The Book of the Elect
'You will show me the path of life,
the fullness of joy in your presence,
at your right hand happiness for ever.'
For every Christian, the life of faith is a journey. It is a continued response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to take the next step towards a closer relationship with Jesus and through him with the Father. We seldom travel alone, but make our progress with the Spirit of God within us and in the company of others who offer their example, encouragement and inspiration. Some start this journey with their baptism in infancy, while others are drawn to the the faith later in life. It is for those who feel called by God to embrace the faith as adults that the process called ‘The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults’ has been designed. This process is a gradual one, marked by rites or liturgical services as faith and conviction deepen. It is a spiritual journey in which the person seeking conversion is supported by the love and prayer of the church community.
For those who express an interest in the Catholic faith, the process will start with a period of enquiry so that they may have the opportunity to discover the fundamental teachings and values of the Gospel and how the Church responds to these. Should the enquirer wish to continue, those who have not been baptised are admitted as catechumens in a rite of Welcome, during which they state their intention to follow the way of Christ by accepting the Gospel. They are signed with the sign of the Cross. Those already baptised who wish to continue their conversion to full communion with Church are welcomed as candidates. A distinction is made between catechumens and candidates. Each catechumen is given a godparent and each candidate a sponsor who will accompany them on their journey.
There follows a period of instruction or teaching (the catechumenate) which enables them to grow in faith and conversion to God. They deepen their knowledge of the faith as well as their participation in the life of the Church, its prayer and worship, and in the living out of the Gospel in works of charity.
A hinge moment in their journey of faith is the Rite of Election (for the catechumens) and the Call to Continuing Conversion (for the candidates). In Southwark this service is held at the Cathedral on the first Saturday of Lent. It is a vibrant and joyful occasion – one of great significance in the life of the diocese.
The catechumens and candidates come with their godparents and sponsors to bear witness to their developing faith and their commitment to Christ and his Church. They come together, in the presence of the Archbishop and his auxiliary bishops, to declare their intentions and their commitment to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, or to be joined in full communion with the Church and receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist. They experience, for the first time, a sense of belonging to a larger, universal church and celebrate with others on their journey.
Before the ceremony, the catechumens sign the Book of the Elect in the baptistry of the Cathedral. After the opening prayer and liturgy of the word, the Archbishop gives his homily. The auxiliary bishops read out the names of the catechumens from their own areas. Facing the catechumens and godparents who are gathered on the sanctuary, the Archbishop questions the godparents and asks if the catechumens are adequately prepared. The godparents make this affirmation and the assembly are asked to support this testimony and to keep the catechumens in their prayers and affection. The Archbishop elects the catechumens in these words: ‘My dear catechumens, I now declare you to be members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil’. He asks the godparents to place a hand on the shoulder of the catechumens in their care. The catechumens are now known as ‘the elect’. They are welcomed by the applause of the congregation.
Then the candidates are presented by the auxiliary bishops in the same way. They are affirmed by their sponsors and the assembly and their desire to enter into full communion with the Church is recognised by the Archbishop: ‘My dear candidates, the Church recognises your desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and to have a place at Christ’s eucharistic table. Join with us this Lent in a spirit of repentance. Hear the Lord’s call to conversion and to be faithful to your baptismal covenant’. Their sponsors are asked to continue to support them and the candidates, too, are welcomed by the applause of the congregation.
Prayers of intercession are offered for the elect and the candidates and for the needs of the Church and the world. The sign of peace is exchanged in joy, after which the Archbishop gives the blessing and dismissal.
Lent is an important step on the journey. This next stage of the journey is known as the period of Purification or Enlightenment, a time of interior reflection rather than teaching or instruction, centred on conversion of mind and heart, as the elect and candidates make their final preparations to receive the Sacraments of Initiation or to be received into full communion with the Church during the Easter Vigil.
|It is at the Easter Vigil, the most important liturgical celebration in the Church’s year, that the elect receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist, and the candidates are received into full communion with the Church and receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. As the Church celebrates the new life that the death and resurrection of Jesus offers to all, the elect and candidates are incorporated into that life, now full members of his mystical body. It is a moment of great celebration and thanksgiving. The Church calls her new members ‘neophytes’.|
The Easter Season provides the opportunity for a new stage on the journey (known as Mystagogia) which provides the opportunity for the new members of the Church to deepen their Christian experience, to grow spiritually and to enter more fully into the life of their parish community. Their instruction continues to help them to immerse themselves completely in the mystery of God’s love and the mission of his Church.
The Archbishop again
invites the new members of his diocese to the Cathedral to celebrate a special
Mass for Neophytes. Their godparents, sponsors, clergy, catechists, families,
friends and parishioners are also warmly invited. This Mass is usually held
towards the end of the Easter Season.
' Look, I am standing at the
If one of you hears me calling and opens the door,
I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him.'
We pray for the catechumens and candidates of our diocese and ask God to draw others to the life of faith. We also acknowledge, especially during Lent, our own need for continual conversion.
Extract from ‘The Catechism of the Catholic Church’ §§ 1427 -1429
Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." In the Church's preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.
Christ's call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, (is) at once holy and always in need of purification, (and) follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." This endeavour of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a "contrite heart," drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first.
St. Peter's conversion after he had denied his master three times bears witness to this. Jesus' look of infinite mercy drew tears of repentance from Peter and, after the Lord's resurrection, a threefold affirmation of love for him. The second conversion also has a communitarian dimension, as is clear in the Lord's call to a whole Church: "Repent!"
St. Ambrose says of the two conversions that, in the Church, "there are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance."