The Rite of Election — preparing to enter the church

The church will soon accept 627 new members — candidates and catechumens who desire to enter the family of the Catholic Church. Rite of Election ceremonies took place around the state March 2-5. Families and friends gathered to support loved ones in this ancient liturgical rite dating back to the early church.

In the past five years, more than 150,000 people have entered the Catholic Church in the United States through this process.

Typically done on the first Sunday of Lent, the rite marks the beginning of the “Period of Purification and Enlightenment,” a time for intense study of the faith in preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Communion and Confirmation), which usually takes place on Easter Sunday.

Tears fell and hands shook as the candidates and catechumens signed the Book of the Elect, a gesture that formally expressed their intention to be full participants in the sacramental life of the church. Candidates and catechumens are differentiated by the fact that candidates have been baptized.

In each deanery, parishioners traveled to a host parish for the ceremony: St. Mary Magdalene, Simpsonville, in the Piedmont Deanery; St. Joseph’s, Columbia, in the Midlands; the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, in the Coastal Deanery; and Precious Blood of Christ, Pawleys Island, in the Pee Dee Deanery.

“In the past three years there has been an increase of about 24 percent in the number of Catholics in the United States. That’s almost one-fourth growth over the past three years in our numbers. It is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in our midst,” said Bishop Baker. The bishop took part in each ceremony showing his support and acceptance of the heartfelt desires of each candidate and catechumen.

“The rites that were celebrated here today are a powerful experience for the elect and candidates. For many it is one more step toward the final goal of becoming a part of the Catholic community. For others, it is near the completion of an often emotional roller coaster of faith. These rites always reaffirm my faith and the powerful presence of God and the Spirit at work in the lives of all who believe,” said Paul Schroeder, director of Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis, who coordinated the four deanery celebrations.

At each event, Schroeder called out the names of the candidates who were accompanied by their sponsors, and the candidates signed their names in the Book of the Elect as the bishop greeted them.

Paul Davis, a candidate whose spouse is Catholic, is looking forward to the day that his family can come together at the eucharistic table. After 10 years of marriage, the parishioner of Holy Trinity in Orangeburg felt “it was time.”

Thomas Bradford and Cathy Marr were drawn to the church for other reasons. The pair had some Catholic influence in their life, but as an engaged couple, they felt the need to become reconnected to their roots and be married in the church.

“I am glad that I went through the program because I finally understand the ‘whys’ behind what I was taught about the Catholic Church as a child,” said Bradford, a parishioner at St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill. Marr agreed and said that the whole experience has made Lent much more meaningful for her.

Beth Womack from Florence sees the RCIA instructional team as part of a family that is welcoming her. She said, “The Holy Spirit brought me to St. Anthony Parish, and I know this is where I belong.”

During his homily at the celebrations, Bishop Baker used the reading of the temptations of Christ in the desert as an opportunity to show how these temptations are like those put upon everyone, like the temptation of pursuing power and bodily pleasures at all costs.

“But through it all, God gives us his divine assurance that although the temptation may be strong, through the power of Christ the Lord, it can be overcome,” said the bishop.

He said that along with the benefits of the sacraments, candidates and catechumens will find the Catholic community is another source of strength and support during times of trial.

“Don’t think you are alone out there in your parishes, you are linked with a greater community, the Charleston Diocese, which is part of the universal church with Jesus at the head and the pope as the Vicar of Christ,” he added.

At the last of the four ceremonies, held at Precious Blood of Christ, the bishop led a multicultural ceremony in English and Spanish. He encouraged the group to use the church to strengthen their faith.

“Some of you come from faith communities where the word of God is strong. Take advantage of daily Mass. What a great gift it is in our walk with the Lord. Many people make a special effort for daily Mass during Lent, and many people express their love in the Eucharist each and every day.”

The bishop continued, “I know our Hispanic brothers and sisters know the meaning of church. I visited Mexico City during the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I saw thousands of people coming from their parish churches carrying their candles. … How impressive it was to see the great faith of the people of Mexico inspired by the Blessed Mother and showing how strong that community life is among our Spanish brothers and sisters. We can’t do this alone. We need one another to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

The participants and their loved ones all came with their own unique story of faith that contains all the elements of life, its sorrows and its joys. Yet as different as each of their faith journeys continue to be, the catechumens and candidates came together this day, sharing the common desire to be part of the universal Catholic Church.

Kathy Schmugge and Tim Bullard contributed to this article.