A Journey through RCIA
The Rites of Sending/Election/Continuing Conversion
This week was focused around the rites to be celebrated by those in the program. Those who are unbaptized celebrated the rites of Sending and of Election. Those who are baptized celebrated the rites of Sending and of Continuing Conversion. Having already been baptized in a prior christian faith tradition, I went through the rite of Continuing Conversion. As such, I can only speak for the rites I went through. While those who went through the rite of Election did so beside me; I do not want to give any perspective on it that does not come directly from what I experienced myself.
As I have said in prior posts, one of the things that attracted me closer to the Catholic faith was the rites and the way they are carried out. Throughout the old testament, many times when God dealt with the Hebrew people as a whole, some sort of ritual or ceremony was done or created or violated. Yet, many people that I met in previous Christian faiths would argue baptism by saying “if it was good enough for Jesus… then its good enough for us…” while simultaneously ignoring the other rites/sacraments He went through.
Firstly, Jesus himself was taken to the priests at the time when all Hebrew children were to be presented to have offerings given, even though He Himself was a perfect offering and no animal sacrifice could come close and at a minimum His parents would have known He was holy already. Secondly, Jesus was baptized, even though He did not require it as He did not have any sin and John the Baptist’s first instinct was to say Jesus did not need to be baptized. Third, Jesus commanded at least one person to go and give the payment called for in the laws of Moses for being healed after getting examined by priests of the temple. There are others, but the point is that rituals are not something old-fashioned and somehow done away with by Jesus coming to earth. Additionally, the church teaches that each of the rites give a specific type of grace to the participants which I, for one, need any grace that I can get.
Next, in recent decades, it would seem as if a large portion of Christendom wants to somehow put Jesus and faith in Him on par with having a close buddy; while forgetting He is the Son of Living God as well as Savior and Lord. While it is true that one needs a personal relationship with Jesus, I sometimes think that mentality can be taken too far afield to where one gets the sense that nothing is sacred. As if Peter, whom was definitely favored by Jesus, would just go up and high-five Jesus for performing a miracle. These rites do the jobs of reminding the participant about the continuing links to a shared faith heritage that holds certain things still scared; and that they are indeed still on the way to full communion with the Holy Church as well as bolstering one’s faith by showing that the entire church as a body corporate supports them in the journey.
There was a preparatory retreat the day before with explanation of what will be happening as well as periods of self-examination and group discussion. The retreat was another example of the Catholic practice that I have observed of never just letting someone go through a rite or sacrament without fully preparing them spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. As with other retreats most of the biblical questions and observations came to me as familiar territory; while the self-examination and being in a one on one conversation with my sponsor was more difficult. Being a mostly private person, I can sometimes find it hard to share genuine emotion with others. This retreat was no exception; but to the credit of the person paired with me whom I have gotten to know over the months, their calm demeanor made it all the easier.
The day of the rites the Rite of Sending happened at our local parish with the Rite of Continuing Conversion to follow at the cathedral church for the diocese. Mass started as usual, with a brief mention of the rites to come to prepare the audience. There were reserved seats for us so that we could more easily get to the front of the church. During the service, when it came time to go upfront, we were called by name and each when to the alter. When we had gathered at the front, the father performed the ceremony which includes having the assembled congregation commit to helping us with our journeys in whatever ways they can; having our sponsors personally vouch for our readiness to join into the Church fully; and then blessing us and dismissing us to our usual meeting place that we meet in to go over the days scripture in more detail. It can be somewhat intimidating knowing that the whole congregation knows you are converting. Being accompanied by your sponsor, and your fellow classmates, however makes it all the easier. Also as another show of solidarity, before calling us up, the father had all the other former converts (of which he is one) stand to show us that we are not only not alone; but also not the first to go through this process.
Directly after mass had concluded, we then made our way to our diocese cathedral church to go through the rites of Continuing Conversion and Election to be performed by the Bishop. For some this might have been the more intimidating of the two, but not for me. I was more excited because I knew that our Bishop was ordained by Pope St. John Paul II; and that we would get to be blessed by and meet with a man whom had the direct favor of a saint; in addition to being a direct successor to the twelve. In my mind, this meeting was going to be the first and the closest I may ever get to a saint while on earth.
As I have come to expect from the Catholic tradition, the cathedral was ornate, comforting, and strangely compelling all at once. There are those who see a cathedral as a sort of shrine to pomposity, and before last year, I would have been one of them. However, once one understands that every priest, bishop, cardinal, and pope has the mission of the salvation of souls as their prime directive and that they also seek to show the beauty and majesty of the King of the Universe, Christ; that image soon melts away. The church understands that mankind is attracted to beauty; because God is beauty fulfilled and perfected; so the cathedral is ornamented not to brag upon itself but to turn the soul to recognition of beauty and ultimately the recognition of the ultimate source of all beauty, God. Also, before literacy was widely available (which could be a book unto itself) the best way the church had to teach scripture was by the depictions in the stained glass; statuary; and carvings found around every cathedral.
The Bishop spoke on conversion, on our journey towards full communion with the church, and on the sincere hope that all in attendance know that they are welcome and will be supported in their journey. He also spoke on keeping the lenten season a time of reflection and inner examination of one’s conscience to be as Christ was in His forty days of temptation in the desert that happened just before His earthly ministry began. Afterward, our whole class along with some two-hundred others from all over the diocese was able to come to get introduced by our sponsors to the Bishop and to received his encouragement and greetings. Finally, those participating in the rites were blessed.
It has been a day since the rites were completed. As is my usual, it still hasn’t fully sunk in how I feel about the whole thing. During the process, I fought tears on several occasions, both of joy at being accepted, and supported; and of sadness at my own failings. Hindsight is truly twenty-twenty for me when it comes to emotionally charged events. What I can say is that these rites served to strengthen my commitment for my journey; and to give me a prelude of what is to come for when I can go through the rite of Confirmation and have my first communion. While it may be a long wait, given I am an adult with annulment paperwork to be approved, I will continue to pray for patience and understanding in the process; after all nothing that comes easy is valued quite like those things you wait for.
-A Brother In Christ
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