Joe, a long-time member of the choir in our parish, stood in his pew at the cathedral, facing the bishop along with all the other catechumens of the diocese. His godfather, not sure which of them was more nervous, stood next to Joe with his hand on Joe’s shoulder.
The bishop then asked all the godparents three questions about the catechumens:
- 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? (see RCIA 131B).
Why is the Rite of Election part of the RCIA?
Joe’s godfather took his role seriously, and he thought he was prepared to answer these questions with a resounding yes. Still, standing there, in front of the bishop, in front of the whole diocesan church, the weight of what he was testifying to made his knees shake a bit. The last time he felt that way was 22 years earlier when he made his wedding vows. Joe’s godfather realized that his “yes” was committing Joe to living the paschal mystery forever.
This moment, the moment when the godparents and then the entire assembly testifies to the readiness of the catechumens to move forward on their journey and begin the final preparation for initiation is the “focal point of the Church’s concern for the catechumens” (RCIA 121).
Was Joe ready for such a life-changing step? Only the Holy Spirit can know for sure, but the church still “should, after considering the matter carefully, arrive at a judgment about the catechumens’ state of formation and progress” (RCIA 121).
Specifically, the rite says that the bishop, priests, deacons, catechists, godparents, and the entire community should assess if the catechumens “have undergone a conversion in mind and in action and to have developed a sufficient acquaintance with Christian teaching as well as a spirit of faith and charity” (RCIA 120).
I want to pause here to point out that this is a very big deal. As a church, as a parish, we are responsible training seekers to live the paschal mystery. We have to teach them how to die to themselves for the sake of others. As you know, self-sacrifice is a hard thing. It is pastorally irresponsible to send a catechumen to the Rite of Election who is not yet ready to live a paschal life.
How can a godparent help?
At the Rite of Election, the godparents speak for all of us when they say, yes, these catechumens are finally, truly, absolutely ready to take on the responsibilities of discipleship. After all this time and all this training, the catechumens now know how to:
- Faithfully hear God’s word and conform their lives to that word
- Live in Christian community, loving, forgiving, and sacrificing for the sake of the other
- Join with that same community to walk together into a hostile world, bringing peace and reconciliation
- Gather in prayer and worship of the God who saves us
Not all the catechumens will master the skills of paschal living all at the same time. Tony, another catechumen in our parish, started his initiation journey about the same time as Joe. Joe had been a member of our parish and living as a disciple for many years, even though he was not yet baptized.
Tony, on the other hand, had no Christian formation and had several occasions when he seemed to stop making progress and even regress in his efforts to learn how to live a paschal life. Tony’s formation period in the catechumenate lasted for several years while Joe’s training period was relatively brief.
The Rite of Election is not a mere formality. It is a pledge of fidelity the catechumens make to follow Christ with greater generosity. It is a promise to enter into an intense period of spiritual preparation and to celebrate the life-changing sacraments of initiation into Christ. It is a pledge they make by literally signing their names in the book of elect (see RCIA 118-122).
The Rite of Election is also a promise the church makes to “surround the elect with prayer [and] accompany and lead them to encounter Christ” in the sacraments of initiation (RCIA 121).
I get it why Joe’s godfather’s knees were shaking. Ours should as well every time we deliberate over which catechumens we will send to the Rite of Election, a ritual which will irrevocably lead them into the center the divine mystery.
How do you prepare your catechumens for the Rite of Election? What about their godparents? Share your thoughts in the comments below.