Testify! — Tips for the Rite of Election

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAThe testimonies during the Rite of Election can be one of the most moving moments in the catechumenate process. Let’s look at how they happen.

How does the testimony happen in the election rite?

In the Rite of Election, the ritual text gives two ways for the godparents to offer their testimony (paragraph 131). Option A presumes the bishop has “taken part in the earlier deliberation” to determine the suitableness of the catechumens. In that case, he will have already heard the testimony of the godparents. So the ritual text has him asking the godparents to “state their opinion once again, so that all may hear.” Their ritual testimony consists of two words, said in unison: “We do” [consider the catechumens worthy]. The bishop then has the option of asking the assembly if they also affirm what has been said about the catechumens (presumably in the earlier deliberation).

Option B presumes the bishop has not been involved in any previous discernment, and so he does his discerning on the spot. He asks the godparents three questions about the readiness of the catechumens, to which they answer three times, “They have” [prepared well]. Again, the bishop has the option of inviting the assembly’s affirmation.

How does the testimony happen in the parish rite of sending?

The parish rite of Sending of the Catechumens for Election is an optional rite. It includes a ritual dialog, similar to Option B in the Rite of Election, during which the godparents offer similar testimony (paragraph 112). However, this is not the testimony before the bishop and could be considered part of the “earlier deliberation” the Rite of Election expects. Since the rite is optional, and since the rubrics allow for the pastor to address the catechumens and the assembly “in these or similar words,” many parishes take this opportunity for an expanded testimony from the godparents. Instead of using the formulas given in the rite, the presider might simply stop speaking after he says: “I turn to you, godparents, for your testimony about these candidates.”

The godparents would then offer some thought-out sentences about the readiness of their catechumens to be presented to the bishop for election. It is imperative that these testimonies do not devolve into what a friend of mine calls bowling award speeches. This isn’t meant to be a praise statement about the good work the catechumen has done. It is to be a thanksgiving for the good work God has done. The godparent is to give witness to the movement of the Spirit in the life the catechumen. My friend gathers all the godparents in his parish well ahead of the ritual and makes them tell him, roughly, what they intend to say. He makes them rephrase any sentence that doesn’t begin with “God.”

Here again, the presider is given the opportunity to ask for the approval of the assembly. In parishes that have the time available on Sunday, it can be particularly appropriate for the presider to make the same request he made of the godparents: “I now turn to you, parishioners of St. Vitus, for your testimony about these candidates.” In my experience, the catechist and other team members almost always have something to say at this point. Sometimes folks from the assembly testify; sometimes they don’t. Some parishes place a few “plants” in the assembly, but I never have. However, it is one way to encourage the assembly to participate in the testimonies. In a future post, we’ll look at some others. In the meantime, click the comments button below and share some strategies you have used.

Photo courtesy of Kai Oberhäuser on Unsplash

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