Catechumens prepare for baptism with Rite of Election

BOSTON -- Over 200 catechumens gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on March 6 for the Rite of Election, one of the final steps of their preparation for baptism during the Easter Triduum.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley presided over the celebration, which was the first time in two years that catechumens from throughout the archdiocese, along with their families, godparents, and catechists, were able to gather in person in one place. In 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic, smaller ceremonies were held in parish communities, and the cardinal addressed the catechumens in a virtual gathering.

Thomas Lyman, the archdiocese's coordinator of divine worship, expressed gratitude for the fact that the Rite of Election was able to take place in the cathedral once more.

"We're so thrilled to be able to do this in person with everybody, to have a crowd of 230-plus catechumens and their sponsors and their catechists and family filling all the pews of the central part of the nave," he said.

The event included a bilingual Liturgy of the Word, with about half of the readings and songs in Spanish.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley greeted all of the catechumens and their community representatives. He spoke about the joy that members of the early Church experienced when their numbers grew, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.

"We, too, rejoice as we welcome new brothers and sisters to join us in the journey of faith," the cardinal said.

He reflected on the readings for that day, the First Sunday of Lent, including Christ's temptation in the desert after fasting for 40 days. Cardinal O'Malley said that Lent is not just a Christian version of New Year's resolutions, but rather "a moment of spiritual battle, waged by the whole Church and all its members in order to identify and turn away from idols."

"The battle between good and evil continues in the hearts of each one of us today. It's the same fundamental temptation to act just on our own, without God," he said.

He added that Lent is "an invitation to turn back to God and to be reconnected with the community of faith."

Cardinal O'Malley quoted the lyrics of "When the Saints Go Marching In," noting the song says "I want to be in that number." He said the catechumens were now being enrolled in that number, "the number of the elect, those chosen to become Christ's saints."

"By your enrollment in the Book of the Elect you are saying that you aspire to live a life of friendship with the Lord. 'Saint' simply means the Lord's friend. What a beautiful description of what holiness is about. Baptism makes us friends with God," the cardinal said.

He said that accepting this gift of friendship -- in other words, saying "yes" to God -- means saying "no" to anything incompatible with that friendship. He said this is what the word "conversion" means: turning toward God and away from sin.

"This does not end at our baptism. As Catholics, we believe conversion is our life's work. Our earthly pilgrimage must always be lived as a continuing turning to the Lord, and therefore continuing to turn away from sin," Cardinal O'Malley said.

After the homily, Lyman called the catechumens and their catechists and godparents forward for the Rite of Election.

Cardinal O'Malley posed questions to the godparents, the assembly, and the catechumens in turn. In their responses, the godparents affirmed that the catechumens were ready to become Catholic; the assembly agreed to support this testimony and include the catechumens in their prayers; and the catechumens expressed their desire to enter fully into the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.

The catechists carried their Books of the Elect, containing the names of their communities' catechumens, and held them up for Cardinal O'Malley to see. He declared the catechumens members of the elect, to be initiated into the Church and participate in the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.

A catechumen named Andy, a junior at Northeastern University, started the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) after getting involved in his school's Catholic Center. Speaking to The Pilot following the ceremony, he said he felt "super honored" becoming a member of the elect.

"This experience is just awesome to me," he said.

Lyman said it "moves the soul to see so many people coming to Christ."

"No matter what the news is, God is alive and acting in our presence," he said.