Rite of Sending: You like me! You really like ME!

March 07, 2007


    At the 57th Academy Awards, the actress Sally Field gushed this memorable statement as she clutched the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of cotton farmer Edna Spalding in the film, Places in the Heart. As Ms. Field would further elaborate in her acceptance speech, the award not only ratified her achievement, but also it manifested the respect, in which she had hoped her peers held her as an actress.

    While not moving too far afield, I believe an interesting parallel exists between Ms. Field’s reaction to winning an Oscar and the expectations and values expressed for catechumens and candidates in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults’ (RCIA) Rite of Sending.

    The text of the RCIA in its table of contents lists the Rite of Sending to the Bishop as an “optional” rite.  Some interpret this “optional” designation to mean that the rite is merely a precursory or a perfunctory parochial act prior to the more formal and significant episcopal celebration of the Rite of Election.  “The catechumens and candidates have to go to the Bishop for this rite, so why not ship them off with a little style?”

    Unfortunately, acknowledging the Rite of Sending as either at best a formality or at worse mechanical looses sight of the powerful statement, which this rite conveys.  For it communicates in a very profound way what the RCIA process essentially is: neither the responsibility of a group nor of a committee, but rather a process, which concerns the whole Church.

    This reality is expressed first at the Rite of Acceptance.  In the Rite of Acceptance, at which the text specifically states that the entire Christian community be present, this same community is asked if it will support through prayer and encouragement the growth in faith of those asking to be received into the Church.

    During the Period of the Catechumenate, therefore, the parish community is led to grasp itself as a principal conduit of evangelization and conversion for these individuals.  It should “get to know them” and their unique faith stories,” “get to appreciate them” for the witness of the Spirit’s work they offer, and, ideally, “get to like them” simply as an expression of Christian hospitality and welcome.

    The Rite of Sending is not just the logical progression of this welcome.  It is more the affirmation and proclamation that the Spirit’s work has been fruitful and vibrant in the midst of the community:  “These are people in whom we are confident the Spirit is at work.”

    Through the Rite of Sending, the Church says to the catechumens and candidates, in effect, “we do really like you,” and not only because of who you are, but more importantly because of what you represent of “the power of God shining through human weakness;” a power, which continues to build up the Body of Christ.

    The Church “sends” these people to the bishop, to the chief shepherd of the local church to be numbered among those who have heard God’s call and who are not afraid to respond, “Yes!”  The Church sends them in recognition of doing its job:  not looking inwardly at itself, but looking always outward, engaging in that great work of evangelization, sowing the seed of conversion where it still needs to be planted!

    And the parish “sends” its catechumens and candidates in a fashion befitting so pivotal a moment in the conversion of these individuals.   As in the Rite of Acceptance, the catechumens are called forth again to stand before the assembly, the body, which has nurtured their acceptance of the gospel.  They state again their names as they did at the Rite of Acceptance, however, on this occasion the catechumens are also asked to write down this name.  In essence, “signing” their name – a legal action, which binds them, not in a contractual, but rather in a covenantal sense – that most biblical and wonderful description of the relationship believers are called to have with God and with each other.

    The catechumens sign their names in the Book of the Elect, which is symbolic of that great book written about in Revelation wherein are listed those with courage to proclaim their faith in God.  They sign the name given to them at birth, the name by which they have been known “in the world,” and the name used by God to call them into relationship and into deeper faith.  It is the same name by which they will be known in the Church.

    In a dynamic way the Rite of Sending reaffirms one of the fundamental tenants of this sacramental world – that all of creation is one, not as some believe divided into secular and sacred spheres.  This “one world” is the world wherein God walks, calling us into relationship just as we are, and when we have the courage to respond, “yes,” to that call, God unlocks insights about ourselves greater than we could ever imagine.

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


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