Rite of Election held despite challenges

Published: February 24, 2021

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and winter weather, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor celebrated the Rite of Election in two parishes Feb. 20-21. Each year, bishops in Catholic dioceses worldwide personally welcome those going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process during this special service held at the beginning of Lent.

The rite was held at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers on Saturday, Feb. 20 and Christ the King Church in Little Rock on Sunday, Feb. 21. Rites scheduled at Blessed Sacrament Church in Jonesboro and St. Edward Church in Texarkana were canceled. Traditionally, both catechumens and candidates have attended in the Rite of Election in the Diocese of Little Rock, but this year only catechumens participated.

Catechumens are those who have not been baptized and are being formed in the Christian faith and life. Candidates are baptized members of other Christian churches who wish to become Catholic. RCIA is offered at the parish level and generally begins in the fall and concludes with full initiation into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass. To learn more, visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In 2020, nearly 600 catechumens and candidates took part in the Rite of Election in Arkansas before all public Masses and celebrations were suspended because of the threat of COVID-19. It is unknown how many of those received the sacraments of initiation when public Masses resumed in May. It was left up to each parish to determine when and how to initiate new Catholics into the Church for safety reasons. 

This year, the names of only 341 catechumens and candidates were submitted to the diocese's Faith Formation Office by parishes leading an RCIA process. Of these, only catechumens took part in the Rite of Election, which accounted for 174 people. With two events canceled and most of the state still dealing with a winter storm, participation was far less than normal.

Father Erik Pohlmeier, diocesan director of faith formation, said it is clear that fewer people have entered the RCIA process this year. At the Christ the King Church in Little Rock, where he serves as pastor, they normally have 50 people go through RCIA, but this year, they have 13. "We didn’t put any limits on it, but that is all we have."

"Most parishes have made changes to how they prepare catechumens and candidates, with more video being used," he said explaining how RCIA sessions have had to change this year. "But, regardless of the limitations, it is clear that God is still working in the lives of his people. The fewer numbers don’t change the fact that God calls people to the deeper intimacy of the sacraments. It still is the privilege of the parishes to learn their stories and walk with them. Their faith is and will continue to enrich the Church."

During the Rite of Election, the bishop declares catechumens ready to receive the sacraments of initiation, which are baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Through this process, they cease to be called catechumens and become known as the "elect" as they are now entering their final period of preparation. To learn more, study the RCIA Steps

Bishop Taylor greeted the catechumens and their sponsors during the service. Normally, he would shake their hands, but bowed instead to maintain a safe physical distance. During his homily, which was based on the Gospel of John 1:35-42, he echoed the question Jesus gave to Andrew and John: "What do you seek?"

"Andrew recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah after spending only a couple of hours with him," he said, addressing the catechumens. "Even today, spending time with Jesus is fundamental for recognizing him and putting our faith in him. And then what does Andrew do next? He brings others to Jesus, beginning with his brother Simon whom Jesus renames Peter, thus giving him a new identity, a new vocation and a new mission in life. And the same is true for you who today become members of the elect; you who seek to enter the Church and thus become a disciple of Jesus today. What are you looking for? Salvation? Whom do you seek? Jesus, our Savior!"

For more information about the RCIA process, read this FAQ, contact a parish near you or call the diocesan Office of Faith Formation at (501) 664-0340.