Hundreds prepare for sacraments at the Easter Vigil - Catholic Courier

Hundreds prepare for sacraments at the Easter Vigil

Andrew MacGowan of Brighton said he had a profound experience as a young man that led him to the Catholic Church. Now a longtime worshipper at St. Mary Parish in Rochester, he had missed sacraments, including baptism, and was not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

At 54 — better late than never, he said — MacGowan decided to enter the catechumenate at St. Mary’s to prepare to receive the sacraments he had missed. He said he was motivated by his wife, Lorraine, and his young children: Gabe, 12, and Theo, 10.

Feb. 10, MacGowan spent a Sunday afternoon at Sacred Heart Cathedral participating in the Rite of Election of Catechumens, publicly enrolling his name among the elect who will be officially initiated into the church during the Easter Vigil. At this time, he will receive the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and confirmation.

This year, 78 parishes throughout the diocese have 254 candidates (people who were baptized in Catholic or recognized Protestant rites but who never received first Eucharist and/or confirmation) and 197 catechumens (people have never been baptized), according to Mary Dundas, diocesan coordinator of evangelization and sacramental catechesis. Those totals include 60 catechumens and 48 candidates who are children, she said.

MacGowan said he could not ask for more from his experience in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the norms and rituals for people who wish to join the church. He noted that he has gained a deep understanding of the Catholic Church, and that he has appreciated the depth of theological understanding sponsors and participants brought to the catechumenate program.

“Unless you have been through it, you can’t fully appreciate it,” he remarked.

MacGowan encouraged all who have lost touch with the church to give it another try.

“Those who have fallen away from the church have no idea of the revolution in church since Vatican II,” MacGowan said. “Those who have been away from the church really owe it to themselves to take a look.”

MacGowan’s evangelizing spirit is one of the gifts that catechumens and candidates bring to the Catholic Church, Dundas said.

“They bring a witness to their faith and an enthusiasm about finding a community of faith,” she said.

Dundas said the enthusiasm of candidates and catechumens makes her look again at what she believes and whether she treasures her beliefs as much as she ought to. She said candidates, catechumens and the wider church — through the RCIA process or through the diocesan Spirit Alive! spiritual renewal — should look at the gifts they have and recognize them as something special.

“(Candidates and catechumens) become closer to the mission that we’ve all been sent on as baptized Christians to take what we know to those around us,” Dundas said.

The faith-formation teams working with candidates and catechumens also are extremely engaged by the catechetical journey, Dundas said, noting however that one goal of those in faith formation is to get all other parishioners to feel that engagement.

“There’s always a struggle to include the wider assembly in that enthusiasm,” Dundas remarked.

Among the RCIA-related events open to the wider church were the annual Rites of Election, which took place at Sacred Heart Cathedral Feb. 10, St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua Feb. 13 and Church of St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads Feb. 17. During these ceremonies, catechumens signed their names in the Book of Elect and then were greeted by Bishop Matthew H. Clark. Candidates also were identified and greeted by the bishop.

“This is a wonderful day for our church, for all parishioners here today presenting for election those who have heard God’s call and who have responded,” Bishop Clark said, speaking at one of the Rites services at Sacred Heart Cathedral Feb. 10.

We also are being called to do the Lord’s will, and we all share in Christ’s suffering, he noted.

“We need to be careful that we do not look at this as something past, but rather that we see it as our call as well,” Bishop Clark said.

After the Feb. 10 ceremony at the cathedral, candidates and catechumens reflected on why they wanted to join the Catholic Church and what lessons they have learned over the past year.

“I heard about it from my friends who did it the year before, so I decided it was something I should do,” said Heather Lonardo, a catechumen who attends Church of the Assumption and is a freshman at Minerva DeLand School, both in Fairport.

Heather said she was interested to learn that the Catholic Church celebrates seven sacraments. Her father, Joe Lonardo, who was raised Catholic, said his daughter had covered a large body of work since she began RCIA in September.

Geunyoung Yoon, a catechumen who is a professor at the University of Rochester and a member of the Korean Community at Rochester’s St. Anne Parish, said his main motivation for pursuing full communion with the church was his family.

“They have been waiting for me to be baptized for the last 10 years,” Yoon said. “I started last year, and I am almost done.”

Yoon said the past year’s study has helped him enhance his faith.

“This is a new opportunity to get closer to Christ,” he said.

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