By Clemens Pater
Lent is a time of spiritual purification, not only for ourselves individually, but for the whole Church.
For those who have decided to join the Catholic Church and who will receive the sacraments for the first time at Easter, Lent is the last stage of their preparation, a kind of forty-day retreat.
The Catechumens are those who were never baptized. They have made the decision to embrace the Catholic faith, and they are prepared to receive the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist – most fittingly administered on Holy Saturday Night at the Church’s Easter Vigil.
“Candidates” are those who are being instructed and prepared during the months before Lent and Easter to enter Full Communion in the Catholic Church. These are men and women who have already been validly baptized as Christians in some denomination. Now, having expressed their free desire to be Catholics, and having studied the truths and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, they will be received into the Church, Confirmed, and receive their First Holy Communion.
Catechumens who will be baptized have a “Godparent,” who will assist them in their preparation. They support the Catechumens; pray for them, encourage them, and help answer their questions about the Faith. They will stand with them when they receive the Sacraments, and should continue to support them afterward.
Candidates likewise have a Sponsor – who, like the Godparents, must be a mature and faithfully practicing Catholic. They assist their Candidate in the time of preparation, stand with them when they are Sacramentally Confirmed, and remain available to them as a good example. They should continue to pray for the new Catholic that they have “sponsored.”
The R.C.I. A. – The Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults - were reinstated more fully since the Second Vatican Council. The RCIA is a process of formation and preparation to become a member of the Catholic Church. It includes a set of rituals for Catechumens and Candidates who are entering the Church at Easter. One of the goals of the RCIA program is to help the parish community to become more aware of these new Catholics. The Catechumens and Candidates are presented to the Parish at certain times during the RCIA process, and in so doing, prompts the members of the parish to pray for those entering at Easter. We may be encouraged to welcome them, give them good example and spiritual support.
During Lent we can make and keep some resolutions or penances that help us grow in holiness. These extra efforts at prayer, sacrifice, and alms-giving or charity are usually chosen to help us overcome our sins and to grow in virtue and holiness of life. We can also offer prayers and sacrifices for the intentions of the new Catholics entering the Church.
Historically Lent has included this awareness of the catechumens and candidates, to consciously and spiritually “accompany them” as they draw closer to their entrance into the Church. It is fitting and helpful to dedicate some of our efforts for their continuing repentance and for their perseverance in the life of faith begun at Easter, or whenever they make their conversion to the Catholic faith.
From the Instruction on Lent, in the Ceremonial of Bishops
“Through the twofold theme of repentance and baptism, the season of Lent disposes both the catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery. Catechumens are led to the Sacraments of Initiation by means of the Rite of Election, the scrutinies, and catechesis. The faithful, listening more intently to the Word of God and devoting themselves to prayer, are prepared through a spirit of repentance to renew their Baptismal promises.”
“During Lent penance should not be only inward and individual but also outward and social, and should be directed toward works of mercy on behalf of our brothers and sisters.”