighton 66 88 154
Birmingham 87 100 18 205
Brentwood 250 250
Cardiff 25 7 13 45
Clifton 22 40 4 66
East Anglia 23 42 65
Hallam 30 28 58
Hexham and Newcastle 16 56 72
Lancaster 6 20 26
Leeds 33 46 79
Liverpool 40 41 2 2 85
Menevia 3 1 4
Middlesbrough 9 6 17 6 38
Northampton 33 33 8 74
Nottingham 69 65 24 3 161
Plymouth 18 15 33
Portsmouth 50 88 1  139
Salford 28 20 1  49
Shrewsbury 12 32 44
Southwark 235 195 430
Westminster 269 353 622
Wrexham 9 11 20
 Totals 1083 1287 70 11 268 2719