500 prepare to enter Catholic Church at Easter

SOUTH END -- Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley presided over the annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion March 1 as more than 500 catechumens and candidates gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in preparation for reception into the Church.

The two afternoon ceremonies performed in Boston, necessitated by the large number of participants, were consonant with those performed at the 200 cathedrals across the country on the first Sunday of Lent, said Cardinal O’Malley in his homily.

“Today in the United States, 150,000 people are presenting themselves in the cathedral for this beautiful Rite of Election,” he said.

“The Rite of Election has nothing to do with voting, with blue states or red states,” the cardinal said. “It is the ceremony where those whom the Lord has chosen are inscribed in the Book of the Elect.”

The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion are components of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and one of the final steps of catechumens -- those never baptized -- and candidates -- those previously baptized in other Christian religions -- towards becoming full, participating members of the Catholic Church. All participants will receive the sacraments of initiation and be welcomed into the Church at this year’s Easter Vigil.

Cardinal O’Malley told the congregation that the celebration of these rites at the beginning and end of Lent reinforce the season’s intention as a time to remember, refocus and rediscover God.

“These 40 days are to be a spiritual rebirth in our lives,” he said. “It is a time to embrace his plan for our lives as the path that leads to meaning and happiness.”

Cardinal O’Malley then began the celebration of election, inviting the catechumens and candidates to come forward to the altar to affirm their commitment to the journey ahead. First, he asked the godparents to confirm that the catechumens were sufficiently prepared.

To the catechumens, the cardinal asked: “Do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist?”

“We do,” they replied.

“Then offer your names for enrollment,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

The catechumens then proceeded to sign their names into the Book of the Elect as the cathedral filled with the voices of the congregation, singing: “I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see....”

After signing their names, the cardinal declared the catechumens “members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil.”

Then, the cardinal addressed the candidates and their sponsors for the celebration of the call to continuing conversion.

With their hands upon the shoulders of the candidates, the sponsors affirmed to the cardinal that the candidates were faithful to the instructions of the apostles and had an appreciation of their baptism, the traditions of the Church and a life of love and service to others.

Cardinal O’Malley then spoke to the filled cathedral, asking the congregation to support the candidates on their journey through Easter in prayer and affection.

He then addressed the candidates, recognizing their desire to join the Catholic Church.

“Join with us this Lent in a spirit of repentance. Hear the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal covenant,” he said.

“Praise the Lord, For He is Glorious,” they replied.

The cardinal then concluded the ceremony, gave the participants his blessing and expressed his gratitude to the RCIA volunteers for their work.

“I welcome you to our Catholic Family, to our Church and into our Hearts,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “We rejoice at the spiritual gifts you bring to our community as you join the Church.”

“The RCIA program is one important way that we fulfill God’s command, to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said. “And it is a source of blessing for the whole parish.”

Jerry Blake, a candidate, said that while he looks forward to completing the initiation process during the Easter Vigil in April, “The ceremony today makes all the work that we have already done that much worth while.”