When the Easter Vigil takes place on April 3, 2021, the Diocese of Venice will be welcoming 314 who will become Catholic and enter the Church.
One major step in this journey occurred on Feb. 21, 2021, when the Rite of Election was held on the first Sunday of Lent. This annual tradition is a formal Rite in which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of Elect. Candidates are also present as part of their calling to continuing conversion.
“I am humbled to stand before you catechumens and candidates, you come here to Holy Mother Church to publicly pronounce your “Yes!” to Jesus,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said. “You declare yourself today that this is what you want to do. I welcome you and I trust that your sponsors, the priests, DREs (Directors of Religious Education), and parish representatives, have guided you well. I say thank you to all for your presence and the support that you give.”
Bishop Dewane reminded the catechumens and candidates at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice on Feb. 21, 2021 that the Rite of Election is not just a gathering of people who have chosen a religion, but a deeper commitment, made by a free choice.
“My prayer is that you are here today because you are convinced in your mind, heart and, most importantly, your soul, that the Catholic Church offers you the fullness of Christianity in a very clear way, and you are content and are willing to live it out in that way,” the Bishop stated.
He warned them that they will struggle during this process, but they must stand fast in their conviction to find the time in their lives to open themselves to hear Jesus Christ within their hearts.
Details of the Rite of Election were adapted this year to comply with social distancing requirements necessitated by the Pandemic. Instead of one large gathering at the Cathedral, this year there are four celebrations of the Rite presided over by Bishop Dewane, one in each Deanery (regions within the Diocese). The first, at the Cathedral accommodated those from the Northern Deanery, while later the same day the Rite took place at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring for the Eastern Deanery. On Feb. 28, additional Rites will take place at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers for the Central Deanery, and then at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples for the Southern Deanery.
To accommodate social distancing, sponsors did not sit or stand next to their catechumens this year unless they were spouses or members of the same household. During the Act of Admission, sponsors extended a hand toward their catechumen, instead of placing a hand on the catechumen’s shoulder, as in past years.
The Rite of Election also is called the enrollment of names, because each catechumen writes his or her name in the Book of the Elect. When the catechumens from each Parish were called forward, a sheet with the signed names was carried by one catechumen and presented to the Bishop. Instead of shaking hands with each catechumen, as was done in past years, this year Bishop Dewane welcomed them with a respectful bow.
The catechumens and candidates are part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). These catechumens are the unbaptized and unchurched who inquire about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith. Many times, catechumens are those who have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. RCIA is a journey of discovery and Faith. They have been meeting weekly since last fall – in many cases on Zoom – to share their faith journeys and learn about the Catholic Church. Children and teens ages 7 to 17 participate in similar groups geared to their own age ranges.
After completing the Rite of Election, the catechumens continue their spiritual formation throughout the remainder of Lent, a period of purification and enlightenment – the final, intense preparation for the reception at the Easter Vigil of the Sacrament of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.
For candidates, those who have been baptized in the name of the Trinity, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of Faith. In fact, many have been attending Mass with their families for years but may have never received the Sacrament of Holy Communion or the Sacrament of Confirmation or Sacrament of Reconciliation. They participate in appropriate religious education classes, often with the catechumens, and will receive any missing Sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
Everyone is encouraged to pray for and welcome the catechumens and candidates at their own Parish and within the Diocese as they continue their journey of discovery in their Faith.