Purification and Enlightenment:

The Penitential Rite-

This next phase of my journey is called Purification and Enlightenment. It is meant to be a time of less instruction and catechism study. Instead it is a time to become more spiritually focused. It is a time of self-examination and reflection to allow one to become ready to receive the Eucharist.

During this time, Candidates go through The Penitential Rite, and Catechumens are anointed. The name of this rite sounds scary to non-Catholic ears. It congers many negative images fostered by misconceptions in movies and television and in the general non-Catholic population. However, as usual, the truth is much less ominous and much more loving than what can easily be put in to words. As someone who is seeking to enter fully into the Catholic way of life and the Catholic church, I am already looking at my own failings and shortcomings where I have not lived the way Christ would want. This rite, simply allows the priest and the congregation to pray for me and my fellow Candidates and to show their support during this sensitive time. It also allows us to show our regret for our sins in a public way that we acknowledge our own sinfulness and are truly remorseful.

In other faiths, I have been to alter calls before, usually when I was a guest at a church and they were trying to “save” me by assuming that because I did not claim a religion that I must not have faith in Jesus. At other times, after being worked into an emotion frenzy, I have gone to the alter call simply because I am the kind of person who assumes if there is something wrong I must have done it. Both types of alter calls are in the moment, and while it allows you to get a certain spiritual fix, the feeling usually fades before you can get home. Part of my journey through the RCIA process has taught me that I want something more than a quick fix. I want more than a shot of adrenaline and a session of crying. While catharsis has its place, and certainly the release of one’s burdens can be freeing; the spark never seems to last.

The Church seems to know the fleeting nature of the goosebumps of being blessed at the alter, and yet still recognizes our human need to show our sorrow and to be forgiven, not just by God, but by our friends, neighbors, and faith leaders. Yet, the Church also knows that anyone can be sorry in a moment of weakness and vulnerability. Which is why this is not just another alter call just like the ones in other churches. This is a sanctified, planned, organized ritual that is prepared for well before it happens. This rite is something that the participants and the congregation share. This rite gives the much needed cleansing while keeping with the idea of the end goal is to receive the very body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.

While I cannot speak for others, I was in tears afterward. I am not a overtly emotional person in public. I try to maintain a certain calm demeanor and presence. However, in our small group that meets after all the masses and rites, I was unable to stop crying. It just proved to me once again, that any person who says that Jesus is not the center of the Catholic faith is simply uninformed and is missing out on something that I can only describe as an encounter with heaven.

– A Brother In Christ