Sacraments

Scrutiny Rites: A Conscious Act of Serious Faith

March 07, 2007

JAMES SABAK, OFM

    After graduating with my bachelor’s degree I set about the grueling task faced by many post-baccalaureates:  finding a job.  And I, like so many, began sending out resumes to any and all who seemed who showed the barest interest in receiving my credentials for employment.

    A sentence in my cover letter, which I believed set me apart from other applicants, encouraged a prospective employer:  “Scrutinize my resume.”  By this challenge I wished to convey that if you looked closely enough at my qualification you would see that I not only possessed the background necessary for a particular position, but also I possessed the drive and motivation to be successful in it.  After about six or seven hundred attempts at getting this message across…it finally worked!

    Scrutiny, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, means a close, careful, searching examination or inspection.  In many situations, however, when the word is used it can convey a negative connotation, punitive or judgmental, seeking to pick out or find fault with something or someone.  However, when used specifically by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in the context of three crucial periods of prayer immediately prior to the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, the word imparts a more profound meaning.

    As moments of prayer the RCIA Scrutinies resurrect an ancient practice of Christianity dating back to the early centuries of the Church.  Generally at that time professing one’s belief in the God of Jesus Christ was serious business.  If caught by public authorities a professed Christian faced imprisonment and even death.

    So as to guarantee the integrity of the faith and the welfare of the early community new initiates underwent a process of examination and inquiry as to their sincerity and commitment to live this life; a serious commissioning in light of possibly severe consequences.  The community prayed Scrutinies over the candidates for initiation that they, in turn, would not just ever betray the community, but more importantly would be steadfast and courageous witnesses of the faith especially under dire conditions.  Serious business indeed.

    While professing one’s belief in Christianity today may not entail the same ominous consequences, the Scrutinies still pray for the Elect that their commitment to the faith be taken seriously.  In this light, a scrutiny must be understood as a conscious prayer, neither a programmatic formality nor a juridical inquiry, of not only the Elect but also and just as importantly of the assembly gathered with them in prayer.

    Each scrutiny consists of a series of intercessions for the Elect, a hand laying, and a prayer, which itself goes by that most disconcerting of terms – exorcism.  Yet, the Scrutinies pray, in fact, for three of the most fundamental human needs:  openness of heart, true vision, and victory over death.  Furthermore, these prayers are not focused upon a heavenly reward or an otherworldly union, but rather are keenly focused upon life lived in the present, here and now.  The prayers are quite specific in their desire that the Elect come to embrace and live a faith with consequence and significance in their daily lives.

    And in this way the Elect are scrutinized.  The prayers, which the assembly prays over them, affirm not only what makes the Elect worthy to be numbered in the Church, but which also attests their resolve to remain faithful, even in the midst of confusion, doubt, or rejection.  They are prayers of a serious nature, which, in turn, reflect the serious nature of faith.

    However, it is in praying that the assembly itself, gathered to witness to the readiness of those about to join the community, is also scrutinized.  For the Scrutinies serve as poignant reminders to the already baptized of what truly is at stake in believing:  freedom “from vain reliance on self” (First Scrutiny); freedom “from false values that surround and blind” (Second Scrutiny); and freedom “from the death-dealing power of the spirit of evil” (Third Scrutiny).

    In its prayers for the Elect, the assembly makes a conscious act of remembering – remembering just what sort of God is our God.  This is a God who responds to our needs and yearnings:  the need to be understood and accepted, the yearning to see and believe, and the need to find true and lasting meaning in our lives.  In the prayers and gestures of the Scrutiny Rites, the assembly and the Elect together are provided the opportunity to affirm belief in the seriousness of faith and in a God who takes us and our welfare seriously.

Rev. James Sabak, OFM is a doctoral candidate at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

READ OTHER ARTICLES BY JAMES SABAK:

Are you ready for this...?  The Role of Parents in the Rite of Baptism
Rite of Sending: You like me!  You really like ME!
The Easter Vigil and Exodus: The Encounter of a God of Awesome Proportions
The Preparation Rites: Keeping the Holy in Holy Saturday

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