LITURGY MATTERS: Initiation Matters

At the Vigil Mass at the Cathedral on Saturday night (Jan 30) a young man named Travis celebrated his first communion. I was surprised at how that moment, and our communal acknowledgment of it in the Concluding Rites, lifted my heart and brought a smile to my face.

Initiation matters because along with evangelisation, it is our core busines, the reason we exist as the community of the faithful. Together we have been sent to proclaim the Good News and baptise. We are reminded of that at the end of every Mass when the imperative of all the Dismissals is to ‘GO!’ ‘Get out of here!’ ‘Don’t dally.’ We are fed at the table of Word and Sacrament for the sake of our call to be missionary disciples 24/7.

2020 was a challenging year for all of us for so many reasons. One of the central challenges for the faith community was that we could not pursue half of our core business. We were still able to evangelise, partly through our response to the pandemic: no hoarding of consumables by God’s missionary disciples; no putting self before concern for the wellbeing of the community; opening our hearts and minds to new ways to marking and celebrating God’s presence with us ...

At the same time however, for a large part of 2020 we were not able to initiate people into the community. The preparation and celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation for children were suspended as we marked a fallow year. One of the last public liturgies we celebrated as a diocese before the first lockdown was the Rite of Election. This is a heart lifting celebration where catechumens from across the diocese gather with Bishop Bill and ‘sign up’ for baptism at Easter. From the Rite of Election, they are known as ‘The Elect’.

Alas in 2020 the baptism of The Elect was delayed and delayed and delayed. This was a new experience for all of us and our parish communities had to find ways of staying connected with and holding The Elect until they could be Initiated.     

The good news is that it’s 2021 – Happy New Year! While we are still living with COVID-19 and its associated restrictions, the ministry of Initiation is back in business.

The preparation and celebration of Sacraments of Initiation for children of a pre-catechetical age is resuming. The key question for this aspect of the ministry of Initiation is: what did we learn from our COVID experience and does that help us reimagine our processes of preparation and celebration of the sacraments with children? The Diocesan Liturgy Council prepared a resource to help communities think through these issues and questions. There can be no going back to the way we did things. ‘Going back’ is not a behaviour consistent with discipleship. Then there’s the glaring reality: what we were doing wasn’t working very well anyway! A couple of parishes are well on the way to reimagining the Sacraments of Initiation for children. They are a sign of hope in our midst.

Preparation for the 2021 Rite of Election is well underway. We have had to reimagine this liturgy to ensure everyone remains COVID safe. It is being celebrated as always on the First Sunday of Lent, February 21, at 2.30 pm in the Cathedral. All details are on the flyer

‘What’s all this got to do with me?’ I hear you ask.

One of the things people talk about missing in 2020 is the opportunities to gather for liturgy as a diocesan community. We missed the Catechists’ Mass and most importantly the Chrism Mass. We will continue to miss some of those favourite celebrations this year, including the Catholic Schools Office Called to Serve Mass and the launch of Project Compassion. These events will be marked in new ways.

The blessing of our liturgical gatherings as a diocesan Church is that they remind us that we belong to a community that is larger than our parish or school or apostolic group. They remind us that to be catholic is to celebrate our diversity as the strength at the heart of our unity. They let me hear the loud voice of faith that raises the roof of the Cathedral as we respond in prayer and song with loud voice. I think we all find these occasions to be a ‘shot in the arm’ that renews our commitment and deepens our faith. I’ve missed that.

We are moving forward. I therefore invite you, encourage you, and extoll you not to dally, but to seize the opportunities that are available as we begin to gather as a diocese once again. The Catechists’ Mass and the Rite of Election are both the first weekend of Lent. We will soon begin to reimagine what a COVID safe Chrism Mass will look like.

People who know me and frequently ready Liturgy Matters know that I have dream for the Rite of Election. In a nutshell my dream is that a large community will gather to welcome the new members of ‘The Elect’. My dream is that when they look up, having signed the Book of the Elect on the altar with Bishop Bill, they see a large gathering of the Church of Maitland-Newcastle cheering them on. So please come and cheer and clap and stomp, just don’t sing! I can guarantee your heart will be lifted and your face stretched into a most joyous smile. Even if your community sends your catechumens from the parish Sunday Mass, I invite you still to come to the Rite of Election. There is plenty of room in the Cathedral, even given COVID restrictions. If you are able to come, please RSVP as per the flyer so there is enough afternoon tea for everyone!  

If your parish community is hoping to begin RCIA, the Rite of Election is a wonderful opportunity for a parish excursion to ‘come and see’.

Initiation matters. Initiation is the responsibility of the whole community. Witnessing the initiation of others – their excitement, passion, commitment – just like Travis on Saturday night does me good. I need to be reminded of what a precious gift my baptism is. It is the ground of our great commission to proclaim the Good news and baptise.

Come and see.


Picture: © Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. all rights reserved.

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.