By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
“The holy Church embraces you. We are so honored and privileged to see the Holy Spirit working through you to become a member of our Church,” said Bishop of Allentown Alfred Schlert to 96 catechumens during the Rite of Election.
Bishop Schlert presided at the Rite of Election and was the main celebrant for the Mass Feb. 18 at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown.
The afternoon ceremony, celebrated in English and Spanish, formally acknowledged the readiness of 96 catechumens – those preparing for the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist) – to seek full communion with the Catholic Church.
The Rite of Election, which is celebrated annually on the first Sunday of Lent, marks the beginning of the final phase of preparation for those participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
The Call to Continuing Conversion is celebrated in individual parishes. This ceremony is for candidates who have been baptized in other Christian traditions who now seek to become members of the Catholic Church, or baptized Catholics who had no instruction in the faith and are now preparing for Confirmation and Eucharist.
In his homily, Bishop Schlert told the catechumens that although the Church upholds seven sacraments that are defined as “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace,” an eighth sacrament does exist.
“The eighth sacrament is the Catholic Church because it fits all the criteria as an outward sign instituted by Christ to be visible to the world. It is an instrument of grace because the Church is the custodian of the other sacraments,” he said.
As the catechumens anticipate receiving the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist, Bishop Schlert told the catechumens that they have been receiving the eighth sacrament through their experience with the Church.
“You have already experienced the light, the work and the beauty of the Church,” he said.
“The Church goes on despite weakness and sinfulness. We are blessed because the Lord founded the Church and is calling you to be part of it. We embrace you and thank God for calling you,” said Bishop Schlert.
Now that the catechumens are called “elect,” Bishop Schlert said they possess a grace-filled presence in the Church.
“These last few weeks have been intense work. Be certain that all of us here will be praying for you during the final leg of your journey,” said Bishop Schlert.
While the catechumens are growing in holiness, Bishop Schlert cautioned them that the “evil one” does not want them to become part of the Catholic Church.
“If Jesus was tempted – so will you and I. You are truly seeking out the holiness of the Catholic Church, and the devil will do his best to discourage you,” he warned.
“Be on guard, be alert and know that the power of Christ overcomes the power of the evil one,” stressed Bishop Schlert.
He then asked the elect to make their journey toward full communion with the Church with a great depth of the spirit.
“If you do so, you will be able to sustain your journey and we will embrace you at the Easter Vigil,” said Bishop Schlert.
“It will be a great day for all of us because we will celebrate your entrance into the Church and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of us share in the joy, privilege and blessing of our Lord’s resurrection because we, as the Roman Catholic family of faith, journey with you to eternal life,” he said.
After the homily the catechumens received affirmation from Bishop Schlert of God’s call in their lives. The catechumens responded to the bishop’s call to Jesus by expressing their desire for the sacraments and inscribing their names in the Book of the Elect.
Next Bishop Schlert declared them “elect” and committed to the sacraments of the church to be received at the Easter Vigil. They will be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Eucharist.
Catechumens Harbor Strong Desire to Become Members of the Church
Donna Patterson, 52, is one of the catechumens looking forward to becoming a member of the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, and she has five joyful reasons.
That’s because when she receives the Holy Eucharist for the first time at the Easter Vigil, her mother will receive the Eucharist for the first time in 50 years, and her two aunts and uncle will return to church for the first time in decades.
Patterson, who didn’t identify with a faith and attended different churches throughout her life, was raised with her older sister with Catholic beliefs through her nonpracticing mother.
“I tried a lot of churches. About five years ago, I felt something was missing,” she said.
She turned to a Catholic friend for advice, and after several conversations Patterson followed her friend’s suggestion and researched the faith at www.catholicscomehome.org.
“I never thought about being Catholic. As soon as I read the introduction, I instantly connected because it was everything I was feeling,” she said.
Patterson said she never considered becoming Catholic because of opposition from friends and misunderstandings of Church teaching. Nonetheless, she decided to attend a class for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA.)
“I still wanted to see what the faith was about. I went to a class and didn’t feel obligated to continue. It was a very lively class. I enjoyed going because it was very eye-opening. I was expecting the worst, but everyone was accepting and open,” she said.
Through RCIA, Patterson discovered that a lot of Catholic traditions aligned with her beliefs and Church teaching began to make sense.
“It didn’t come easy to me. There was never conflict – it was just new material to me,” she said.
“It’s been a long journey. I am looking forward to participating in Communion. I am already a member of the Church community because I volunteer, attend Mass and have been welcomed by everyone,” she said.
Patterson will become a member of the Church at the Easter Vigil, March 31 at Holy Family, Nazareth.
“My mother has returned to confession and will receive with me. My aunts and uncle will be there, too,” she said.
By joining the Church, Patterson is excited to have family by her side and has been asked to serve as a godmother.
“It’s amazing to see what one person can do by changing their life and accepting the faith. It pulls others toward God,” she said.
“I am excited to become part of the community and the direction the Church gives. There is so much going on in the world right now and it is so easy to do the wrong thing.”
Susan Beck, 56, another catechumen who will become a member of the Church at the Easter Vigil, was raised in a different faith and is engaged to Jerry Salak, a parishioner of St. Patrick, Pottsville.
After attending Mass with her fiancé for approximately five years, Beck said she began to love the Catholic faith and contemplated converting.
“The more I learned about the faith – the more it made sense to me,” she said.
Because of their different faith backgrounds, the couple planned to become legally married through a civil ceremony.
“Marrying in the Church was never the plan. It seemed too complicated,” said Beck.
Her desire to become part of the Catholic Church, the local parish and the faith community inspired her to begin RCIA classes.
“I saw all the wonderful things the Church does and I wanted to be part of it,” she said.
Being welcomed by Bishop Schlert and Diocesan clergy and faithful at the Rite of Election solidified her decision to become a member of the Catholic Church.
“The cathedral was absolutely beautiful. Each and every person was so welcoming. Bishop Schlert and so many others said they were praying for us. It was a beautiful day,” said Beck.