On Sunday 26 February 2023, an important milestone in the journey of conversion took place at St Patrick’s Cathedral: the Rite of Election. Hundreds of people gathered joyfully with those wanting to enter full communion with Christ’s Body, the Church. It was the largest Rite of Election since the pandemic began, with 200 catechumens and candidates and more than 50 parish communities represented.

The Rite of Election is one of the final passages of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). The catechumens (the unbaptised) and candidates (those baptised in other Christian communities) publicly affirm their readiness to receive or complete the Sacraments of Initiation during the Easter Vigil, becoming full members of the Church.

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli led the rite, acknowledging that people had come from far and wide across the Archdiocese to be there. It might even be the first time they had stepped foot in St Patrick’s Cathedral, he said.

He encouraged them to make the most of it and visit regularly. ‘It is the Mother Church,’ he said. ‘It is your Mother Church.’

During the rite, parishes are invited to come forward with a scroll bearing the names of the catechumens, which are then placed in baskets next to the Book of the Elect. The catechumens and candidates are presented to the Archbishop, the representative of the universal Church, who holds up the Book of the Elect and declares before the congregation that the names of the catechumens are now written inside.

The language of ‘election’ is meant to reflect the biblical understanding that discipleship begins first with God’s calling and choosing: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you, and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (John 15:16).

This ritual has a deep historical lineage, in that the RCIA is a modern reconstruction of an ancient catechumenal pathway. Prior to Christianity’s general acceptance in mainstream Roman culture, the Church’s approach to converts was quite thorough. It often involved a period of education and spiritual preparation, and then finally reception of the sacraments.

As early as the fourth century—perhaps even before—the period of preparation occurred through Lent, where together the whole Church could enter anew the mystery of Easter. Performing the ceremonies during this time added a deeper symbolism, expressing the nature of Christian conversion as a passing from death to life, from an old way of living to a new way in light of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The adult catechumenate fell into disuse for a long time, but the bishops of the Second Vatican Council called for a restoration of this ancient way:

The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and to be taken into use at the discretion of the local ordinary (Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, §64).

Although programs look different in different places, the RCIA process is now the norm, with parishes around the world offering this pathway.

Following the ceremony, the congregation mingled in the forecourt, taking photos with the Archbishop and getting to know members of other parishes. Those who had never been to the Cathedral before enjoyed wandering around afterward, giving themselves self-guided tours.

As Lent continues, please keep these catechumens and candidates in your prayers. Conversion is a profound and personal journey, one we get to re-experience together on the journey towards Easter. Let’s pray for God’s grace to sustain them during this time of preparation, and that their life of discipleship, and ours, is a fruitful one.