Lent is a time of repentance, preparation and renewal leading up to Easter. For more than 90 men, women and children in the Diocese of Harrisburg, it is also their last phase of preparation before they enter into full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil.
On Sunday, March 1 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg, these catechumens were presented to Bishop Ronald Gainer during the Rite of Election. Annually celebrated throughout the Church on the first Sunday of Lent, those who will receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil have their names written into the Book of the Elect during this ceremony. These catechumens are joined by their sponsors, catechists and godparents as a sign of support and preparedness.
The Rite of Election this year was extra special for Tom Lauer. A member of St. John the Baptist Parish in New Freedom, Lauer’s daughter, Erin Bacani, was one of the elect who will join the Church at the Easter Vigil.
“It’s very exciting. We’ve been waiting a long time for this, for Erin to be baptized. It was very exciting when Erin said ‘I think I’m being called to be baptized, confirmed and receive first Holy Communion.’ I asked if she wanted to join RCIA in September and she said yes,” said Lauer before the ceremony.
“It kind of came out of nowhere, I guess,” said Bacani about her conversion. “My son had the idea to come to church to see him (Lauer) and so we went and ever since then, I just felt that I should keep going. And then he (Lauer) asked about the (RCIA) classes and I said sure, let’s do it. Since everyone else in the family went through the process, I felt that I should too.”
Lauer added the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) program, which he works with at his parish, is an important ministry to prepare and bring members into the Church.
“We’re bringing people into the Church, today we have 96 that are coming in. These are people that are going to be baptized at the Easter Vigil and they are going to start their journey back to the Father through his Son, which is a beautiful journey and it doesn’t start until Baptism. And so to be there every year, I see the eyes and the faces of the catechumens coming up and it’s just a thrill,” said Lauer.
Eric Hole, who attends Holy Infant Parish in Manchester, will also be entering the Church at the Easter Vigil.
“I’m elated,” Hole said after the ceremony. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Hole first began his journey nearly nine years ago when he first started dating his wife.
“Her family was heavily involved with the Church and I always got invited to things at the Church, and they always made me feel at home. No one ever pushed you but they made you feel welcome all the time,” said Hole.
While he enjoyed the welcome feeling, Hole wanted something more.
“I wanted to have a closer connection to God. My father-in-law and mother-in-law help teach adult education. My wife had said her dad was teaching RCIA and was I interested. I said I was,” said Hole. “It was just a nice nudge from my wife. I just kind of wonder why I haven’t done it before now.”
During his homily, Bishop Gainer told the catechumens gathered that on the testimony of their parish clergy, catechists and godparents, the Church acknowledges their readiness and chooses them today to become members of the elect.
“In celebrating this Rite of Election of Catechumens, the Church rejoices in all of you that have been called and chosen by Christ to enter into the life of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit through the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist,” said Bishop Gainer. “Through this Rite of Election and the enrolment of names, the period of formation of your minds as catechumens concludes and you are declared today to be members of the Elect.”
Bishop Gainer continued that during the 40 days of Lent, the elect and indeed all Catholic Christians are called to use this time to reorient our lives.
“Lent is a conversion for us all and it affords each of us who are already baptized a second baptism, the early Church’s name for the sacrament of reconciliation or confession, in order to experience more profoundly the mystery of God’s mercy and love,” said Bishop Gainer.
He added the Gospel reading from Matthew, recounting Jesus’ temptations by Satan in the desert, highlights why the Church needs the season of Lent and is a fitting reading for the Rite of Election.
“Just as God’s people were led through the waters of the Red Sea in the Exodus and then sojourned 40 years in the wilderness, so Jesus went into the water of the Jordan at his baptism, and immediately then spent 40 days in prayer and fasting in the desert wilderness,” said Bishop Gainer. “At his baptism, the sinless Jesus elects to take his place among us sinners. In the desert, He’s led by the Spirit to experience what every one of us must experience; the trials, the risks, the temptations of life here on earth. The Holy Spirit leads Jesus to go to the very depths of Himself, to determine if He would choose to be the suffering savior of sinners.
“This is why we the Church need this season of Lent,” continued Bishop Gainer. “Those preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and first Communion, those already baptized and preparing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, and those of us who already enjoy the fullness of communion in the Church; this is the time to allow Christ’s ‘no’ to Satan and His unconditional loving ‘yes’ to the Father to resound in new and more complete ways as we dare to go down into the depths of ourselves, with the Holy Spirit leading and strengthening us during these 40 days of Lent.”
The 96 elect will fully enter the Church during the Easter Vigil on April 11.
By Rachel Bryson, M.S., The Catholic Witness