Make the Book of the Elect worthy of the names it bears

A central element in the Rite of Election is the enrollment of names. This part of the rite is so important it is given equal billing in the title: “The second step in Christian initiation is the liturgical rite called both election and the enrollment of names.” (RCIA 118). Their enrollment is a sign of the catechumens’ fidelity to live the life of a Christian.

The rite offers several options for the inscription of names, but it says nothing about where the names are inscribed. See the rubrics at paragraph 132 in the rite.

  1. The catechumens may inscribe their names themselves
  2. They may call out their names while the godparents do the actual inscription
  3. They may call out their names while another minister does the actual inscription
  4. The parish may simply present a list of names to the bishop

Option four is perhaps the most common choice, as many dioceses opt to have the inscription of names take place at the parish rite of sending. (Note that even when this is the case, the actual enrollment does not occur until the names are presented to the bishop at the Rite of Election.)

What the rite does not say is where the names are actually written. Presumably, they could be written on a sheet of loose leaf paper (as I saw happen in one not-to-be-named parish). But that strikes us as inadequate. For such a solemn moment, shouldn’t the vessel that holds the names of those about to be baptized into Christ’s death be something worthy of the commitment? Shouldn’t it have more gravitas?

I presume we would all agree, and so I am a bit confused by what passes for a worthy book in many communities. A couple of publishers hit upon the “blank book” craze long before Hallmark did by mass producing some economical registers with “Book of the Elect” stamped in fake gold leaf on a church-maroon cover and some lined or blank sheets stuck in between. (One publisher has, incomprehensibly, even added a signature line for the local bishop.) If these were merely record books, such as the baptismal register kept in the parish vault, perhaps there would be no harm. But we have taken to using these weak and pallid things as symbols of the spine-chilling “YES” that shouts from the hearts of those about to be plunged into the waters of baptism.

Perhaps it’s time to stop shopping for our ritual books at ecclesial value-marts and think about ways in which we might obtain or create volumes that are worthy of the names they bear.

Click here for a set of links for handcrafted books you can purchase and instructions on how to make your own Book of the Elect. If you have bought or created a Book of the Elect you think raises the bar, send me a picture at nick[at], and I’ll publish it here.

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