•  
  •  
  •  

Font Size

Cpanel

God Called Them by Name
- Feeling Worthy or Not
!

by Joyce Stolberg

We have just bustled through all the practical aspects of planning for and carrying out the Rites of Sending and Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. Of course this included conferring with sponsors and team members, and encouraging candidates and catechumens to seriously scrutinize their own intentions regarding entering the Catholic Church and living as Catholics for life. This past Sunday, I felt an overpowering sense of joy at seeing so many persons called and chosen by God, greeted by the Bishop, and embraced by the local diocesan church.

Yet, just as we pondered two levels of the meaning of "worthiness" or "unworthiness" in God Calls You by Name, Chapter 1 page 16 and Chapter 13 page 194, where we discussed reception of the Eucharist, so also we contemplate two clearly distinct levels of perceived worthiness or unworthiness to receive the gift of Salvation and the call of God to die and rise with Jesus in the transforming Sacrament of Baptism, and/or to receive further graces through Confirmation and First Eucharist.

The first level, described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:26-29, is highly practical and readily discernible. All of us, whether cradle Catholic, cradle Christian, or convert, receive here a stern warning that we must be conscious of freedom from serious sin and be in full communion with the Catholic Church including, if applicable, living in conformity with her marriage laws. The second perception of "unworthiness" leads us to a totally sublime spiritual level: we experience ourselves as humble creatures, members of a sinful race, and so different in nature from Almighty God as to be completely undeserving of receiving the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the roof of our humanity. This is a profound, grace-filled manifestation of the gift of the Holy Spirit which we call Fear or Awe of the Lord. This is the inspired gift manifested by the Centurion who said "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed" (Matthew 8:8). Recall how pleased Jesus was with the faith of this Gentile Centurion. We also meditate on the analogous gospel scene from Luke, Ch. 6:17-7:10 in God Calls You by Name, Chapter 3, page 60.

Throughout the catechumenate process, we have expended tremendous energy in ensuring the basic technical level of "worthiness" to receive the Sacraments of Initiation. Likewise, let us foster the expression of this eloquent gift of the Holy Spirit as we prepare candidates and catechumens, through the special rites proper to Lent, to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion. None of us deserves or is "worthy" of the gift of Salvation won for us and offered to us by Jesus Christ, yet Jesus died to save each one of us. This is a free gift of God given to us while we were still sinners. Consider using St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Chapters 3 through 9 in your meditations during the catechetical phase of Enlightenment.

For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God—to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans Ch. 3:22b-26)

For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. (Romans Ch. 5:6 -9)

This section of Romans contains a clear theology of God's election of each one of us, not because of our merits but because of his free choice. It contains a theology of baptism into Christ's death. While St. Paul also deals with God's election of the Jews, we center on God's election of all, without rejecting the Jews whom he first chose.

At this time of year, while we are verifying baptismal records, preparing meditations for the period of Enlightenment, and going through the minor rites that encourage our parish congregations to pray for our candidates and elect, let us also foster the spiritual sensitivity that opens those whom God has called and chosen to the action and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You might, perhaps, have experienced a humbling sense of awe at the birth of your child or a touch of fright at being chosen for a special honor or assignment. I occasionally sense a gentle twinge of wonder prior to receiving Holy Communion. Likewise, a vague expression or a vivid experience of unworthiness in one whom the Bishop, standing in the person of Jesus Christ, has clearly called and elected to the Easter sacraments, is a gift of grace already working in the soul. The person in your group who has spent time in prayer, enthusiastically internalized the teachings of the Catholic Church, is clear of impediments, and desires the sacraments, yet strongly feels "unworthy" of this free gift of God is a person who, like Cornelius before his Baptism (Acts 10:44-49), is already being transformed by the grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Offer your heartfelt encouragement to anyone who may be surprised by similar sentiments at this time in the RCIA process.

 

The Body and Blood of Christ

  As RCIA leaders and catechists, we approach the beginning of Lent and the season of spring with the excitement and anticipation of welcoming new members into the body of Christ. Baptism and Confirmation are followed by the wonderful reception, for the first time, of the Body and Blood of Christ. Let us remember, just for a moment, our own First Holy Communion. Perhaps we received Jesus under the species of bread only, or we may have received the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of both bread and wine. If we are cradle Catholics, it occurred during our childhood, perhaps at the age of seven or eight; if we entered the Catholic Church as adults, we remember this wonderful event as part of a whole constellation of ceremonies. Surely we desire for our candidates and catechumens the fuller sacramental sign--receiving the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of both bread and wine.    

There has been some confusion recently in the press and in Catholic blogging circles concerning the frequency of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ under both species, particularly in the United States of America. I have been doing some research in an effort to clarify this confusion and put it to rest. This study explores the history and praxis of reception of Holy Communion under both species: some information contained herein may be useful to you in resolving issues concerning this within your own parishes.

 Sincerely yours,

Joyce Stolberg

The Body of Christ; The Blood of Christ: Theology, History, and Praxis

 New Words --- Deeper Meaning

by Joyce Stolberg

 Those of us who have been Catholic either all our lives or for some years are striving to relearn some responses of the Mass. As we inculcate in our candidates and catechumens the habit of attending Sunday Mass, we ourselves will do well to look at the new words of the Mass through their fresh, enthusiastic, unburdened minds. Even while I myself accidentally say "And also with you" on occasion, I ponder the deeper meaning of "And with your spirit."

 The deeper meaning and the greater formality of these words remind us that we are addressing no mere human person, but the great God Almighty. The horizontal dimension of our worship, that is, our relationship with one another in the body of Christ has been emphasized for the past 40 years. Now, without negating this dimension, we are restoring the wonder and awe of the vertical dimension of our worship, that is, the humble presentation of our human nature before the awesome Majesty of God.

 Some words used in the liturgy better clarify our Catholic doctrine: Lex orandi --- Lex credendi! Have you heard the word consubstantial? It expresses in a word the essential dogma of the Trinity: there are three equal persons in one God. Did you catch the word "prevenient" used in the canon of the Mass of the Immaculate Conception? This one word expresses the belief that Mary, in anticipation of the merits of her future divine Son, was conceived free from original sin. How many other deep and beautiful words have you heard in the priest's prayers? Have you noticed an increased reverence in the tone of the priest's prayers? More clearly than before, they celebrate the fact that the Lord God IS LORD and we are his humble and grateful creatures.

 When we teach the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist we always stress the necessity of receiving Christ worthily: here we mean that we must be aware of being free from serious sin and in full communion with the Faith, laws, and requirements of the Catholic Church. Candidates and catechumens prepare for many months for the worthy reception of their first Eucharist. We are strongly encouraged to receive the Eucharist weekly or daily if possible once we have been fully initiated into the Catholic Church, and the Eucharist is a source of life-changing grace. Yet the new language reminds us that we must always be in awe of this privilege --- none of us human beings can presume to be "worthy" to receive our Divine Master under the roof of our mouths, the roof of our humanity. Hence, regardless of how well prepared or how nobly we have lived our lives, we, nevertheless, pray "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." Jesus comes and heals us, but this humbling prayer of the Centurion reminds us never to take the privilege for granted.

 I have prepared a revision of my 10 page section on the prayers of the Mass. in God Calls You by Name in keeping with the revised order of the liturgy and I am in the process of submitting it to the proper authority to obtain legitimate permission to propagate it. As soon as this is cleared I hope to be able to offer it online as well as in print for the benefit of all the directors and readers who we serve. The language and tone of the new prayers of the Mass are truly beautiful and faithfully reflect the sublimity of the worship we give to our Almighty God.

 Consecration to a Life of Virginity: a Personal Reflection from Your Author

by Joyce Stolberg

Because I have been Catholic all my life, I have never experienced the complex rites of initiation from the viewpoint of a participant. But now I have a whole new understanding of how this encounter with the sacred and with the community penetrates, strips, and re-adorns the soul.

 On Sunday, October 30, I was privileged to take part in a rare and beautiful ceremony of the Catholic Church, which had been extant in the earliest centuries, fell into disuse for about 1200 years, and then, like the RCIA rites, was revived following Vatican Council II. This Is the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for a Woman Living in the World. In front of my usual Sunday morning congregation, including our RCIA candidates and catechumens, I was consecrated to a life of virginity, intense prayer, and dedication to the service of the Church by Bishop Michael Sheridan in the diocese of Colorado Springs, Colorado. This ceremony sealed a very special invitation from Christ to live my baptismal commitment by renouncing the great good of holy matrimony in order to serve God and the Church through intercessory prayer and dedicated service, and to be a living sign of the bridal relationship between Christ and the Church, and of faith in the world to come. (Can. 604, below)

 While I understood this ceremony, and prepared and rehearsed for it well, I think I encountered every emotion that our candidates and catechumens experience as they go through the rites of acceptance, welcome, election, and scrutinies, and receive the Sacraments of Initiation themselves. I entered in procession in front of the Bishop --- I had often entered and exited in procession to serve RCIA participants, but this time I truly ENTERED. I was the one dressed in a lovely long white outfit, and all eyes were on me. I was excited and, I must admit, nervous. I have heard the choir sing the antiphon "I Have Called You by Name" at least a hundred times, but this time it was MY name that God called --- I was the chosen one! Hearing my name called, I answered, "Lord, you have called me." (Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity) I prostrated during the litany of the Saints as a symbol of the exhaustive outpouring of my total self in the love and service of God.

 My strongest emotion was an overwhelming sense of awe at being offered such an astonishing, undeserved privilege. I was eligible for it (yes, I was scrutinized); I had prepared through prayer, study, retreat, spiritual direction, discernment, and in other ways, but I hadn't earned, and couldn't possibly ever earn the magnificent grace and profound blessing that was about to be poured out upon me. The Bishop, standing in the person of Christ, said to me, "Receive the ring that marks you as a bride of Christ." (Ibid) I received a veil, a ring, and the book of the Liturgy of the Hours --- vibrant symbols of my new state in life and responsibilities. With a sense of humility, wonder, and privilege, I acknowledged, "I am espoused to him whom the angels serve!" (Ibid)

 We do the same for our candidates and catechumens: we ensure their eligibility, offer ancillary services such as marriage preparation and a tribunal to evaluate petitions for annulments, teach lessons and give handouts, provide sponsors and discern. Yet nothing we do, or nothing that our candidates and catechumens do can possibly render them worthy to receive the free gift of saving grace poured out on them through the sacraments. The only appropriate attitude with which to approach the sacraments is that of a humble sense of awe and unworthiness to receive the love of a God who sent his only Son to die for us, who offers us the grace of adoption as children of God, who sends us his Holy Spirit, and who gives himself to us as food. God is well pleased with his own divine Son, and he is well pleased with each son and daughter who receives adoption through the waters of baptism. The Catholic Church says to each, "You are a beloved son of God; you are a beloved daughter of God."

 In my past writing, I have often advised that memorizing doesn't work. I gave that advice from experience with candidates who had difficulty recalling the lines they needed as they came into full communion with the Church. For weeks, I had been memorizing and practicing three sets of lines. Do you think I could recall them when the moment was critical? I had my "cheat sheet" and I really needed it! In spite of my experience with RCIA, and in spite of having been a lector for this community for years, I admit, I was nervous! Now I know in a totally different way --- MEMORIZING DOESN'T WORK!

 The choice to accept new responsibilities factored into my discernment process. I make a firm commitment to embrace a more fervent lifestyle, to recite the Liturgy of the Hours every day, to spend significant time in personal prayer, to attend daily Mass whenever possible, to serve my church in some way compatible with my energy and skill levels, and to forgo the legitimate use of marriage in order to follow Jesus Christ more closely and be more available to the people of God. Yet as a dedicated single Catholic I had already been doing most of these things.

 I am so accustomed to being Catholic that I sometimes take for granted the demands the Church places upon candidates and catechumens who advance through our rites of acceptance and welcome. For some who are used to sleeping in or greeting the great outdoors on Sunday morning, the expectation that they not only attend weekly Mass but also participate in our "Breaking Open the Word" sessions can demand considerable sacrifice. When applicable, we also want them to register their children in appropriate classes and support these children while they themselves are still exploring the Catholic Faith. Now --- take a fresh look at Catholic moral requirements. Our participants come from a world that considers casual sex, cohabiting before marriage, and same-sex relationships to be normal behavior. We profess an unequivocal culture of life in a country where abortion is legal. We require them to step out of this prevailing conventional mode of thinking and develop a courageous Catholic countercultural mentality. As leaders and catechists, we must reverence the action of grace that inspires the commitment, courage, and devotion it takes for our catechumens and candidates to come forward and experience the rites of acceptance and welcome.

 Finally, how many of us RCIA leaders have at times felt just a little twinge of envy as we remind our adult catechumens that, if entered with pure intentions, the waters of baptism wash away, not only all the sins they have committed in a lifetime, but also any punishment due to those sins. I experienced the love of God in a very special way as I gave myself completely to him. The real point here is that, when someone makes a total, complete, unreserved act of conversion and gift of self to God, God will not be outdone in generosity. God returns that gift of self with unreserved gift of his gracious mercy. We leaders give ourselves in building up the Church year after year by serving as the instruments through which new sons and daughters are added to the body of Christ. If our dedication to this work is pure and if we offer ourselves wholeheartedly to God, we can certainly hope that his superabundant mercy will also be poured out on us.

 Can. 604: Through their pledge to follow Christ more closely, virgins are consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church, when the diocesan Bishop consecrates them according to the approved liturgical rite.

 

When the Time Is Right for the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome

by Joyce Stolberg

This past weekend, someone asked me, "Aren't we supposed to have the Rite of Acceptance sometime in October?" My initial thought was to explain that we normally hold it sometime around the middle of November. Last year, because of special circumstances, we postponed it until December. Even if customary, however, none of the above is necessarily correct. The appropriate time for the celebration of these rites depends on several factors. Review paragraphs 1 through 47 of your copy of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults published by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. Paragraph number 28 specifies precisely, "The rite of acceptance into the order of catechumens is to take place when the time is right (see number 18). The message is clear here: we are on the Holy Spirit's time, not on the secular calendar.

When is the time right? Let us first take a serious look at the requirements for celebrating the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome. First of all, inquirers have received initial evangelization. They must have responded to the grace of God by coming to an initial movement of faith, a conversion from attachment to false worship, and repentance for patterns of serious sin. "From evangelization, completed with the help of God, comes the faith and initial conversion that causes a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God's love." (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, paragraph 37) At the Rite of Election held on the first Sunday of Lent, the firm intention to receive the Catholic sacraments is required; however, at this point in the journey an openness and desire to further explore the Catholic Faith, even if one is not yet fully sure, along with the above requirements, is sufficient. Therefore the time is right when a group of inquirers have developed the beginnings of the spiritual life, the fundamentals of faith have had a chance to take root, and evidence of an initial stirring of repentance has been given (paragraph 42). This rite may take place several times during the year.

The periods of inquiry and the precatechumenate are, and still remain, open to everyone. Continuing instruction remains open whether or not individuals progress through the rites. We EXPECT some adults to be coming in with the baggage that is so common in our contemporary society. Some inquirers need annulments before their current marriage can be convalidated or before they can remarry. Some young people approach the RCIA because they are engaged to a Catholic; they may be cohabiting or engaging in a lifestyle that includes forbidden sexual behavior. Dishonesty in business and anti-life procedures in medical practice must also be explored. Others may have studied multiple religions and they may still be engaging in non-Christian worship, including nature worship or Wicca, pagan rites, or, (hopefully not) even devil worship.

The Rites of Acceptance and Welcome begin to progressively incorporate candidates and catechumens into the Catholic Church, albeit not fully. They have certain rights including the right to a Catholic funeral if they should die. Therefore now, prior to the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome, is the time to open that huge steamer trunk full of baggage, throw away what is immoral or incompatible with Catholic teachings, or is weighing one down with the burden of past failed relationships, and proceed through the catechumenate with perhaps a small carry-on suitcase.

In order to foster discernment at this time, it is most important that we teach the subject matter contained in Chapters 7 and 9 of God Calls You by Name, which includes the Ten Commandments, moral principles and their practical applications, and also discuss the teachings of the Church in regard to marriage. Inquirers have the right to know what the Church teaches and what standards she requires so that they can incorporate this awareness into their discernment process. Directors must also be aware of norms set down by their local bishop regarding admission to the Rites of Acceptance and Welcome.

With all this being said, the rites are timed and directed toward the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, which occurs on the secular calendar date of April 7, 2012. Therefore now is a good time to begin moving toward the Rites of Acceptance And Welcome for those who desire initial incorporation into the Catholic Church, are morally free to progress, and have an appropriate marital status in keeping with Church laws. These rites are an occasion of great joy for the whole congregation as inquirers become catechumens and candidates, members of the household of Christ and are warmly embraced by the Church. For those who continue the journey as inquirers, some type of informal reception, perhaps a coffee or a social, is recommended to affirm them as friends or "sympathizers" of the Church. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults number 39). Yes, the time is often "right" and inquirers are often prepared for this step sometime between the end of October and November.

You are here: Home Archived: eNewsletters for Sessions