Tomorrow is not only the first Sunday of Lent but it is also the afternoon when at the Cathedral of St. Jude, the Diocese of St. Petersburg welcomes most of those preparing for baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist at the Easter Vigil ceremony throughout the Diocese on Saturday, April 11, 2009 (the catechumens) and many more who will be received into “full communion” with the Church and be confirmed and make their First Eucharist at the same Easter Vigil (candidates, they are called). Candidates will have experienced first Penance prior to the Easter Vigil and, of course, those being baptized are washed clean of all sins in that sacrament, not just Original Sin.
The Cathedral ceremony is called “The Rite of Election” and earlier in the morning, those present will be “sent” to the Cathedral following the homily at Sunday morning’s Mass. One of the great pleasures in my life as bishop takes place tomorrow when these 1000+ gather for Evening Prayer and the welcome. Catechumens come up into the sanctuary first, accompanied most often by their pastor or the person who has helped them through the whole Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or the Order of Christian Initiation of Children (OCIC). They bring a “Book of the Elect” which contains their names inscribed and enrolled to remain forever a part of the history of the parish. They shake my hand and I congratulate and welcome them, in the name of the whole local Church. For much of their journey they think they are largely alone or making the pilgrimage of faith with a few other nice people who are doing the same. When they get to the Cathedral and see the vast throng of people coming into the Church, they often become even more excited about their journey.
The reading for Evening Prayer tomorrow is taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Phillipians, (1:4-6, 8-11): Brothers and sisters: I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. St. Paul’s pride at the growth of the Church at Phillipi gives him “joy” and “confidence”. The number of converts was likely to be no more than several hundred at the most at any one time. Imagine St. Paul’s joy at receiving over a thousand into the Church. God is very good and continues to work in our midst through the modern day servants of the Gospel, those who guide and direct the RCIA/OCIC programs in the parishes, the sponsors of the catechumens and candidates and those whose example of faith (often a spouse) has moved the initiate to make the journey.
A great afternoon for our local Church is in store and a thousand welcomes to all who await the Easter Vigil for unity of faith with us.