RCIA gives an optional rite as Lent approaches: a public rite in the parish in which the catechumens are sent to the Rite of Election. The rite envisions the bishop’s role at the commencement of the period of purification and enlightenment. Lent, in other words. Once the catechumens are deemed “ready” for baptism, the bishop receives the testimony of sponsors and others, and endorses their moving forward with an intensive time of preparation.
106. At the conclusion of the period of the catechumenate, a rite of sending the catechumens to their election by the bishop may be celebrated in parishes wherever this seems beneficial or desirable. When election will take place in the parish, this rite is not used.
Let’s review the meaning and purpose of these rites that begin the period of Lent:
107. As the focal point of the Church’s concern for the catechumens, admission to election belongs to the bishop who is usually its presiding celebrant. It is within the parish community, however, that the preliminary judgment is made concerning the catechumens’ state of formation and progress.
The bishop will accept the endorsement of the local pastor and parish, but is not directly responsible for their formation. Except, perhaps, in the cathedral parish.
Why is a parish rite necessary? Remember, it is optional. It also serves the function of what liturgy is: a celebration of grace that, in part, is already a reality. If the community has done its task of forming, guiding, and welcoming catechumens, then the rite of “Sending of the Catechumens for Election” will be one of the prime liturgical moments in parish life:
This rite offers that local community the opportunity to express its approval of the catechumens and to send them forth to the celebration of election assured of the parish’s care and support.
If not, it may be just another hoop for newcomers and an extra few minutes for the parish Sunday worshipers. But hopefully in your parishes and mine, it is not.