Rite of Election a Lenten tradition

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The Rite of Election is celebrated the first week in Lent around the world and is considered one of the most significant evangelical events in any diocese. It's a ceremony of the election of catechumens and a call to continuing conversion of candidates preparing for reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

Catechumens are the non-baptized who receive the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Candidates are baptized Christians, very near full communion with the church, and who will receive the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.

On Holy Saturday, these men and women will be received into the church. It's a journey that starts with an inquiry into the faith, and then the start of the formal process called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

In the Arlington Diocese, the number of catechumens and candidates this year is more than 700, so two ceremonies were planned to accommodate everyone. But with a snowstorm forecast for Feb. 21, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde canceled that evening's Rite of Election ceremony. The Feb. 22 service was held as scheduled with clear skies and warm temperatures greeting catechumens, candidates and their sponsors.

One of the catechumens scheduled for the Feb. 21 ceremony was Wing T. Wong. Wong grew up in Hong Kong, and said that religion was not part of her life. Her mother told her that Jesus came to the world to die for our sins, but said that it was fiction.

When she was 13, her family moved to South Carolina, where she attended the University of South Carolina.

"I had more than enough to focus on: piano, school, SATs (and) family events," said Wong. "Who has time for religion?"

After graduation, she moved to the Washington area for a job.

She heard two co-workers talking about the church they attended and wondered, "Why is everybody going to church, and why are they so persistent that they go to church every Sunday?"

She began researching Christianity and was persuaded to go to a non-denominational church. It was an experience she enjoyed. She worshipped at the church for about three years.

Wong said that everything changed when she met her boyfriend, and sponsor, Jayson Padilla. Padilla was a born and raised Catholic, and religion was part of the conversation early in their relationship. He was a member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, where they both worshipped.

For a while, Wong attended two churches - Blessed Sacrament and the non-denominational church.

Always the researcher, Wong studied Catholicism reading Behold the Mystery: A Deeper Understanding of the Catholic Mass by Mark Hart.

After developing an appreciation for the rituals of the Mass, she went to Mass at Blessed Sacrament exclusively.

After about eight months, she said she had a sudden overwhelming feeling of peace at Mass. She said it was a "lightbulb" moment that happened during the breaking of the bread.

"It dawned on me, that God specifically chose that particular moment at Mass to reveal to me His presence," said Wong.

Wong said at first, her family was not very supportive of her decision to become a Catholic. She talked to her mother about her conversion, and "Now she's ok with it."

Wong was disappointed that snow canceled the Feb. 21 ceremony, because being blessed by the bishop at the Rite of Election would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She also wanted to experience going through this journey with catechumens and candidates from other parishes.

"(I'm) definitely excited and grateful to be in full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil," said Wong. "I have been counting down the number of days until Easter first thing every morning."

Those who attended the Feb. 22 rite were equally pleased.

In his homily, Bishop Loverde welcomed the catechumens and candidates and spoke of the enduring joy of encountering Jesus. The bishop also assured catechumens and candidates that they are all in his prayers.

The catechumens were presented to the bishop by Father Paul F. deLadurantaye, Arlington diocesan secretary for religious education and sacred liturgy. The catechumens stood as the sponsors and congregation affirmed their readiness to be in full communion with the church.

Then the catechumens stated their desire to enter fully into the life of the church.

Representatives from each parish presented the Book of the Elect for the bishop's signature. As sponsors placed their hands on the shoulders of the catechumens, the bishop declared the catechumens members of the elect to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the upcoming Easter Vigil.

Next, Father deLadurantaye called the candidates for confirmation and Eucharist for presentation to the bishop. They stood in place with their sponsors as the bishop asked if they had listened faithfully to instruction, have a deeper appreciation of baptism, reflected on the tradition of the church, and advanced in love and service.

The bishop asked the congregation if they support the testimony of the sponsors and include the candidates in their prayers and reflections.

After affirmative responses, the bishop recognized their desire to convert and invited them to join in the repentance of Lent.

The bishop dismissed the congregation with, "Go in peace, and may the Lord remain with you always."

Lisa Petcoff and Katharine Schulze are catechumens from Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville. Both women were impressed by the reverence of the Catholic Church.

"I'm coming back to His roots - the church," said Schulze.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015