Rite of Election - First Sunday of Lent (C) 2019

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Following the homily this morning we will have a ceremony called “Rite of Election”, also referred to as the “Enrolment of Names”. Three candidates for adult baptism at Easter, whom we call catechumens, having completed a program of instruction in the Catholic faith are, though this simple ceremony, formally enrolled to be baptised at Easter.

It is a moment in which they express publicly their decision to embrace the Catholic faith and the Church, through the office of the bishop, accepts them as candidates for the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion. This will occur, according to ancient custom, on Holy Saturday night.

This Rite can be traced back to the early centuries of Christianity. An important liturgical document, entitled “The Apostolic Tradition”, dated in the third century and composed by a priest in Rome, St Hippolytus, describes the practice of the preparation of candidates for baptism, and gives an instruction concerning the election of the catechumens. In other words, those who have been preparing for baptism are now to be formally accepted. They receive a new designation in being known as the Elect.

A Spanish nun, Egeria, gives a rather compete description of the way in which the Rite of Election took place in Jerusalem in the fourth century. What we do today is modelled upon these ancient rites which were restored in the liturgical changes mandated by the Second Vatican Council.

These sources describe how the Rite of Election marked a particular transition in the catechumenate process as the candidates now prepare more intensely for baptism. The transition requires the testimony of the godparents who affirm that they are suitable candidates. It was a ceremony presided over by the bishop.

In this rite of election or enrollment, the catechumens gave their names and are enrolled as now the Elect of the church. So their names will be recorded in the Book of the Elect.

This practice takes place on the First Sunday of Lent and is thus linked with season of Lent which we have just entered.

For the Elect, the season of Lent is to be a time of more intense spiritual preparation for their Baptism. It reminds us that to be baptized it is necessary not only to have knowledge of the faith, but also to align our life more completely in union with Christ.

Sometimes documents speaking of this Rite also describe it as the “Call to Continual Conversion”. To become a Christian involves a process of inner conversion of heart. This is an interior process, and indeed is life-long.

The celebration this morning for our three catechumens can remind us all that Lent is a call to continuing conversion. Indeed, it can remind us that living the Christian life is a constant call to conversion. It is for this reason that our Lenten use of the Sacrament of Penance is central to the spirit and purpose of this season.

On the First Sunday of Lent each year we read the account of the forty days of prayer and fasting undertaken by the Lord following his baptism by John. The temptations that Jesus endured while in the desert are temptations to choose material comfort and success above fidelity to the will of his Father. They were temptations aimed at distracting the Lord from his mission as he was about to commence his public ministry. These temptations remind us that the Christian life is always one of spiritual struggle. We are constantly tempted to abandon faith and trust in God, and seek physical satisfaction and security. We are often tempted to settle for a certain spiritual mediocracy.

These catechumens who will declare their desire to enter fully into the life of the Church and who express a willingness to prepare spiritually for their Baptism and Confirmation inspire us to embrace the Christian life with more spiritual intent.

The three temptations that Jesus endured give us three inspirations for our living of the Christian life.

In response to the temptation to turn stones into bread, Jesus, quoting the Scriptures, says, “Man does not live on bread alone.” We are not merely bodily beings. We have a soul, a spiritual dimension, which is of more importance. Lent reminds us to tend to the health of our soul.

In response to the temptation to be given authority over kingdoms if he bows down before Satan, Jesus, again quoting Scripture, says, “You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” We can repeat this in our hearts today. We will only worship the one true God revealed by Jesus Christ.

Finally in response to the temptation to give a demonstration that God can act powerfully to save him, Jesus says, “You must not put the Lord your God to the test.” We are to trust in God and depend upon God, but we do not presume on God or try to manipulate God. God is sovereign and does what He wills. We are humble servants awaiting his mercy.

Today in joy we unite with our three candidates as they become the Elect in this community. We assure them of our prayerful support and our Christian love as they enter the final phase of their entry into the Church.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 10 March, 2019