More than 200 catechumens and candidates take part in the first-weekend-of-Lent ceremonies this year
By Dan McWilliams
Bishop Richard F. Stika presided as the final rites of election were held in the old Sacred Heart Cathedral in February.
The first-weekend-of-Lent ceremonies will move to the new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus beginning in 2019.
This year’s rites of election were held Saturday, Feb. 17, for the Chattanooga and Five Rivers deaneries and Sunday, Feb. 18, for the Cumberland Mountain and Smoky Mountain deaneries.
“The rite of election is very important to me as a bishop because it is a time when I can gather together with people who have a desire to follow Jesus in a particular way,” Bishop Stika said Feb. 18.
The diocese received 162 candidates and 63 catechumens at Easter Vigil services at parishes in the four deaneries on March 31.
The Feb. 17-18 events’ full name is the Rite of Election of Catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates. Catechumens have never been baptized and received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Candidates have been baptized and were confirmed and received the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
Bishop Stika said the diocese’s rite of election is so important that he declined an invitation to attend the rite of election in his hometown of
St. Louis for his nephew and godchild, who was baptized a Catholic but not raised Catholic and is taking part in the rite of election with his wife and two teenage children.
“I always value the people who participate in the rite of election and the people who are involved in RCIA, because for the most part you are adults who have had an interesting and wonderful journey in life and for whatever reason you’ve decided to be baptized and to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church,” he said. “And you know a lot more than a lot of typical Catholics do.”
Bishop Stika pointed out that the area of the original cathedral where the elect and their sponsors were sitting was called a nave, which is a Latin form of the word “ship.” He then cited the readings for Sunday, Feb. 18, that referred to Noah and the ark.
“I think we’re in a situation in our lives, especially in our day and age, when we’re kind of in a ship that’s being tossed about with all the challenges that come to us in our culture and the world that surrounds us,” he said. “God knows that. God has given to the Church what we call the sacraments. Seven moments of grace in which Jesus reaches into our life and touches us – whether it’s in baptism that many of you will soon participate in, the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, the anointing of the sick, marriage, whatever the sacrament might be, these are all moments of strength that are given to us.
“So as members of the Church, we are in that nave, we are in that ship, we are in that boat. It’s like being tossed about from the Gospels, with the apostles and Jesus. The Lord God has given to us help, what is so necessary. Each of you has a particular story to tell. Maybe you were touched by the Catholic Church through the sacrament of marriage, or maybe because you were just interested or maybe because it was something you always wanted to do and all of a sudden here you are. Here you are as you stand before God. You’re making a public proclamation of faith: ‘yes, this is what I wish.’”
Bishop Stika said “people are praying for you all through the world this weekend, because the rite of election is being celebrated all through the world on this first Sunday of Lent. It is a risk because we stand before our sisters and brothers and say that we are a sinner.”
“We all have our own journey. God speaks to each of us in a variety of ways and experiences. He will continue to do that as you float in this ship that we call the Church, that which carries us closer and closer to the Lord,” the bishop continued.
Bishop Stika commended the elect for their dedication and perseverance to seek communion with the Lord. He challenged them to maintain that enthusiasm for God through His Son, Jesus.
“As we celebrate these days of Lent, just know that there are people around the world who are praying for you and will welcome you with open arms as you join us around the Lord’s table to receive that precious body and blood of Jesus Christ perfected in the sacrament when the priest or the bishop says ‘take this all of you and eat’ and ‘take and drink for this is my body and this is my blood given for you.’
“God bless you during these days, and I pray that you may ever daily grow closer and closer to the Lord because, after all, God doesn’t want us to fail. Jesus wants us to know of His love but also His challenge for us to love one another.”
After the readings and homily, the rite of election each day began with Sister Anna Marie McGuan, RSM, presenting the catechumens to Bishop Stika, saying that “they ask that . . . they be allowed to participate in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.” Sister Anna Marie is the director of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation.
RCIA leaders from deanery parishes then introduced their catechumens, and the bishop asked godparents whether the catechumens had listened and responded to the Word “proclaimed by the Church” and “shared the company of their Christian sisters and brothers and joined with them in prayer.”
The catechumens then pledged “to enter fully into the life of the Church” through the three sacraments of initiation. Each RCIA leader brought forward his or her parish’s Book of the Elect for Bishop Stika to sign, after which the bishop greeted the catechumens and godparents.
Sister Anna Marie then presented to the bishop “the candidates who seek to complete their Christian initiation.”
RCIA leaders introduced their candidates, after which the bishop said “the Christian life and the demands that flow from the sacraments cannot be taken lightly. Therefore, before granting these candidates their request, it is important that the Church hear the testimony of their sponsors about their readiness.”
Sponsors affirmed that the candidates “have come to a deeper appreciation about their baptism,” “reflected sufficiently on the tradition of the Church,” and “advanced in a life of love and service.” The candidates also echoed the catechumens’ desire “to enter fully into the life of the Church.”
The bishop signed the Book of the Elect for the candidates and greeted them along with their sponsors.
“The rite of election is one of my favorite ceremonies because I get to meet people who have a desire to know Jesus,” Bishop Stika said. “There are few things more edifying than to know people are pursuing that moment to know Jesus through the sacraments.
“When I say congratulations, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”