Rite of Election: Candidates move closer to the sacraments at Easter

COLUMBIA—Over 400 men and women took important steps on their journey toward becoming Catholics at Rite of Election ceremonies held Feb. 24-27.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated the rite for the Piedmont deanery at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville Feb. 24; the Midlands deanery Feb. 25 at St. John Neumann Church in Columbia; the Coastal and Lowcountry deaneries at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston on Feb. 26; and the Pee Dee deanery at St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach on Feb. 27.

A total of 424 people took part this year, said Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, diocesan director of Catechesis and Christian Initiation for Parishes and Schools. The Piedmont deanery had the highest number, with 93 candidates and 41 catechumens.

According to tradition, the ceremonies are held each year on or near the first Sunday of Lent. Candidates and catechumens make a public statement that they intend to enter the Roman Catholic Church during Easter Vigil services on Holy Saturday. Then, catechumens receive the church’s three sacraments of initiation: baptism, holy Communion and confirmation. Candidates, or those who have already been baptized in another Christian  denomination, come into full communion with the Catholic Church.

During the Rite of Election, catechumens traditionally sign the Book of the Elect indicating their intent. Candidates stand with their sponsors, pray together and are formally recognized by the celebrant and the congregation.

During the ceremony in Columbia, Bishop Guglielmone gave a homily about an experience he had one summer while making his annual visit to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. One of the Scouts was told about the death of his beloved grandmother. After the grief-stricken young man spent some time in prayer, the bishop recalled, he came outside to see a vivid, full-length rainbow in the sky. The young man started to cry and said his grandmother had always commented that a rainbow was a sign from God “that everything would be all right.”

“Why do I share this story? Because you are taking a journey,” the bishop said. “You catechumens and candidates have decided your life is going to take a new direction. Sometimes we need a sign from God that what we are doing is right. There are some ways God communicates with us. Maybe it’s a simple sense of peace within us, a sense that God is with us as we make these decisions and travel on this journey.

“When we find a deeper intimacy with God, our lives are better. Despite the difficulties we are encountering, we can find a sense of inner peace,” Bishop Guglielmone said.

He encouraged everyone to look at Lent as a prayerful season that offers new opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.

“As we go through Lent, perhaps we have to look at things in our lives that need to change,” he said. “My prayer for you is that this will be an opportunity to experience the presence of God in a unique and special way,” he continued. “Jesus spent 40 days in the desert to strengthen his intimacy with God. A sense of intimacy with God is crucial, and hopefully these 40 days of Lent will help us experience a sense of God’s presence, a sense that everything is all right.”

Catechumens, candidates and their sponsors agreed the Rite of Election was a happy day and a spiritual milestone.

“It was very humbling and very emotional for me,” said William Aldridge, a candidate from St. Andrew Church. “It was very special to have the bishop there and to see all the people there enjoying the ceremony and all the different parishes represented. It was very reassuring to know all these people around the diocese were coming into the church along with me, that the church is growing.”

Aldridge said the journey to become Catholic was made more special because his wife, Maria Christina, is his sponsor.

Brian Saunders, a candidate from St. Joseph Church in Columbia, said he is excited to be close to the culmination of a spiritual journey that has lasted several years.

“The whole conversion experience for me has been emotional and liberating,” he said.

Deanna Rock of Transfiguration Church in Blythewood said the Rite of Election signified the big change she is about to make. Rock said she spent her entire life as a Mormon before deciding to convert to Catholicism.

“This was a big day for me because I’m about to make a deep, lifetime commitment,” Rock said. “I’m here because I believe in what the church teaches. The Holy Eucharist is my driving force.”