Chief among the RCIA rites of Lent are the three scrutinies.Let’s get the tale from the first of six descriptive sections in the rite:
141. The scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Sundays and are reinforced by an exorcism, are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all.
The first question I ask: why, if the purpose of the scrutinies are so personal to the elect and serve more of a spiritual purpose, are these liturgies to be celebrated publicly. RCIA 145, as we will see, suggests that the faithful will find the public ritual beneficial in some way. The connection can be made with the ordinary Catholic’s examination of conscience and preparation for the Rite of Penance.
Note the twofold action of the rite:
- to uncover and heal
- to bring out and strengthen
I’ve always been struck by the use of language in referring to the conflicting qualities of sin and grace in the elect. It presumes that each aspect is, in some way, hidden from view or expression. That’s not a universal constant: sometimes sin is very much out in the open, and likewise, good works are often evident to others, too. It would seem the spiritual value of the scrutinies is to draw out more of the inner and true self. We have faith that when secret sin comes to light, it will vanish in the healing power of Christ. This is the core meaning of exorcism.
The task of the community is also to affirm God’s grace in the elect. These scrutinies are meant to be the final personal stage toward baptism, solidifying a conversion which has largely been accomplished.
The scrutinies sometimes make people nervous. Not surprising, and not unexpected. A colleague of mine once reported her pastor declined to celebrate them at all. One wonders about the level of understanding of penance and the sacrament devoted to it in a man who cannot discern the classic elements of personal examination, reform, and renewal accomplished by a fruitful celebration of the scrutinies.