Moving toward communion

Monday, March 05, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

As he looked out into the congregation before him, Bishop David Zubik said it was evident that the catechumens and candidates who were present could barely contain their joy. It was all over their faces. (See accompanying article on Page 2 about a family entering the church this year.)

“They can’t wait to be baptized,” he said. “They can’t wait to be received into the church.”

The bishop noted their excitement Feb. 25 during the second of two rite of election ceremonies at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. In all, 144 catechumens (those not baptized) and 309 candidates (those baptized but not confirmed) took part in the ceremonies that marked the beginning of the final phase of their preparation before they enter into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil March 31.

A Feb. 18 ceremony included vicariates 1 and 4, while vicariates 2 and 3 attended the following week.

In his homily, Bishop Zubik spoke of the importance of recognizing God’s love for us. Its greatest sign, he noted, is the cross, “the ultimate kiss of God’s love.”

Like the people of Corinth during the time of St. Paul, he said, we live in a world that seeks power, prestige and popularity. Do we really understand what the cross means? Have we seen it so much that it has become routine and dulled our senses? When we make the sign of the cross, do we do it automatically as an empty ritual?

If we are to look seriously at the cross, he added, it must be more than a piece of art or a depiction.

Bishop Zubik spoke of how the joy of catechumens and candidates in the early church made established Christians yearn for the same joy. It was how the season of Lent came about. Our role as a church, he noted, is to help other people know God through our own stories.

“They stand as a challenge that you and I have to get serious about our faith,” the bishop said. The hill of Calvary and the empty tomb, he said, help define the road we all must follow “to know Jesus, to love Jesus and to live Jesus.”

As part of the celebration of election, Bishop Zubik called the catechumens forward with their godparents. He asked the godparents if the catechumens were sufficiently prepared to be enrolled in the Book of the Elect, a formal record of being accepted for baptism. He then questioned the catechumens about their willingness to enter fully into the life of the church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.

With their affirmation, he invited them to the altar to sign the Book of the Elect. He added his signature and showed the book to the assembly.

Bishop Zubik then declared the catechumens to be members of the elect, and he asked the godparents to support them on their journey to receive the sacraments.

For the celebration of the call to continuing conversion, the candidates were called forward with their sponsors. The bishop asked the sponsors to affirm the preparation of the candidates, and asked the congregation if it was willing to remember the candidates in their prayers.

Bishop Zubik told the candidates that the church recognizes their desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and he asked them if they would accept the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to their baptismal covenant.

Following their affirmation, he welcomed them to the final stage of their faith journey. He asked the sponsors to place their arms around the shoulders of the candidates as a sign that they continue to support them and receive them into their care.

Judene Indovina, director of family ministries and faith formation in the Secretariat for Leadership Development and Evangelization, noted Bishop Zubik’s encouragement to take inspiration from the catechumens and candidates by pointing out that they remind us of our first love — Jesus Christ. They challenge us to see if our faith burns bright in our hearts.

“Recently I heard a radio evangelist say that a sign of a dying Christian community is the lack of new members since these are the lifeblood of the church,” she said. “Looking around the cathedral during the rite of election, those words came back to me forcefully as I was surrounded by crowds of people of every age asking for baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. I was overjoyed to see their faith. I witnessed that the Holy Spirit is ever at work in his church.”

Access individual photos of catechumens and candidates at http://www.ca2photography.com.

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