March 19, 2017
For the next three weeks we are asked to support with our prayers and encouragement those who are preparing through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for baptism at Easter. On the first Sunday of Lent they came to the 9 a.m. Mass and signed their names in the Book of the Elect which was presented to Bishop Noonan later that day. For these catechumens the whole of Lent is a time of intense education in the faith and also a time of spiritual growth, involving self-examination and purification. The catechumens have their sins forgiven in the sacrament of baptism; only later will they, like us, have the help of a priest to guide them through confession and absolution. That’s why the Church from the earliest times has set up a mechanism to help them examine their lives. At the 9 a.m. Mass on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent our catechumens will undergo the “Scrutinies”.
You may have seen pictures of children in the Third World searching through rubbish heaps, looking for things which might be worth a few cents. The same thing happened in the ancient world. The Latin word “scruta” meant broken stuff or trash and in Roman times the “scrutari” of cities and towns were those who laboriously searched for valuables amidst the waste and cast-offs of others. From this derives the modern English word “scrutinize”, meaning to search or examine thoroughly, and the Church Latin word “scrutinium” - the “Scrutiny” which we will carry out with our catechumens. We want them to look through their lives and to throw out anything that is evil or sinful and hold on to all that is good and holy.
Like indulgent parents playing a game with children, the Church also makes sure that there are some real treasures in the pile. During these three weeks the catechumens will be formally presented with the words of the Creed and the Our Father. Of course, we initiated Catholics say the Creed every week and recite the Our Father daily or even many times in a day. That means we can take them for granted and forget what treasures they are. The Creed is that summary of Christian beliefs which has been accepted and used for over 1600 years. The Our Father is the “perfect prayer”, given to the disciples by Jesus himself. We would be much poorer without them. Traditionally catechumens are sent out of church after the homily, so they are not exposed to these treasures, but now - in the last half of Lent - they will have them explained.
We know, too, that there is an even greater treasure that we enjoy weekly: the Eucharist. The catechumens will receive Holy Communion for the first time on the night of their baptism, at the Easter Vigil. In the ancient Church this was felt to be so holy that the explanation of its meaning was only given in classes called the “Mystagogical Catecheses” which followed baptism. Our catechumens have actually had quite a lot of formation about the Eucharist, but our prayer is that they will continue to grow in understanding as they come to the altar with us week by week after their baptism. We all need to throw out trash from our lives, especially in Lent, and we all can grow in appreciation of the treasures of the Church.