In Your Midst


March 2003

In This Issue:
Pat Evans was raised in what she now calls the “Heinz 57” tradition: a little bit of everything while she was growing up. It was not until she began studying art history, and experienced the works of the Renaissance masters—deeply imbued with the Catholic faith, and illuminated for her by a Catholic art history teacher—that she found her way to the Catholic Church. Searching for a Catholic church in Seattle, she discovered St. James on the Internet. When she came to Mass here she felt she had found her spiritual home. Participating in RCIA at St. James has only reinforced this feeling: “It’s made me realize I want to be a part of it forever.”

For Vicki Murphy, who was raised in the Christian Science tradition, there was a different path to the Catholic Church and to St. James. As a music major in college she had visited many of the great cathedrals of Europe. These were for her profound experiences of God and of the Catholic faith. “You can feel God in those places.” She sought out St. James shortly after moving to Seattle and soon saw a notice in the bulletin about the RCIA program. It has been an amazing journey from a background that was “very much not Catholic,” but she loves it, and looks forward to “being a part of it, a part of this community, to belonging.”

Two Cathedral Catechumens: Pat Evans, above; Vicki Murphy, below.

Both Pat and Vicki will receive the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist—with other adults and children at the Easter Vigil on the night of April 19th. No two catechumens are alike, and each has a different story to tell. We hear at the Rite of Acceptance: “You have sought and summoned them in many ways, and they have answered in our presence.” By the time these catechumens are received into the Catholic Church, they will have participated in more than a year of preparation including Wednesday night RCIA meetings, dismissals from Sunday Mass, and a variety of special rites (see sidebar below).

Thirty years ago, the process of initiation for adults into the Catholic Church was quite different. They would have studied the catechism, met a few times with a priest, then come to the church for a quiet weekday baptism. But Pat, Vicki, and their fellow catechumens are enjoying the fruit of the wisdom of Vatican II. “The initiation of adults is the responsibility of all the baptized,” the Church teaches. “The entire community must help the candidates and the catechumens throughout the process of initiation.” At St. James the whole parish witnesses the journey of the catechumens through the rites of initiation and prays for them each Sunday as they are dismissed from the assembly.

While we all have a certain responsibility to help guide the catechumens on their way to oneness in faith, the sponsor fulfills that responsibility in a special way. The sponsor is not only the old-fashioned “godparent,” but a representative of the whole Christian community who quite literally walks with the candidate through the journey of initiation. Andrea Stuber, Pat’s sponsor, says, “We’re there for support primarily: to give a face to the Catholic Church for them. My role isn’t to answer hard questions but to be a friend and a support.” For her the experience of sponsoring Pat has been deeply rewarding. “She came to the faith through art,” Andrea says. “In her heart she was already Catholic. It hasn’t been a struggle for her, but a natural evolution.”

Matt Zemek is sponsoring Vicki. It’s his fourth year with the RCIA program, but he doesn’t find it repetitive. “There are cycles of repetition, but no more so than in the Mass itself. New insights, new angles always emerge. I think that’s the sign of a growing and aware faith.” He likes seeing the faith anew through the eyes of the catechumens. “In Vicki I see that earnest searching, that very genuine desire and hunger for greater meaning and for a sense of place.”

At a Wednesday night RCIA meeting, Pat and Vicki, with their sponsors Matt Zemek and Andrea Stuber, pray and meditate on the scriptures with leader Tom Stratman.

Helen Oesterle, director of religious education and of the RCIA program, says, “The catechumens witness to us in such diverse ways the power of the Holy Spirit still alive and moving in our Church.” It’s important for Catholics, especially those disheartened by scandals in the Church, to see that year after year, the Church is renewed with new members who bring new life to the parish. “RCIA is the heartbeat of the parish,” says Joan McDonell, a member of the RCIA team. “It’s Catholics and future Catholics all learning about their faith together. RCIA gives strong and active Catholics to the parish. All the ministries of St. James are renewed each year by newcomers who have come through RCIA.”

Helen continues: “We as a parish community have not just the responsibility but the privilege of welcoming them, praying for them, encouraging them, and modeling for them what it means to be Catholic Christians.”

The Book of the Elect, with the faces and stories of Pat and Vicki and the others who will receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, is on display in the north aisle throughout Lent. Choose one of the Elect as a “Prayer Partner” to pray for in a special way during this holy season. And keep all the Elect in your prayers as they prepare for this great moment in their lives.

at a glance

RITE of ACCEPTANCE. In this rite, those who have never been baptized state their intention to respond to God's call to follow the way of Christ. They become members of the order of catechumens (a Greek word meaning ‘hearers’).

DISMISSALS. Each Sunday, the catechumens are dismissed following the homily at the 10:00 Mass. With a leader, they go to the Cathedral Rectory where they spend time in meditation and prayer on the readings of the day. This immersion in the word of God is a primary part of their preparation and formation.

RITE of ELECTION. Gathered together in the Cathedral with Archbishop Brunett, Father Ryan, and the catechumens, pastors, and RCIA teams of many other parishes, the catechumens declare their wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through baptism, confirmation, and eucharist, and write their names in the Book of the Elect. This occurs early in Lent. After this point, they are no longer called catechumens, but the Elect.

SCRUTINIES. Celebrated at the 10:00 am Mass on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, the Scrutinies are intended to deliver the Elect from the power of sin, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Through prayers and ritual action, the Elect acknowledge their sinfulness and prepare for their new life in Christ.

The SACRAMENTS of INITIATION. At the Easter Vigil, the Elect receive the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. By baptism, they are received into the royal priesthood of believers; by confirmation, they receive the gift of the holy Spirit, and share in the outpouring of grace that came upon the apostles at Pentecost. They then receive the Eucharist, sharing for the first time in the body and blood of Christ, the heavenly food that strengthens us to carry out Christ's work in our own time and place. For our Elect, the sacraments of initiation are not the end, but the beginning of new lives of faith and service.

Maria Laughlin is the parish receptionist.

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