This annual service took place, as usual, on the First Sunday of Lent in St. Andrew’s Cathedral. The name of it is lengthy, and perhaps a little off-putting, but it is a lovely service at which those who wish to join the Catholic Church, whether it be through Baptism into the Body of Christ or through Confirmation and the Eucharist into full communion, are welcomed formally by the Archbishop for the final stage of their journey. Around 90 Catechumens and Candidates were present this year.
The Catechumens and the Candidates are supported on the day by their sponsors, and members of their families and their new parish communities, including in many cases their Parish Priest, and the service gives a sense of the importance of the decision they have made for their future lives. For those who have been born into the Catholic faith, it is an impressive and quite affecting service.
As the congregation gathered, the St. Mungo Singers sang a selection of motets to create a prayerful atmosphere for the celebration, finishing with the Blessed John Henry Newman hymn “Firmly I believe and Truly”, an appropriate piece both for this Year of Faith and for the particular service which was about to begin.
The service itself started with the Lenten Introit “He will call to Me” sung by choir and congregation as the Archbishop processed to the sanctuary. He welcomed the Catechumens and Candidates and those who had come to support them. Following the Liturgy of the Word – a reading from Romans 10:8-13, Psalm 89 and the Gospel from Matthew 16: 13-17 – Archbishop Tartaglia invited the Catechumens to reflect that they had recognised the truth of St. Paul’s words in the First Reading and they themselves were now at the point where they were ready to profess their faith openly. For those already baptised, it was a great joy for the church that they had come to the point of being ready to become Catholic Christians. The wonderful reality for both was that they were choosing Christ and his church.
The deeper truth, however, was that God had chosen them to be in Christ and his church, and this was recognised with a deep sense of thanksgiving. Everyone present would have their own story to tell of how they had come to this day. For many it had come about through family or marriage, for others through a friend or an experience or event in their lives. If anyone was sceptical about God and his actions in the world today, the Archbishop’s invitation was to look at those presenting themselves today not only in the Cathedral but in churches throughout the world.
They had made the choice to respond to God’s call, with the help and support of others. This final stage is very deliberately set at the beginning of Lent to mark a period of more intense preparation as they approach the Easter Vigil. He acknowledged that they might face doubts and fears over the final step but he invited them to be strong, to pray and to reflect.
The formal part of the service followed with the calling, individually by name, of the Catechumens to respond and confirm their intentions, and enrol their names in the Book of the Elect. The Candidates in turn were called by name to come forward and be recognised as desiring full communion with the Catholic church.
The accompanying hymns for this part of the service reflected what was taking place – the Canticle from Ephesians; Lord, you have come to the seashore; We believe in God the Father; Christ be near at either hand.
The service ended with Intercessions for those present, during which the sponsors, standing beside the newly Elect or Candidate, placed their right hand on their shoulder as a symbol of their continuing care for them. Then all joined in the Canticle from Ezekiel “Hear me, my People”. The choir sang the Orlando Gibbons motet “Come Holy Ghost, the Maker, Come” as the congregation left to make their way to the Eyre Hall where the Archdiocese had laid on refreshments in celebration.
There was a palpable buzz in the Cathedral and in the Eyre Hall afterwards , a definite feeling that something of importance had happened, and it was inspiring to everyone present, something which refreshed our spirits for the journey through Lent.