Lent and Baptism

LENT is marked by the two themes – baptism and penance. We are very familiar with the Lenten penitential practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but what about the baptismal aspect.
For those parishes involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), the baptismal focus of Lent is abundantly clear. The RCIA is the process by which the Catholic Church welcomes and initiates new members into the Church.
If these enquirers reach the point of deciding to undertake the journey towards membership of the Catholic community, they enter the catechumenate. The catechumenate (a word which comes from a Greek word meaning “to resound”) is a period of discovering from the example of others what Catholics believe and how they live the life of faith. Active participation in Sunday liturgy, prayer, reading Scripture and learning about the Church’s teaching, traditions and disciplines are the primary means of preparation. During this time sponsors, catechists and the entire community of believers support them.
People in the catechumenate fall into two groups – catechumens and candidates. A catechumen is someone who has never been baptised and who will be initiated through baptism, confirmation and eucharist celebrated together, usually at the Easter vigil.
Candidates are those who have already been baptised and now wish to become members of the Roman Catholic Church. They will be confirmed and receive eucharist after a simple rite of reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church. In the past these people were often referred to as “converts”, an inappropriate name because baptism, which they have already received, is the sacrament of conversion. Most Christian Churches now accept one another’s baptism and do not re-baptise a new member.
For catechumens and candidates, Lent is a period of intense preparation called the period of purification and enlightenment. The celebration of the rite of election or enrolment of names on the first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of this stage. This ritual celebrates publicly the fact that these people have progressed on their faith journey and have opened their hearts to Christ in a spirit of faith and love. They are “elected” for initiation into the Church, not because they have earned it, but because God has chosen them. From this point on they are known as “the elect” and the community has a particular role to play in their journey. The Church asks that we “should surround the elect with prayer so that the entire Church will accompany them to encounter Christ” (RCIA 108).
The elect, together with their godparents and sponsors, are living symbols of Lent in the midst of community, icons of the season’s baptismal character.
On the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent the scrutinies are celebrated with the elect. These rites confer strength and healing and confront all the faithful with the need for conversion. The Gospel readings of year A are used when the scrutinies are celebrated even in year B. These stories from John which have been used for centuries in baptismal preparation are filled with images of thirst and water, darkness and light, death and life.
The RCIA rites call the whole community to assess its baptismal relationship with God in preparation for the renewal of baptismal promises at Easter so that “all of us may walk in newness of life and show to the world the power of the risen Christ” (Intercessions, 3rd Scrutiny).


Elizabeth Harrington