LITURGY MATTERS: Journeying from the Cradle to the Cross – The Rite of Election and Lent

We used to say, ‘time marches on’! These days it feels like time hurtles on. Like many I can’t believe we are into February, school has started, we are on the cusp of Lent, and it is time to invite you to the ‘Rite of Election’.

For Christians of all varieties, the unfolding of time over a year is more than the passing of days in which we juggle the many demands on our time – joyful and challenging, deadlines and celebrations. For Christians, time is a gift inviting us to journey more deeply into the very life of God. Time is an invitation to open our eyes, hearts and minds to the presence of God in all of creation, in all people and in all the events of our lives. Time is a call to respond to the experience of God’s love by being that love in the world – by loving self, neighbour, God and creation. Our neighbourhoods, our country and our world need Christians to undertake this journey with intent, to ‘spend’ time wisely, and to become the best Christians we possibly can. Just look at the news to see how great this need is!

One of my favourite images for this journey through time is captured in Tony Alonso’s hymn From the Cradle to the Cross. You might like to listen to it by clicking on that song title link. Understood as a journey into the love of God, our annual journey from our celebration of the cradle at Christmas to our celebration of the cross and resurrection at Easter is time to be spent engaging in God’s work, taken up by Jesus and continued now by us. The hymn captures this imperative as it reimagines the baby’s cries from the cradle as our adult Christian cries for peace and compassion. What would you add? What are the Christian cries needed in our world today? Cries for justice, forgiveness, respect, truth, attentive presence and listening … to name some of many possibilities.

This Christian imperative brings me to Lent. To make the journey from the cradle to the cross we need support, nourishment and loving critique if we are to stay the course and keep on target. Lent helps us, inviting us to slow down and to spend time in prayer, fasting and works of charity. I shall leave it to Pope Francis to expand on the rich meaning of Lent in his 2024 Lenten Message: Through the Desert God Leads us to Freedom.  It is a beautiful message worthy of our time and reflection.

The six-week journey of Lent has its own inbuilt markers. We begin with Ash Wednesday which issues a stark invitation to repent and believe in the Gospel. On the First Sunday of Lent, the Catholic Church celebrates the Rite of Election, a gathering of the whole diocesan Church with Bishop Michael Kennedy to witness and support those catechumens from the parishes across the diocese who have discerned their readiness for Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist. I find it to be one of our most beautiful and moving liturgies. To see the joy on the faces of the catechumens as they are presented to Bishop Michael and declare their readiness for Initiation inspires me to reflect on and renew my own baptismal commitment. Such reflection and renewal is the business of Lent and the intent and purpose the season’s penitential flavour.

Like the Chrism Mass, the Rite of Election is one of the key liturgies that invites us to move out of our local parish and to gather as the Church of Maitland-Newcastle.

At the beginning of the Rite of Election Bishop Michael will say to the whole community:

My dear friends, these catechumens have asked to be initiated into the sacramental life of the Church this Easter. Those who know them have judged them to be sincere in their desire. During the period of their preparation they have listened to the word of Christ and endeavoured to follow his commands; they have shared the company of their Christian brothers and sisters and joined with them in prayer.

And so I announce to all of you here that our community has decided to call them to the sacraments.

Even a cursory read of this text reveals that the Rite of Election presumes a large gathering of the faithful to welcome these catechumens as they become ‘the Elect of God.’ Bishop Michael does not welcome the catechumens himself. He does not call them himself. He speaks in the name of the Church of Maitland-Newcastle which is presumably there in numbers. ‘I announce to all of you here that our community …’

Some people involved in the ministry of Christian Initiation in our diocese know that I have a long-held dream for a full cathedral for the Rite of Election. I dream that when the catechumens move into the sanctuary to meet Bishop Michael and sign the ‘Book of the Elect,’ they will look out to see a church full of smiling faces cheering for them.

In our diocese, we will celebrate the Rite of Election on Sunday 18 February at 2.30pm in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, 841 Hunter St, Newcastle West.

I extend an invitation to all the faithful from every parish whether or not you have catechumens. If you are pondering what you might ‘do’ or ‘take up’ for Lent, I recommend coming to the Rite of Election. If you do, the Lenten part of your journey from the cradle to the cross will be off to a good start.   

This will be Bishop Michael’s first Rite of Election with us. Let’s show up to add our presence and voice to his as together we welcome and pray for our catechumens. The world needs us to show up and participate in liturgies that make us authentic Christian disciples known in the world for our love and our work for peace and justice. 

In addition to the hymn and Pope Francis’ message already noted, you may find the following helpful as you discern how you will spend your time this Lent.

Diocesan Liturgy Council Update

To keep abreast of the work of the Diocesan Liturgy Council you can review the Report published on the website after each meeting.


Image: Photo by Steve Hruza on Unsplash

Excerpts from the English translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults © 1985, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.

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Louise Gannon rsj

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