In our Diocese of San Jose, we have dancing books for the Rite of Election. Now hold on before you start groaning as you imagine young waifs in tights and leotards flitting about the altar.
Our Scriptural tradition has many stories of dancing—but the kind of dancing that comes out of ordinary, everyday people. David danced before the Lord, Miriam danced on the seashore, the women took up garlands and danced at Judith’s victory, and even John the Baptist did a little jig in his mother’s belly at the voice of Mary’s greeting.
And in our ritual, all of us dance—I mean, all of us, trained or not. When we dip our hand into the font, make the sign of the cross, bow low in reverence, raise arms in prayer, extend hands in peace and blessing, we are dancing. We are doing choreographed movement; we are expressing our faith, our joy, through our bodies.
This is what we do at our local Rite of Election, but just turned up a notch. The joy that our Rite of Election elicits—and the dancing that comes out of that joy—is often surprising for both the many long-time Catholics and “newbies” who come to our cathedral expecting a long, sober, restrained lenten ritual. Let me explain.
In our Rite of Election, after the homily, we present our catechumens to the Bishop in chant, in English and in Spanish. Then after he questions the godparents, asks the faithful for their affirmation, and confirms the catechumens’ desire to be initiated, the names of every catechumen are proclaimed by representatives from each parish. As the names are called, the catechumens and their godparents are led by their Book of the Elect to stand as a group before the Bishop. After he has accepted the proclamation of their names, the Bishop bows to the catechumens and godparents who bow to him in return.
Once all the names have been announced, those carrying the parish Book of the Elect stand around the altar (our cathedral is in the round) holding their books open high above their heads. Parish by parish, the catechumens are called to stand as the Books and the catechumens are blessed with incense filling the air.
Then at the climax of the rite, the Bishop standing at his chair proclaims with great solemnity: “I now declare you to be members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil!”
With that declaration, the entire assembly roars into a jubilant sung acclamation—”Thanks be to God!”—repeated over and over, handclapping and all! And the Books dance! The people holding the Books are swept up by the joy of the assembly that they can’t help but move—some can’t even wait for the acclamation to begin! Up and down, side to side, twirling around in circles, the names of God’s chosen ones fill the space. The assembly, amazed at the sight, sings and claps even louder. Thanks, indeed, be to our good and gracious God!
What a way to begin Lent!
Here’s a short video of our dancing books here.