Today, around the world, dioceses are celebrating the Rite of Election, the second “step” of catechumens in their journey toward the Easter sacraments. In this rite, which closes the period of the catechumenate proper, the Church hears testimony as to the catechumens’ readiness, and confirms that they are fit to take part in the next great celebration of the sacraments, at Easter.
Language of “judging” and “deciding” should not distract us too much from the essential orientation of the Rite of Election, which is theological. The notes in the ritual text give priority to God’s action. “This step is called election because the acceptance made by the Church is founded on the election by God, in whose name the Church acts.” (RCIA 119). Election is a “divine mystery” (RCIA 125) of God’s unmerited grace (RCIA 135A), the mystery of a God who freely chooses, again and again, to call a people. It is part of the grand scheme of redemption.
There is a response encoded in the rite too: “This step is also called the enrollment of names because as a pledge of fidelity the candidates inscribe their names in the book that lists those who have been chosen for initiation.” (RCIA 119). Putting one’s name “on the line” is a fine natural symbol of commitment, of saying “Yes” to God’s election. I am reminded of the words of theologian Karl Barth,
“Our return to obedience is indeed the aim of free grace. It is for this that it makes us free. … The mystery of the election of God is the summons to obedience.”
This people is called to mission; one’s election is ultimately “for others” as Christ showed us. The other names for the elect associated with this rite historically, photizomenoi and illuminandi, are both related to light. The elect are those who will bear the light of Christ, as the ritual of baptism with its giving of the Christ-light makes clear.
A long time ago, I wrote a book about the Rite of Election (On the Rite of Election, LTP 1994). Some have said it is the best book written on the subject.
It is the only book written on the subject.
The reason I bring it up is to show that I have a long-standing interest in the Rite of Election. So imagine my surprise and delight to find that in this age of the internet, one can actually spy a little on how things are going with this rite around the world. A few weeks ago, when preparing to give a webinar on the Rite of Election through TeamRCIA, I took a tour.
The Diocese of San Jose has fabulous pictures. Westminster cathedral in London is packing them in, and in these pictures from Singapore a sense of parish engagement is evident. The visual impact of the rite was very striking in the diocese of Nanterre in France, where they drape the elect in a sort of purple shawl—a rich, gorgeous color (royal purple?). I was reminded of Lucien Deiss’s hymn:
“Priestly people, kingly people, holy people, God’s chosen people—sing praise to the Lord!”
Of course, I like calling this rite Election. But after sixteen years of beating the drum for the theology this title embodies, I realize it’s a tough sell. We like to pay court to the bishop, visit the cathedral, get a thrill out of being in a big crowd. We don’t so much like to remember that Jesus was called God’s elect at his baptism, at his transfiguration, and on the cross.
Yet, I think these are clues as to what this rite is all about. The decisive call, and our “yes” made faithful in the “yes” of Jesus.