On the weekend of March 4-5, which was the first weekend of Lent, 319 people from 62 places (61 parishes and the Eastern Illinois University Newman Center) came to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to take part in the Rite of Election of Catechumens and of the Call to Continuing Conversion of Baptized Catholics. They were accompanied by the priests, deacons, sponsors, godparents, families and friends who traveled with them.
Since the Cathedral isn’t large enough to hold all the people scheduled to come to the see city that weekend, people from Springfield and the immediate surrounding areas took part in the Saturday evening liturgy, while those who reside more than 50 miles away were there on Sunday afternoon.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki welcomed the visitors, and as many of them had never before been inside the Cathedral, gave a brief catechetical instruction about the building. The Cathedral, he said, gets its name from the cathedra chair, which is the symbol of a bishop’s teaching authority in the church.
In his homily, Bishop Paprocki said, “Our gathering today in this Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a poignant reminder to us of our having been chosen by God. Out of the depths of his great love and the favor of his generous grace, he has called each one of us, in the first place, to repentance and, in the second place, ‘to go out and bear fruit that will last.’”
Bishop Paprocki spoke about sainted people whom the Lord God likewise called and then focused on the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Peter and St. Paul. The lasting fruit produced by Mary, he said, is “her maternal concern for us, her spiritual sons and daughters, and the witness of her faithful love of her Son. … if we ask her, Mary can teach us to maintain such constant and faithful friendship with her Son.”
Of the martyrs St. Peter and St. Paul, he said, “The fruit of St. Peter is both the office of the Bishop of Rome passed on to his successors, now Pope Francis, and the example of his weeping over his sins that led to a deepening of his friendship with Jesus. The fruit of St. Paul is both the example of his tireless preaching of ‘the message of truth’ to all people, the message of our sin and our salvation in Christ, and the power of his written words telling us how to maintain our friendship with Christ.”
In speaking of the upcoming diocesan synod, he said, “Because you, dear catechumens and candidates, are now filled with the fervor of the faith and of friendship with Jesus, it will be important for us to hear your voices and to learn from your experiences of the call to friendship with the Lord. I urge you, then, to take part as fully as possible in the work of this synod so that we might happily put into practice all that the Lord has commanded us.”
He concluded his homily saying, “Let us pray, dear brothers and sisters, that throughout these days of Lent and the coming synod, the Lord will stir up within our hearts a renewed desire for his friendship and a sincere sorrow for our sins.
“Let us pray, also, that our heavenly patroness, the Immaculate Conception, as well as St. Peter and St. Paul, will help us, through their intercession, to go out and bear fruit that will last, each according to the circumstances of our lives. By tasting this fruit, may many more people know they have been chosen by God to enter into his friendship and respond, as you catechumens and candidates, have done.”
During these weekend liturgies, in which the assemblies participate, Bishop Paprocki ratified the enrollment of the names of the catechumens in the parishes’ Book of the Elect. From now until they are baptized, these individuals are known as “the elect.”
Bishop Paprocki then blessed the holy water in the Cathedral baptismal font and recognized those baptized candidates who will complete their Christian initiation.
Now that the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion has taken place, nothing stands in the way of these people becoming Catholic. For them — as it should be for all Catholics — Lent is a time for purification and enlightenment. It is a time when the elect and the candidates and the people in the parishes will focus on conversion and reflect on their decision to join the Catholic Church.
Even though they gathered in the Cathedral for these weekend liturgies, the elect and candidates will become full members of the church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at their own parishes during the Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 15.