From Sacraments to Election
by Joyce Stolberg
"The Littlest Angel," my favorite Christmas story, still brings a tear to my eye. Without agreeing with the imaginative theology behind the story (that a boy who died at the age of four became the young angel) we can appreciate the wholeheartedness of the little one's intense effort to present a valuable gift to the newborn Christ. The Lord God expressed so much pleasure in the things of earth, lovingly chosen and wholeheartedly offered, that he turned them into the Christmas Star that led the Magi to the manger. Christmas is the eternal God penetrating time, the omnipresent God taking on the restrictions of human nature. As we continue to celebrate the Christmas season we honor Christ, grown into manhood, submitting to a baptism of repentance, even though he was sinless.
By taking on a human body, Jesus became the sacrament, the efficacious sign of God's tremendous love for us. The sacramental economy is the means ordained by God through which the saving merits of Christ are applied to each and every one of us. It renders material things sacred. The essence of teaching the sacraments is the emphasis on the use of material things (the matter of the sacrament) combined with the form (the words of the priest or sacramental minister) to effect the conferral of grace. Sacraments actually DO what they signify. Jesus reaches out in the person of the sacramental minister to touch us. Chapters 11 through 15 of God Calls You by Name present you with essential details concerning each sacrament.
When you reconvene your RCIA class following Christmas, you have a very limited number of sessions to complete your instruction on the sacraments before your catechumens and candidates are greeted by your Bishop in the Rites of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. In the past, I have recommended harnessing the energy surrounding the secular celebration of Valentine's Day in the teaching of the holy Sacrament of Matrimony. This year it must be done prior to February 14, simply because Valentine's Day follows Ash Wednesday.
As you journey toward the Rite of Election on February 17, make sure that your sponsors and participants (candidates and catechumens) are spending time getting to know each other. Your sponsors must be able to stand up and say, in essence, to the Bishop, "Yes we have journeyed with these catechumens/candidates enough to know that they are living according to the moral requirements of the Catholic Church, that they embrace the teachings of the Church, they choose to worship consistently with their Catholic community, and they desire to receive the sacraments and live as Catholics for life." It is good at this point to contact each sponsor personally and in choir from them how their candidate or catechumen is progressing. This will give you a good idea about who has been in contact and who needs to be encouraged to develop a closer relationship with the person whom they are sponsoring. By the time you present your pre-election retreat, participants' decisions regarding entering the Church and becoming Catholic should be fairly well settled. They should be looking forward with eager longing to receiving all the graces God intends to confer on them when they receive their sacraments.