The first Sunday of Lent is the day that is set aside in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for the Rite of Election. It marks an important milestone in the life of the catechumen (the person seeking baptism). The Rite of Election, which is celebrated regionally in the Archdiocese of Toronto, is the second step in the process of Christian initiation of adults and marks the catechumen as a member of the Elect.
Based on the testimony of godparents and catechists, and the reaffirmation by the catechumens (the first affirmation was at the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of the Catechumens), the Church decides on the catechumens' advancement toward the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, and eucharist). Leading up to this point, the catechumens have undergone a conversion in mind and heart and are in the process of growing more aware and having more knowledge of Christian teachings. They are growing in faith and love, and are finding ways to live out the call of Christ in the world.
The catechumens offer their names for enrollment, and their names are inscribed in the Book of the Elect. After names are presented to the celebrant, the catechumens are declared members of the elect. This means they will be initiated "into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil" (RCIA, 120).
Because it happens regionally, most of us will not actually see the Rite of Election taking place. That does not mean that we have no role to play though. In the introduction to the Intercessions for the Elect, the celebrant reminds the faithful who have gathered that "These elect, whom we bring with us to the Easter sacraments, will look to us for an example of Christian renewal."
Even if we are not physically present with the elect at the Rite of Election, our examples, in our daily lives, in our parishes, and in the communities around us, are an example to those asking to be initiated into the Church. We are the living examples of Christ in the world.
Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. This is especially clear when we look at the Elect. They have spent months, maybe even years, discerning and preparing for their reception of sacraments of initiation. As we start this Lent, it is a good time to keep all those seeking the truth, but especially those who are making themselves ready to receive baptism, confirmation, and the eucharist the Easter Vigil, in our prayers.
One of the Prayers over the Elect, said by the celebrant, highlights in a wonderful way what we should all ask God for this Lent:
"Father of love and power, it is your will to establish everything in Christ and to draw us into his all-embracing love. Guide the elect of your Church: strengthen them in their vocation, build them into the kingdom of your Son, and seal them with the Spirit of your promise."
Saints Robert Bellarmine and Charles Borromeo, patrons of catechumens, pray for our catechumens!
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.