The third step of the RCIA is a time for spiritual purification and enlightenment. It spans the season of Lent and culminates at the Easter Vigil when those to be initiated are baptized, confirmed and share in the Eucharist for the first time. Lent is an especially appropriate time for this final step of reflection and examination of one’s motivation. The season of Lent is like a spiritual retreat calling all of us to a renewal of heart and recommitment to our baptismal promises. Once again we pledge ourselves to a gospel way of living, to discipleship of Jesus Christ, and to witnessing his message to all whom we meet.
Lent literally means “lengthening of days,” or the “coming of springtime.” How deeply the hearts of contemporary men and women long for a springtime of new hope and possibility amidst the world’s many disappointments and broken promises. And each of us knows of our own inner brokenness and of places in our hearts that need conversion and healing.
Year after year the Church wisely offers a specific time for purifying our innermost desires – a time for journeying from darkness to light. Just as light and new life return to the earth every springtime, so during Lent does the Christian family return to its original vision of life and rebirth through prayer, fasting, almsgiving – all with special attention to the word of God.
Parishioners begin their journey through Lent to Easter by receiving ashes rubbed on their foreheads in the sign of a cross – a reminder of the cross we are all called to live and embrace. Once again the parish enters its season of repentance, renewal and recommitment to spread the gospel message to a world that needs to hear the hopeful, healing Word of God.
On the First Sunday of Lent, the parish and diocesan community confirm the Catechumen’s readiness for initiation. In a ceremony called Rite of Election, the pastor comes and blesses the Catechumens and candidates. Then, in the name of all the People of God, he calls them by name and invites them to proceed to the Easter sacraments of initiation. From this moment on, those chosen to be initiated are called the Elect. Their names are written in the Book of the Elect. With prayer and support from the entire congregation, the Elect now begin the last and most intensive weeks of their journey to Baptism. The bishop comes to meet the Elect during lent and witness the Book of the Elect.
On the Sundays of Lent as they join with the parishioners for Sunday worship, the Elect sit in special place of honor within the congregation. During Lent the parish community will present to each of the Elect two of its ancient living statements of faith and worship: the Creed and The Lord’s Prayer. These treasures of our Christian heritage, recited at every Sunday Eucharist, proclaim the core of our Christian beliefs of our relationship with God who cares for us like a loving parent. On the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent, the RCIA offers special rites called scrutinies during Sunday Masses. In each scrutiny the community prays that the Elect be enlightened and purified and any evil influences within their hearts will be removed by the grace of God as the gospel stories promise.
The Gospels proclaimed on these three Sundays tell of dramatic events reminding both the Elect and all of us that the journey from sin and death to everlasting life is the promise of Jesus Christ and the vocation of every Christian. In the Gospel of the Third Sunday, Jesus meets the woman at the well. Like this woman who, in the presence of Jesus, faced all of the falsehood about herself, the Elect and all the faithful are reminded that they must never put too much trust in themselves or in their own fragile abilities.
In the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday, Jesus heals the man born blind. Like this man, the Elect and each of us are challenged to open our eyes and to begin to see with our hearts.
The Gospel of the Fifth Sunday announces the ultimate promise of Jesus Christ as Savior. Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the tomb. The message is clear. Whatever entombs any one of us, wherever we are spiritually dead, that’s exactly where Jesus calls us forth to new freedom through our dying and rising with him on the day of our Baptism.