A “welcome home” ritual for returning Catholics, at the Easter Vigil?

Does any one have good resources for creating such a liturgical moment? I was asked by a returning catholic, who would like to have a public re-commitment ceremony (so to speak), at the Easter Vigil.  Presumably, other parishes have already confronted this possibility — and it will hopefully be a growing need, since more and more catholics in the U.S. are “lapsing” (thus increasing the pool of possible returns).


  1. I remember reading poignant accounts from history of the bishop welcoming back the “lapsed,” ie baptized people who had been in a state of serious separation from the church, in Joseph Martos’ Doors to the Sacred. This occurred on Holy Thursday, the first evening of the Triduum, though, via an “order of penitents” process. I think we run too great a risk of treating baptized people as though they are not baptized by doing something like this at the Vigil along side the sacraments of initiation. Presuming all the appropriate pastoral care and work is done prior, seems to me welcoming a person in this situation back to communion on Thursday could work well. Otherwise, the renewal of baptismal vows at the Vigil is the way all of us “re-commit” each year, sealing that renewal with sharing in holy communion on that holy night.

  2. I totally agree with David. In our parish we make an effort to not, as a rule, bring baptized Christians into full communion at the Vigil, nor do we Confirm baptized Cathoics at the Vigil, so why have a special rite for a returning Catholic? The rites of Initiation at the Vigil are for the unbaptized. Holy Thursday was the time those in the Order of Penitants were returned to communion, but unless a returning Catholic was going through some form of program, like Landings or Remembering Church, why would they want to wait until Easter to return when all they really need to do is go to confession. Perhaps this re-welcoming might work at a parish penance service. I would avoid Sundays during Lent since many of the rites of inititation are done on those Sundays.

  3. We shouldn’t forget that many who return are offering the Church forgiveness, not asking for it! I would be very careful to avoid any hint of receiving a humble penitents when it is we who have sinned against them!

    Perhaps we need to ask ourselves how we welcome any newcomers to our assemblies? Some are returning to Church, others have just moved into a new neighborhood. The ritual “welcoming home” will be meaningless if the people we just welcomed remain strangers in our midst.

  4. Please fix my name!
    PS I don’t think it is a good idea to “welcome back” “lapsed” Catholics. Not only are such people self-identified, the Church would have to come up with some song-and-dance about some definition of “lapsed”… It seems foolish, insulting and a failure of charity to make a to-do about this. A person may have stayed away for one reason or another, but that person was never not a Catholic! Welcome everyone without defining them. This is not the early Church of Rome with its apostate problem, nor is it Canossa. Just good old USA & Europe, 2012.

  5. I’m with David and Jo-Ann. Holy Thursday is the evening for this. Of course I admire Teresa’s returning Catholic for wanting to give witness to his/her return because it might move others to do so. Perhaps, at the time of the penitential rite, the presider could announce: “There is one among us who wishes to solemnize his/her return to the Church who will speak to us briefly, S/he will lead us in our recitation of the ‘I confess . . . ‘ “

  6. I think their are significant historical-liturgical markers for the possibility of Holy Thursday or the Vigil. Though, contrary to some opinions already expressed, I think its actually a disservice to the Easter Vigil and the unitive nature of the sacraments of initiation to assume that the vigil is for the non-baptized only.

    As a pastoral point – I wander about framing a return to the church in an overly penitential shape. The church certainly has trouble enough connecting the sacrament of Penance with people right now. I’m not sure the masses are interested in an order of penitents like designation which could all to easily be portrayed as a Scarlet Letter moment. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be better to have a public ritual only when there has been some type of process to spiritually hash out why one left, why one is back, etc. Otherwise it seems like a public act is a rather sacramental-like moment to be bartered on a personal whim…Just questions…

  7. I just watched the uTube video of the Sarum rite posted by KLSaur. Certainly this is a reproduction of a Scarlet Letter moment as J. Thomas suggests.
    If some individual wants a formal ‘nice to see you again’ or even a ‘let me show you how great were my sins’ public confession, let them seek out the proper place: the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

  8. Also, rather than encouraging others ‘to return’, a public to-do, even for a one time event, could just as easily be interpreted differently : “If this is what I have to do to go to Mass and Communionnagain, forget it!”

  9. Beyond the Holy Thursday suggestion made above-
    At the Easter Vigil, there is a corporate renewal of Baptismal promises.
    Could there be some way for the returning/renewing member to be involved in that in a way that is slightly more overt than the rest of the congregation?
    Just musing…

  10. Brigid Rauch brings up an important point. I hesitated to use the term “order of penitents,” but if you read Joe Favazza’s work on the subject, and constructive contemporary order of penitents includes exploring what it is in the church that alienates the people God now draws back. One thing I was thinking was that before coming again to eucharist at the Mass on Holy Thursday, the returning baptized person would participate in the washing of the feet. Perhaps as a gesture of the church’s repentance, the pastor would wash the feet the of the returning baptized, who in turn would then participate in the foot washing as does the rest of the assembly, according to local custom. At my parish, that would mean having the opportunity to then wash the feet of others.

  11. Like putting too much into Sunday Mass, we are putting too much into the Easter Vigil. Let’s keep the Easter Vigil for the full sequence Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist. Give people the classic model not confuse them.

    Most of us received our initiation broken up into three events. I am all for restoring those events to the Lord’s Day Eucharist. More and more infant baptisms are being done at Sunday Mass. I think confirmation ought to be done then even if we have to delegate this to priests. I have seen it combined wonderfully with First Eucharist in way that outdid bishop confirmations. Of course, First Eucharist is increasing being done at Sunday Masses spread over the Easter Season.

    We should not insert Reconciliation into the sequence by relating it to either the Easter Vigil or the Lord’s Day Mass too closely. Holy Thursday seems to be a good time.

    We probably need some option similar to the public penitence rituals of the early church for some people who fill that they need some public recognition of their transformation especially if their estrangement from the church was particularly public and radical, e.g. working for an abortion clinic. These public rites might be helpful for both the individual and the community.

    We should be careful about encouraging people whose sins were private and largely unknown to become “public sinners” There might be some unhealthy guilt in these efforts. Extensive private penances seem most appropriate for extensive un-public sinners.

    If return just means that they may have drifted away from church attendance, perhaps even searched and found spiritual sustenance elsewhere, but not really deteriorate morally, then I think extra devotional practices during Lent, Stations, Liturgy of the Hours, etc followed by reconciliation on Holy Thursday might be the appropriate model.

    Washing feet alienated by church personnel might be appropriate.

    Ajustment to situations but no medieval penance list.

  12. David Philippart :

    Brigid Rauch brings up an important point. I hesitated to use the term “order of penitents,” but if you read Joe Favazza’s work on the subject, and constructive contemporary order of penitents includes exploring what it is in the church that alienates the people God now draws back. One thing I was thinking was that before coming again to eucharist at the Mass on Holy Thursday, the returning baptized person would participate in the washing of the feet. Perhaps as a gesture of the church’s repentance, the pastor would wash the feet the of the returning baptized, who in turn would then participate in the foot washing as does the rest of the assembly, according to local custom. At my parish, that would mean having the opportunity to then wash the feet of others.

    What a splendid idea, David. Thank you.

  13. If the rite of “welcoming home” a Catholic who has been away from his/her practice of the faith were modeled after any of the “lost and found” parables in Luke 15, that would imply the welcome happens publicly (i.e. in the presence of the community) rather than privately (e.g. in the confessional).

    Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

    Suggestion: the reconciled sinner communes at the Eucharistic table.

    “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.'”

    Suggestion: the congregation meets the penitent outside the church, and brings him/her in for a communal celebration recognizing his/her reconciliation.

    “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.'”

    Suggestion: the use of light and darkness, perhaps a procession around the church, with the penitent received inside the doors of the church.

    I note in these two parables the sheep are all in the wilderness together; what separates the one sheep from the ninety-nine is being in the wilderness apart from the shepherd. Likewise, the woman searches in the house for a coin which is still in the house but apart from the other coins. That sense of “in but separate” could be an important pastoral point.

    1. There could even be a version of the rite which takes place in the residence of the Catholic (instead of in the parish church) when that seems pastorally appropriate, such as for those who are bedridden or hospitalized. This would be modeled after not only the parables of Luke 15 but also after the repentance of Zacchaeus:

      He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”

      Suggestion: a liturgy (of the Word) with distribution of Holy Communion, if not a full-fledged celebration of Mass; a blessing of the home, residence, etc.

  14. I rather like the idea of welcoming back lapsed Catholics, although there could be any number of persons who fit that description who are all very much unlike one another!

    However…The Easter Vigil would seem to be the wrong place for this, even if the individual requests it. Any such gesture on the part of the parish (or as is mentioned above, on the part of the person returning) would be non-sacramental, so to incorportate it into what is certainly the most sacrament-heavy liturgy the year could only cause confusion I would think.

  15. It seems that the renewal of baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil is already a recomittment ritual… which makes it difficult to add something similar to the same liturgy.

    It seems to me that the obvious place for a service for returning Catholics would be a special celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  16. The Anglican Church of Canada has such a rite in its Book of Alternative Services. It is set within the celebration of Confirmation. It is called the Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows.

    After the Sermon the Person is Presented to the Bishop.

    “I present these persons who desire to reaffirm their baptismal vows.”

    Then they take part in the Examination and Profession of Faith.

    Then the bishop lays their hand upon them saying,

    “N., may the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his Kingdom.”

    The person responds, “Amen.”

    Then is celebrated the Rite of Peace.

  17. The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church has a similar rite included in Confirmation with the same words. It seems to be used quite regularly.

  18. I agree with what many have stated above regarding not to do this at the Easter Vigil – even if the person is asking for this. First, caution needs to be taken: we just had conversion through another post regarding the welcoming into full communion at the Vigil, so we shouldn’t even consider welcoming a “lapsed” Catholic at this time.
    This being said, perhaps you can use the season of Lent to prepare this person for the sacrament of reconciliation, and for the renewal of their baptismal promises at the Vigil – with the assembly. Receiving communion at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday seems the best way to welcome this person back.

  19. Best to leave the Easter Vigil as we have it now. Otherwise it turns into a chapter of faults by those who delight in fault-finding , or it becomes an opportunity for everyone who delights in putting others on display for the congregation’s benefit. It becomes pure theater. It is none of the parish’s business.

    The lapsed have been received in confession and have joined the rest of us. Let it go at that.

  20. I have witnessed and celebrated this years ago on Holy Thursday, which is most appropriate. It is a defining liminal moment between Lent and Easter seasons. These “absent” brothers and sisters who have returned in a public way minister to the assembly [the Church] of what all have been about those forty days–conversion. Pastorally, the Table is made fuller and more complete, so we may together welcome the new life at the Vigil.

  21. Warning! Non-liturgist freely opining!

    I suggest a low-stakes approach. What if, at the Easter mass, it was announced — either verbally before mass or in a small card in the pews — that anyone who wished to mark their presence at this celebration as a return to the practice of the Catholic faith was welcome to join the procession of the gifts to the altar. They should simply come to the back of the church when the offertory hymn was announced and an usher will be available to guide them.

    Make it clear that no questions would be asked, no statements made– rather, our community recognizes that the journey of faith sometimes involves coming and going; we are simply recognizing this and welcome the chance to mark this moment of intentional return in their journey.

    It would not be a big deal, it would simply be a chance for the presider, after receiving the gifts from the previously designated gift bearers, as they step aside, to greet the gift that is the presence of each of the returnees with a word or gesture. After which they return to their places.

    1. Dear Nancy,

      Non-liturgists freely opining is a good and healthy thing!

      But I must tell you that the neophytes are expected to bring up the gifts at the Easter Vigil. This being the case, to have other people walking up with them in response to an open invitation would be confusing, the numbers would make it awkward, and it would take something away from the witness of the neophytes at that time I think. The rest of the entire year belongs to the faithful, and we can recognize their journeys of reconciliation in a number of ways. But at the Easter Vigil there are some specific things that the neophytes do, and I would protect that because it’s the only time when it happens.

  22. How about a small, private farewell ceremony for those who are leaving…don’t we wish people bon voyage when they’re on a journey?

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