Sacraments confer new identity in Christ

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Bishop James P. Powers reaches out to a catechumen after signing his name to the Book of the Elect during the Rite of Election for the unbaptized seeking initiation into the Catholic Church at Easter. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Every First Sunday of Lent, a rite takes place at Christ the King Cathedral in Superior – and cathedrals around the world – to mark the final stage of preparation for those who will be initiated and fully received into the Catholic Church at Easter.

One purpose of the rite is to highlight how those preparing to receive the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation are linked beyond their local parish to the Universal Church.

The celebration of the Rite of Election of Catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates took place Sunday, March 1, its solemnity enhanced by the presence of the Diocesan Chorale.

Catechumens – the unbaptized – were present from the parishes of St. Theresa, Three Lakes; St. Mary, Minong; St. Anne, Somerset; St. Patrick, Hudson; Nativity of our Lord, Rhinelander; and St. Joseph, Rice Lake.

Candidates – the baptized, waiting to receive the sacraments of Eucharist and/or confirmation – represented the above mentioned parishes, as well as: Our Lady of the Lake, Ashland; St. Patrick, Erin Prairie; Immaculate Conception, New Richmond, Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior; Holy Family, Woodruff; St. Mary, Tomahawk; and Holy Rosary, Medford.

Although not part of Mass, the rite does contain a Liturgy of the Word with readings specific to the occasion and a homily.

A Christian position of election

Bishop James P. Powers began by saying that, in the middle of the political primary election season, the connotations carried by the word “election” are very different than the context of the Rite of Election as a step toward membership in and communion with Jesus’ Church.

He said “election” brings to mind someone vying for an office, campaigning and giving speeches; a contest where there is a winner and a loser. Yet, from its Latin root and in the ecclesial sense, “the one who is elected is one who is the chosen.”

“In the Rite of Election we celebrate today,” the bishop said, “We celebrate the fact that each and every one here has been chosen … because of God’s love for each of us.

“Our God has chosen us,” he continued. “God chooses us, he claims us as his own.”

Noting the prevalent mentality that “all churches are the same” and relativity of one denomination or creed parallel to another, Bishop Powers affirmed, “As common as that sentiment may be, it simply is not true.”

“To be chosen by God to be Christian, and to be chosen to be Catholic Christian,” he further characterized, “It does matter.”

Bishop Powers asked the catechumens and candidates to reflect on what special meaning becoming Catholic had for them, encouraging them to ask the question if an answer was not clear and present.

“I know that for godparents and sponsors, it means something special.

“And in this community of faith who are gathered around you in support, witness and prayers, it is special.”

The bishop punctuated, “It has special meaning.”

“The name of the Catholic Christian is a deep identification of what you believe in, of what you are being called to, and of how you are planning to live your life in this world,” he said.

Referring to the first reading from Ezekiel, chapter 36, verses 24-28, he iterated that the election – God’s choosing – separates those called and brings them a new land, gives them a new heart and a new spirit.

“He is inviting us to come to him, and today we have responded,” he said.

Whether or not a person has a distinct timeline of events or enlightened reasons for their conversion, Bishop Powers again directed the focus to God using the words of Jesus, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you – and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

A Catholic campaign of grace

In name of the diocese and Holy Mother Church, the bishop declared his acceptance of the catechumens and candidates for reception of the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation; to become full members of the Roman Catholic Church.

He was clear about the challenge they will undertake in the weeks of final preparation for this “lifelong commitment.”

“It is not always easy. Our God is well aware of that battle. He is well aware of how difficult it is, left to our own abilities, to do what is right and avoid wrong. Our God knows that on our own there’s no way we have a chance against the power and the temptations of the devil.”

Then holding up Jesus’ example of overcoming temptation through God’s grace, Bishop Powers affirmed that God gives all members of the Church that same grace.

“Through the gifts of the sacraments, we become more Christ-like … We receive a new dignity.”

Reviewing the effects of the three sacraments of initiation, he summarized that through baptism the Christian dies to sin and is reborn as a child of God and member of his church.

Through confirmation, the strength of the Holy Spirit is received in its fullness to become more like Christ and to bear witness to his love and truth.

Reception of the Eucharist brings Christ to dwell in the Christian, to be transformed, nourished by Jesus’ own body, blood, soul and divinity, so that “we might be able to take on his divinity; to stay close to him, to allow him to shape our very lives, reflect his truth and love in what we say and do.”

He announced it was his privilege and duty to declare those unbaptized no longer catechumens, “for you are indeed members of the elect.”

Directing himself to the candidates seeking full communion with the church, the bishop said, “We the church pray with you and for you. And we want you to know that your yes to the Lord this day gives us strength, it gives us hope and encouragement to recommit ourselves to those vows which were made for us at our baptism.

“Your presence here today is a powerful reminder to all the members of the church, and hopefully to you yourselves, of how much we need each other to follow Jesus and to live as his disciples … that the good works God has begun in each of us may be brought to fruition.”

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