Initiating Christians during Time of Health Crisis: Some Question

A Pray Tell reader writes with some interesting and important questions:

If safety restrictions are not released until after Holy Week, how much can be adapted for the initiation sacraments? My boss and I have discussed using the Pentecost Vigil for baptism and confirmation. But that could be optimistic. What if we go beyond that?

Would we celebrate a different Mass for the Vigil of a Sunday in Ordinary Time? And if so, what would it be? A votive Mass for baptism/confirmation with expanded readings, plus the rites? A local bishop could sign off on that, I suppose. But would they? What would it mean if some nations or regions were free of restrictions and others were not?

Would we resume Lent to cover the scrutinies for the unbaptized? How does this put the wrench into First Communion and Confirmation Masses? On the latter point, will bishops just delegate to their pastors? Or roll like mad to get it done this summer?

How are you thinking about celebration of the initiation rites this year?

8 comments

  1. CDC has just recommended suspending gatherings of more than 50 people for 8 weeks which takes us through Easter and into graduation and commencements = 4th Sunday in Easter. Pandemics come in waves. They are not like snowstorms come and gone in a few days. This is the emergence of a new normal. CDC’s 8 weeks is actually optimistic.

    For all decision makers and priority setters — live streaming and uploading to such as YouTube and Vimeo may have been an embellishment — now it may be the only way forward that allows for some semblance of stability. Priorities delayed are not priorities abandoned.

    Please remember that the average age of priests represents the population at highest risk for this virus. 15% of the people who died in China were over 80.

    Consider today’s, Gospel, and the content of the homily from St. John’s — The livestream equipment at St. John’s keeps crashing after only a few minutes. Going forward it will need staffing and at least some sort of stabilizing upgrade. Please, post the time at which the live stream of the Liturgy will occur and then leave it available for an extended period of time. If your faith community doesn’t have a live stream option or You Tube or Vimeo — someone in your community can contact another community for guidance and assistance.

    Please, post on parish websites links or how to locate online streaming of the Liturgy. Source and Summit of our faith, people are thirsting for Living Water. Do not send them away.

    1. Remember Amalak! We have all of these social media tools that can help to keep Moses’ arms raised in prayer. The barrier is identifying people who know how to use the social media tools. Perhaps it is a difference in scale, smaller size, using things like face time and video conferencing to go forward with RCIA. Maybe it is the simplicity of scale of the early church – being rediscovered — and the new evangelization bursting forth. Let this kindle a fire in our hearts.

  2. If safety restrictions are not released until after Holy Week, how much can be adapted for the initiation sacraments?

    The section of the RCIA ritual book entitled Christian Initiation of Adults in Exceptional Circumstances should answer most of this question. You would probably be looking at nos. 336-339 in the U.S. edition (nos. 312-315 in the England & Wales edition; nos. 241-244 in the Latin editio typica of the OICA).

    Would we celebrate a different Mass for the Vigil of a Sunday in Ordinary Time? And if so, what would it be? A votive Mass for baptism/confirmation with expanded readings, plus the rites?

    See the rubric in the Roman Missal at the beginning of Ritual Mass I.3: “If, however, [the Sacraments of Christian Initiation] are celebrated apart from the Paschal Solemnity because of necessity, this Mass may be used with the colour white or a festive colour on days when Ritual Masses are permitted.”

    As per GIRM 372, it is possible to celebrate a Ritual Mass on a Sunday per annum. The Lectionary provides readings for Christian Initiation outside of the Easter Vigil (OLM/i> 751-755; cf. vol. 4 of the U.S. lectionary, vol. 3 of the England and Wales lectionary). You may find the organisation in the section of the RCIA book cited above helpful.

    Would we resume Lent to cover the scrutinies for the unbaptized?

    No! The Missal provides for the celebration of the scrutinies outside of their proper time. See the rubric at the beginning of Ritual Mass I.2: “If, however, for pastoral reasons, the Scrutinies cannot take place on these Sundays [of Lent], other appropriate weekdays may be chosen in Lent, or, whenever Baptism is to be conferred outside the Easter Vigil, also at other times of the year.” (Note that the Gospel readings for these ritual Masses are always those from 3A, 4A and 5A of Lent respectively.)

    1. Further to the rubrical content of the ritual books above, I would personally counsel that even if the ceremonies of Christian Initiation have to be performed “semi-privately” (i.e. with the participation of the Priest, server, catechumens and sponsors only), then this should be done. Baptism is the most important thing here!

      If this means restricting participation at the Easter Vigil to a handful of people, then so be it. If this means the omission of the scrutinies, then so be it. If this means the conferral of the Sacraments of initiation outside of the Easter Vigil, then so be it – and in this circumstance, they should be conferred as soon as possible, i.e. the Monday after Low Sunday (2nd Sunday of Easter). If this means that, in parishes with a large number of catechumens, multiple ritual Masses for Christian initiation would need to be celebrated to comply with government restrictions on the size of gatherings, then so be it – even if that means a ritual Mass on every weekday of Eastertide!

      If your catechumens are prepared, Baptism should not be delayed!

      1. I’m aware of these allowances in the Roman Rite. The points you raise are well-considered. However, the presence of the elect in the midst of a faith community is, or should be, a value to the faith of the parish. Disconnecting initiation rites from a community is a serious issue, pastorally and theologically. The rites don’t cover it completely.

        If an elected catechumen wished to delay baptism, I would think that is an important consideration. Might be a sign they were truly prepared.

      2. One could make an argument that infant baptism should not be delayed but that it is okay for the delay of adult baptism as they have the possibility of the “baptism of desire”. See Summa Theolgiae Tertia Pars, Q. 68.

        An exception would be if the catechumen actually contracted a serious infection or other illness.

  3. Thoughts on streaming Triduum without people? Since Thursday and Friday are not obligatory is it better to point people to diocesan service?

  4. Nick Wagner and I at TeamRCIA will be posting a video on Tuesday, March 17, that will look at what is already available in the ritual text for extraordinary times such as these, regarding the initiation rites usually celebrated at Easter, and will offer some ideas on what we can do in various situations specific for this year’s circumstances. Video will be posted on our Facebook page and at TeamRCIA.com. We posted a video last week on how to celebrate the Scrutinies and Presentations in light of Coronavirus restrictions. You can also find that at TeamRCIA.com and at our Facebook page.

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