By Manolito S. Jaldon Jr.,
Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation, St. Brendan Parish
We are now beginning a series of homilies in the Lenten season through which we will delve more deeply into the mysteries of what we celebrate every Sunday in the Mass. Indeed, Lent invites the whole faith community to the theological and liturgical center of our lives, and we can never exhaust the knowledge of the Lord’s hour of glory, in which we lift up our hearts to the Father (Sursum corda).
During Lent, the rubrics of the Mass include special rites, in which the Church prays for those preparing for baptism on the night before Easter Sunday, known as the Easter Vigil. Indeed, Lent anticipates the joy of Easter marked by the baptisms of what the Church calls “catechumens,” those who are seeking new life in Christ.
After their participation in the Rite of Election at the Cathedral on the First Sunday of Lent, they are known as “the elect,” because they have been chosen by God to become his sons and daughters at the Easter Vigil. While they will be joined by other baptized Christians who seek to enter the Catholic Church, the elect are treated with special care.
In the ancient tradition of the Church, the elect were examined regularly. According to a third-century Christian treatise called the Apostolic Tradition, the local bishop would lay hands on the elect daily, followed by exorcisms performed to prove the fruits of these rituals.
As infant baptisms increased, these rites were curtailed into brief ceremonies just before baptism. By the twelfth century, the elect participated in a single exorcism on Saturday morning before the Easter Vigil. By the seventeenth century, this ritual was placed at the beginning of the baptismal rite itself, which is still practiced during infant baptisms today.
The purpose of these rites, known as the “scrutinies,” is to uncover and heal all that is weak due to sin and at the same time strengthen all that is good within the elect. At its root, the scrutinies focus on the abundant and inexhaustible grace of God in Christ, delivering the elect from the power of Satan and building them up in Christ.
The exorcisms are not boxing matches with the devil, but grace-filled encounters with the healing power of the Holy Spirit. These beautiful rites, which are celebrated during Mass on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, invite the elect to reflect and be open to Christ.
Let us accompany the elect this Lent with our fasting and prayers, so that at the Easter Vigil we can stand together holding torches lit from the fire of the Paschal candle, gaze over the living waters of baptisms, and rejoice as the elect become new creations clothed in radiant white. Though they may be different from us in many ways, at that moment we will know them as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Then we will process to the Eucharistic altar and together cry out: “Sursum corda.”
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