Each year, on the First Sunday of Lent, a special liturgy takes place at the cathedral church in every Diocese. The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is one part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

The RCIA is a gradual process of conversion and initiation into the Catholic Church for those adults seeking baptism or for those already baptized (in another Christian denomination) who seek full communion in the Catholic Church. The RCIA attends to the spiritual, human and intellectual development of a person through not only catechetical sessions (faith formation) but through special liturgical rites. Through this process, they become connected with the Church in a special way; those preparing for baptism are called catechumens while those already baptized in another Christian denomination seeking full communion with the Catholic Church are called candidates.

An important part of the RCIA are the many liturgical rites that are celebrated publicly with the parish community, often at Sunday Mass. Through the celebration of these special rites, the entire parish becomes part of the RCIA process, supporting catechumens and candidates with prayers and words of support, while the catechumens and candidates are slowly integrated into the community throughout the process – even before the celebration of baptism and confirmation. Being initiated into the universal Catholic Church, however, means more than just joining a single parish. The RCIA process reflects this, most especially through the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, where the bishop has an opportunity to meet the catechumens and candidates and support them in their journey to the Catholic faith.

In the celebration, which has roots that go back to the 4th century, the godparents of the catechumens testify (by answering questions posed to them) to the efforts the catechumens have taken to prepare themselves for baptism. The godparents – and the entire assembly – pledge their prayers and support for the catechumens. The bishop then elects the catechumens to receive the sacraments of initiation at Easter. When we think of election, we often think of politics and contests, but this is different. It is an acknowledgement that God has called the catechumen to faith. Now, seeing that the catechumen has cooperated with that call, the universal Church, through the voice of the bishop, “elects” the catechumen to be initiated through baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. In a similar way, the sponsors of those seeking full communion in the Church testify to the preparation the candidates have undertaken. The bishop doesn’t “elect” them though since they have already been elected – they are already baptized. Rather, the bishop recognizes their journey thus far and encourages them to continue that journey into the Catholic Church. Through the bishop’s recognition, they are reminded that they are joining a Church that extends beyond their own parish community and they go with the prayers and support of the entire Church.

We invite the faithful to join in the celebration of the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. (Note: this is NOT a Mass.) If you can’t join us for the Rite of Election, please keep the candidates and catechumens in your prayers throughout the Lenten Season as they make their final preparations to receive the sacraments of initiation. And if you happen to see any catechumens or candidates in your own church, stop and introduce yourself. They are going to be (God-willing) the newest members of our faith family.

—Josh Perry is the director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington.