Men, women and children preparing to be received into the Catholic Church at Easter celebrated one of the final stages of their journey last month at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.
It was the first time that the rite — held Feb. 25 and 26, the first weekend of Lent — took place at the cathedral basilica since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. It also was Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski’s first time participating since he arrived in St. Louis in August 2020.
This year, 452 people in parishes of the Archdiocese of St. Louis are intended to be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. That number includes catechumens, unbaptized individuals who will receive the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and first Communion; and candidates, those who have already been baptized and will receive confirmation and first Communion to enter into full communion with the Church.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is a formal confirmation of the catechumens’ and candidates’ readiness for the sacraments. But it also serves as a witness to everyone’s need for communion with God and the Church’s call to bring them into the fold, said Father Nicholas Smith, director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.
“These individuals are making a public statement, that this is something that I want to do, to become a full member of the Church,” he said.
During the rite, parish coordinators of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) approach the sanctuary and read the names of the catechumens and candidates, calling them forward to be presented to the archbishop. Each one of them also displays their Book of the Elect, which lists the names of the catechumens.
“When it’s all said and done and you look at the massive number of people in the sanctuary, and that in and of itself is a powerful witness,” Father Smith said.
In the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, “the Church makes its ‘election,’ that is, the choice and admission of those catechumens who have the dispositions that make them fit to take part … in the sacraments of initiation” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults [RCIA], 119).
In addition, those baptized Christians who seek to “complete their Christian formation and become fully integrated into the community …” (RCIA, 410) come before the archbishop who, on behalf of the Church, officially recognizes their “desire to have a place at Christ’s eucharistic table” (RCIA, 454).
Catechumens, responding to the calling of God, seek to be numbered among the “elect,” meaning to become adopted sons and daughters of God. Their names are signed into the parish’s Book of the Elect, which are presented at the rite.
Because of their baptism, candidates are already considered members of the elect and do not need to sign the Book of the Elect. The Church affirms their initial incorporation into the Body of Christ through baptism, while acknowledging the need to be brought into full communion.
Lexi Katigbak is a candidate who has been undergoing formation with RCIA at Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie. Her husband, Alex, introduced her to the faith, and she responded with curiosity and questions. Becoming pregnant with their firstborn, a son named Edison who was born several weeks ago, prompted her to do something about it.
“I am very excited to be part of something more than what I have ever imagined,” Lexi Katigbak said. “ICD has been like a family, and I never really had that experience before in life. Considering how large the parish is, it still has that family feel.”
Yvonne Null, who serves on the RCIA core team at Immaculate Conception, described seeing the joy among the new Catholics, along with their sponsors, at the Easter Vigil.
“I hope that their family and friends can see God through them,” she said, “that they can bring others into the Church, and they can be the light for others to see Christ.”
Ashley McCullough was never baptized, but got to know the Church through her Catholic husband. Learning about the Catholic faith through RCIA at St. Patrick Parish in Wentzville, McCullough said she enjoys “having this new connection with someone else” through her relationship with God. “It’s someone I have never met, but you know you are talking to someone who is listening.”
Eric Rueb, a candidate from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City, attended the rite with his fiancee, Maddie Hermes, who is Catholic. Rueb said he’s enjoyed learning more about the teachings and traditions of the Church, including the sacraments and what Jesus intended when he instituted them.
“I think that is the biggest aspect of why I wanted Eric to explore Catholicism,” Hermes said. “I wanted him to receive the Eucharist. That is one of the greatest gifts that we receive as Catholics — we get to receive Jesus’ true Body and Blood.”
>> Lent and the sacraments
The season of Lent in part developed from the practice of early Christians who prepared to receive the sacraments of initiation.
“It was an intense period of preparation for those who were asking for the Easter sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation,” Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski said at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion Feb. 26.
That time of preparation included studying the Scriptures, learning about the Church and learning how to be disciples of the Lord Jesus in the world, he said.
Later, that preparation extended to the wider Church to become what is now known as the season of Lent. Both the unbaptized and the baptized have an opportunity to enter more deeply into the life of Jesus in the desert so that, at Easter, Jesus can enter more deeply into our lives. The Church gives us three ways to draw closer into the paschal mystery: through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Jesus’ covenant with each one of us to live His love and grace in the world takes place through the Easter sacraments, the archbishop said.
“In the saving waters of baptism, we are welcomed into God’s people, cleansed of original sin,” he said.
“In the holy Eucharist, Jesus feeds us with His own Body and Blood, just as He willed at that Last Supper with the apostles, so that we could have food for the journey.”
And in the sacrament of confirmation, “we receive the Holy Spirit that seals our baptism, making us full members of the Church … so that we have the ability to live God’s love in the world,” he said.