The RCIA service or, to use its full title, the Rite of Election and Rite of Recognition and Call to Continuing Conversion, takes place every year on the First Sunday of Lent when Catechumens and candidates for full communion with the Catholic Church who wish to be received into the Church at Easter are formally welcomed by the Archbishop to the beginning of their final stage.
The weather was not perhaps very welcoming. It began to rain as both groups made their way into the Diocesan Offices before the service began, and the construction works outside the Offices and the Cathedral made for some tricky manoeuvring. However inside, there was a warm welcome as people were taken to their places. The St Mungo Singers who have supported this annual service since it first began many years ago, sang a number of choral pieces to add atmosphere and strengthen the sense of occasion – Palestrina provided 2 pieces and Handel another.
Of necessity, there are formalities to be gone through as part of the service; the Catechumens for example require to enter their names in the encouragingly titled Book of the Elect. However there is a very personal feel even to the formal stages as the Catechumens and the candidates for full communion are each called by name before the assembled community and invited to take the next stage.
The readings were from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians (1:11-20) and St. Mark’s gospel (1:12-15), with the Psalm of the day (Ps. 24). In his homily, Archbishop Conti noted that these readings, with their themes of the proclamation of the Gospel and the journey of faith, had been specially chosen for the service. As Archbishop, it was his privilege as well as his duty to welcome the Catechumens and candidates into the community of the Church which would support them on their own journey of faith.
The reading from St. Paul was particularly appropriate in this, the Year of St. Paul, a man renowned for his many journeys to preach the message of the Gospel. That was the beginning of the journey of the Church which continues to this day, with the proclamation to each generation of the Gospel message.
He invited the Catechumens and candidates to recognise in their presence at this service the work of God in their lives. The journey they were now on was the same journey for all of the community, a journey which will have ups and downs and involve struggle as it had for St. Paul, but through everything they should remember that they were “chosen and called”.
Due to the nature of the RCIA service, flexibility as well as appropriateness is required of the music of the liturgy as it seeks to set and maintain a suitable atmosphere while large groups of people (Catechumens with their godparents, and candidates with their sponsors) move to and from the Sanctuary, and timing is dependent on numbers involved.
The service opened with Gerry Fitzpatrick’s setting of the Introit for the 1st Sunday of Lent and concluded with Bernadette Farrell’s Christ be Our Light. During the rites of election and recognition, the music included the well-known ‘Celtic Invocatio’: “Christ Be Near at Either Hand”, then “Lord, You have Come to the Seashore” and “A New Commandment”, which encouraged congregational participation. A strong musical lead and support was provided by the choir who sang additional motets as required by the movement of the service including the Tallis ‘If ye love me.’
As the congregation left the church to enjoy the hospitality of the Archdiocese in the Diocesan Offices, they were blessed on their way by the singing of the Chilcott setting of the Irish Blessing (May the Road Rise to Meet You).