By Lindsay Steele and Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Each year, on the first weekend of Lent, persons preparing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church participate in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. Usually, these rites are celebrated together, as a diocese. This year, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, candidates and catechumens are celebrating the rites at their own parishes.
“It didn’t make sense to bring people together from all different parts of the diocese and have a long service,” said Bishop Thomas Zinkula during a Catholic Messenger Conversations podcast. He admitted that he would miss having the opportunity to meet the candidates and catechumens in person.
Catechumens are preparing to receive all three sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil: baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Candidates are individuals validly baptized in the Catholic Church or in another Christian denomination and preparing to receive the sacraments of Eucharist and/or confirmation. During the liturgy, the catechumens and candidates become the elect, accepting the call to continuing conversion. Both groups have participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process.
To help catechumens and candidates feel as if they are “part of something bigger,” Bishop Zinkula recorded video messages for the two groups. “In the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, the church officially and ritually claims you for herself,” Bishop Zinkula said. “Our local church, the Diocese of Davenport, thanks God for choosing you. God is electing you to be disciples of his son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. He will recreate you with his Holy Spirit and nourish you with the Eucharist.”
This year, 63 catechumens and 76 candidates are preparing to become fully initiated into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.
In his video to the catechumens, Bishop Zinkula said many stories in the Bible tell of God electing, or choosing, a person or a people to do his work. “The church made this election for you to receive the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. The church determined that you are fit to be initiated into the Catholic Church. The church recognizes that you have undergone a conversion of mind and heart and that you have developed a sufficient understanding of Christian teaching.”
At election, catechumens say “yes” to God’s invitation to be a disciple of Christ, Bishop Zinkula explained. “You say yes to membership in the church, the body of Christ, and you write your name in the Book of the Elect as a pledge of fidelity.”
In his video to the candidates, Bishop Zinkula speaks of the beauty of the Eucharist. “The climax of your initiation and the center of the whole Christian life is the Eucharist. (On the Easter Vigil) you will receive the sacred signs of bread and wine that have been changed into the body and blood of Christ. Jesus is so anxious to be in communion with us that he wants us to receive his own body so that we can become his body.”
In the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, “the church recognizes and celebrates the fact that God has called you to complete your initiation into the Catholic Church and be received into the full communion of the Church. The Church is the body of Christ — gathering in worship, growing in faith, sharing the good news and working for justice in our world. Discipleship is lived out and strengthened in community.”
Catechumen Jolene Griffith participated in the Rite of Election last weekend at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, along with her daughter, Skylar, 7. Father Steve Witt, the parish pastor, celebrated the rite. “I am so grateful that we were able to participate in the combined rites despite the current restrictions,” Jolene said. “I felt the presence of God as I committed to the next step of my faith journey, and I am honored to be welcomed into our parish community.”
Skylar said, “It was a very nice experience for me and made me closer to God. It made me very happy to honor God and receive everybody’s prayers.”
The Call to Continuing Conversion will be held March 14 at the parish.
Bishop Zinkula said in his videos to catechumens and candidates, “The Catholic Church loves and wants you. We are blessed by your presence and your gifts. The church is lesser, weaker and incomplete without you. Everyone is important, everyone is necessary.”
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