This year’s RCIA service (more correctly called the Rite of Election and Rite of Recognition and Call to Continuing Conversion) took place as usual on the First Sunday of Lent (21 February) but in a new venue, the Pro-Cathedral of St. Mary’s.
It was heartening to see such a substantial crowd of people filling the church. The number of catechumens and candidates totalled over 120, and were of all ages and many nationalities and ethnicities. They were supported by godparents, sponsors, family and friends, as well as parish priests and catechists.
As they gathered and found their places in the church, the St. Mungo Singers sang a number of motets (including O Bone Jesu, Resonet in Laudibus, Jesu Rex Admirabilis and Handel’s Largo), providing a prayerful atmosphere. Then the service started with the procession of clergy, led by Archbishop Conti, as choir and congregation sang the Lenten Introit “He will call to me”.
The beginning of the service is simple and direct – a greeting, an opening prayer and then the Liturgy of the Word: the First Letter of St.Paul to the Corinthians 15:1-8; St. John’s Gospel 1:35-42. In the homily which followed, Archbishop Conti noted that the readings centred on two saints – Paul and Peter – even as this service centred on two groups of people. Peter and Paul had each experienced the call of God but in quite different ways, yet their call had illustrated the same fact, that they were known by God before their call. So too it was for the catechumens and the candidates present. They had clearly felt the call of God and had responded to it.
Next followed the Celebration of Election for the catechumens. They were called forward by name into the sanctuary, with their godparents who testified to their preparedness for enrolment before the catechumens were invited to sign their names in the Book of the Elect. As they did so, the congregation sang “I bow my knees before the Lord our God” a setting of the Canticle from Ephesians 3 by Noel Donnelly.
When the signing was complete, Archbishop Conti welcomed them with pleasure, and noted with some amusement that the physical shape of St. Mary’s sanctuary reminded him of a sheepfold, an appropriate concept in the circumstances as they were being welcomed into the fold of the Church.
The catechumens and godparents now returned to their places in the church as the hymn “Lord, you have come to the seashore” was sung – a hymn whose words were very apt for the occasion. It was now the turn of the candidates for full communion to be called forward with their sponsors to the sanctuary, and to have their readiness affirmed by their sponsors. They were also welcomed by the Archbishop to join with the community in the Lenten preparations for celebration of Easter.
Finally intercessions for catechumens and candidates were read and all present sang the response “your kingdom come” to the invocation “God Our Father, hear our prayer”. The service ended with the joyful singing of “Christ be our Light” whose words “Make us your own, your holy people. Light for the world to see” gained a new meaning from the context .
Mgr. Peter Smith then invited everyone to come in and have a cup of tea and some cake, as well as the opportunity to talk to each other. As the enthusiastic crowd moved out to take up this invitation, the St. Mungo Singers reinforced the celebratory feeling of the service with the singing of the Schubert Salve Regina.