The Rite of Election March 1 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. Craig Pittelli photo
The Rite of Election March 1 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. Craig Pittelli photo
Annually, on the First Sunday of Lent, Catholic bishops throughout the world celebrate the Rite of Election in their dioceses and archdioceses.  As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I had the privilege of doing so on Sunday, March 1, at the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert in Freehold.

While some Catholics initiated into the Church as children and educated in the Catholic faith and religion do not personally experience this “Rite” and other Catholics may be unfamiliar with it, the Rite of Election is a critically important part of the initiation process for those seeking to be full members of the Catholic Church – called catechumens – after a period of educational preparation and spiritual formation.

Through the parishes in which they have received their training and to which they will belong after Baptism, catechumens gather with parish clergy and those entrusted with their instruction as well as their sponsors (godparents) and families at the Cathedral, Co-Cathedral or other designated church in the presence of the bishop to ask for Baptism at the Easter Vigil. 

The Rite of Election is the liturgical expression of the Catholic Church, with the bishop accepting and choosing (electing) these catechumens for Baptism and full initiation into the Church.  Following the Liturgy of the Word, and supporting testimony proclaimed by parish leaders, their names are enrolled in a special book preserved for this purpose in each parish. The bishop then declares the catechumens present as “the elect,” preparing themselves for receiving the sacraments of initiation at the coming Easter.

There were 166 catechumens and their sponsors who participated in this year’s Rite of Election at the Co-Cathedral on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  They heard the same Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Lent that the baptized faithful heard at weekend Mass throughout the Diocese.  In my homily, I reminded this special congregation that they are making a choice for the Catholic Church and for all that it teaches and believes. They seek to belong to a community of Catholic faith that provides clear and consistent moral guidance for their lives while offering them the means to support their choice in prayer and worship that distinguishes and identifies them as Catholic Christians.

“Ours is not a ‘kinda-sorta’ religion where you decide what you want to believe. It is not a ‘pick and choose’ faith.  No, membership in the Catholic Church is a ‘package deal.’  No one expects you to be theological scholars at this point in your lives.  But the community you are joining does expect you to be faithful witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel through the teachings, worship and practices of the Catholic Church.”

“You have already made your choice.  The Rite of Election in which you are now engaged is about my choosing and accepting you, as your bishop, for the sacraments of initiation and for the Catholic life you have chosen to lead.  The Catholic Church has been bruised and battered in recent years, just as the body of Christ you look at on this Crucifix is bruised and battered.  But his suffering and death brought about his Resurrection as it will for you who will receive in your Catholic faith the very Body of Christ and who will, as a result of your Catholic faith become the Body of Christ in time, in this world.”

From my point of view as Bishop, as one who is called a “Successor of the Apostles,” the Rite of Election continues for the catechumens of our Diocese the apostolic mission of “being chosen” by the Lord Jesus to follow him in lives of faith and loving service.  They become his missionary disciples.  It is one of the most important, most promising, most hope-filled and most beautiful celebrations of the Church year in our Diocese.  I cannot adequately describe what it is like to look out over this gathering of catechumens, their sponsors and families and their teachers and to see the Catholic Church continue to grow in God’s grace.  Together, the Church promises to pray for and support “the elect” as we travel the path of faith for the rest of our lives ... together.  Amen!


Photo Gallery: Rite of Election