The liturgical season of Lent soon will be half over. For catechumens who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil Mass, it’s time to prepare for the part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults called the scrutinies.
For individuals desiring baptism and the other sacraments of initiation into the Catholic faith, the final weeks of preparation during Lent are known as the period of Purification and Enlightenment in the language of the rite, which is commonly called RCIA. Part of that process of purification is the commitment to let go of old ways of living and embrace the new ways of the Christian life. And the catechumens’ parish community is called upon to help.
Father J. Steele, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Kendallville and Blessed Sacrament in Albion, noted that the scrutinies are celebrated on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent. He sees them as a celebration of God’s love for those coming into the faith.
“It’s important to say that we are prized and valued by God. That we are loved,” he said. “There is spiritual warfare going on for our souls and the scrutinies and exorcisms are an aid in that war.” “Exorcism,” in this case, means minor exorcisms, or petitions offered to draw the attention of catechumens to the real nature of Christian life the struggle between flesh and spirit, the importance of self-denial for reaching the blessedness of God’s kingdom and the unending need for God’s help.
Father Steele explains that the scrutinies are celebrated only for the catechumens, those who have never been baptized.
The scrutinies may be just for the catechumens, but Father Steele believes that witnessing them is enriching for the entire community.
In the early Church, those who were becoming Christian went through a lengthy process that often took years to accomplish. For fear of persecution, many of the rites that now are celebrated publicly were done in secret, such as the passing on of the Creed and teaching the Our Father.
Over the centuries, the ways in which people came into the Church were changed until the Second Vatican Council when it was decided to restore the catechumenate.
RCIA now provides a roadmap for those seeking baptism in the Catholic Church.
Within this rite are a series of landmarks along the journey to full initiation into the faith through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.
The journey begins with the pre-catechumenate, or the period of inquiry leading to entry in the Order of Catechumens in the Rite of Acceptance.
The catechumenate period is a time of learning the Catholic faith. It’s a time for the catechumens to consider what God is saying to them in the Scriptures, how they will respond to God’s call to live as a Christian and what baptism as a Catholic Christian will means in their lives.
Catechumens who are ready to request baptism are enrolled among the elect by the bishop at the diocesan Rite of Election, and they begin their final preparations during Lent, or the time of Purification and Enlightenment.
During this period the entire Church prays for and tries to support the elect. The scrutinies are a public celebration of the continuing conversion that is taking place, explained Father Steele. These three rituals occur during Mass and include the reading of the Gospels telling the stories of the woman at the well, the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus, the Gospels generally read during the Lenten Sundays of Cycle A.
Historically, the exorcisms and scrutinies are believed to have been separate events that were celebrated sometimes on a daily basis in the early Church. According to theologian Father Paul Turner, “they consistently served as a way of ritually assessing one’s readiness for baptism.”
In one of the early Church documents, the “Apostolic Tradition,” the practice was to examine catechumens’ conduct daily followed by the laying on of hands and prayers of exorcism by the bishop in the period leading up to baptism. Over the centuries, the times and natures of the scrutinies changed. As baptism became more common during infancy, the exorcisms came to be invoked within the baptismal rite.
With the institution of the RCIA in the United States in the 1980s, the scrutinies and exorcisms were again separated from baptism for adults. “The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,” a church document that prescribes how the process is to be observed, says that the three scrutinies help to “complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ” through Scripture readings and prayers.
Father Steele pointed out that for a parish with catechumens, experiencing the scrutinies gives the sense that “we’re all in this together.”
At the beginning of each of the scrutinies the catechumens are invited by the priest celebrating the rites to kneel and pray as the parish community intercedes for them.
The three catechumens and three candidates who are in the RCIA process at Father Steele’s two parishes are learning about Catholic morality, sexual morality and Catholic social teaching in the weeks leading up to the celebration of the scrutinies. While the candidates do not participate in the scrutinies and exorcisms, Father Steele said they are learning, along with the catechumens, about the social dimension of sin.
Their earlier preparation included discussions about the theology of God, Church doctrines, the Trinity and Christology, and the sacraments. The final weeks of Lent will include sessions on eucharistic adoration, confession, eschatology or the end times, and finally the rites of Holy Week. Father Steele said they also will observe the ancient practices of the presentation of the Nicene Creed, the Our Father, and the ephphetha, or “Be Opened” rite in their final preparations for Easter.
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