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RCIA: The Scrutinies

This ancient rite of the Catechumenate for Adults, comprising several distinct steps leading towards a person’s new life of grace by Baptism, was restored by Pope Paul VI. The period of the catechumenate, which is intended as a time of suitable instruction in the faith and the living out of the Christian life, is thus sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals. It is important that these rites be celebrated amidst the entire parish community as we come together to accept and encourage our new brothers and sisters into our ecclesial family.

The 3rd Scrutiny of the Elect was administered Sunday, March 21, 2021 at the 9:00am Mass

What are the Scrutinies?

On the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent, the newly named “Elect” participate in three successive rites called “the Scrutinies.” These rites, with roots dating back to the early Church, take place during the Sunday Mass, and each is thematically linked to the Gospel reading for that Mass. The three passages from St. John’s Gospel for these Sundays were selected around 500 AD as powerful depictions of the hidden transformation God effects in the Elect through each Scrutiny. Each proclamation emphasizes repentance and conversion as the Light of Christ comes to pierce the darkness of sin and to bring life where there is death.

The “Elect” along with their sponsors, kneel before the celebrant and the assembly, who pray for them silently and with a series of intercessions. Culminating in a prayer of cleansing and protection (exorcism) with the laying-on-of-hands, each Scrutiny is a step in preparing the Elect for the celebration and initiation soon to come.

The Scrutinies are God’s way of taking a close, loving look at the Elect. God does not scrutinize the Catechumens in order to find everything that’s wrong with them, but to celebrate all that is beautiful and good and true in them. Jesus “scrutinizes” us with Divine Light, revealing all that is valuable within us. He also reveals to us the ways in which we are hurting, or sick, or sinful. This is not to reject us, but to call us to new life and to healing. These prayers are simply ways of calling on God and trusting in God’s power. not only to affirm what is good within us, but to dispel whatever holds us back or causes us to resist grace and goodness in our lives.

May these Scrutinies call both our Elect and us into the living waters of baptism, to the light of holiness, to a new life in Christ, through His Resurrection.


The Second Scrutiny

Mother Church presents the struggle between Light and darkness in her instruction and encouragement to the Elect through the Second Scrutiny. From the first moment of Creation, when God spoke the word “Light” into the dark void, the Divine illumination has infused ultimate meaning into the visible universe. The account in St. John’s Gospel of the gradual healing of the Man Born Blind is proclaimed to the Elect, as they learn to accept the Light of divine meaning (Logos) into their lives.

Each of the sacraments has a visible sign that imparts invisible grace. What is seen with the natural eye is a mere shadow of the wonders of grace, made visible only to the eye enlightened by faith. Jesus takes the man who has been in natural darkness his whole life and places a mixture of saliva and clay onto those unseeing organs of sight. With the command “Go and wash” the Lord uses these outward signs and words to effect a miracle as the man experiences natural light for the first time.

The more significant miracle, however, is the gradual transformation of the man’s spiritual sight. His faith is tested by the unbelieving religious authorities, who interrogate him, ridicule him, and eventually end up throwing the man out of their assembly. The Lord approaches him. At the moment of healing, this man saw Jesus physically, but now, after bearing the cross of social pressures, he sees Jesus identity more clearly. “‘I do believe Lord’ and he worshipped him” (John 9:38). Calling him “Lord” (Kyrios in Greek), the man proclaims faith in the Son of God, the Word of Light who gives ultimate meaning to life.

We are invited to pray for our beloved Elect in a special way through this Scrutiny. Conscious of the constant struggle between Light and darkness, Mother Church teaches her Elect that the first stirrings of faith they experience will not be without a share already in the Cross; embracing faith means encountering misunderstanding, ridicule and even being rejected. We pray for a renewal of that vision imparted to the Man Born Blind, to be able to see the Divine meaning and purpose implanted in this visible universe and to reject the pull of the powers of Darkness into error, doubt and unbelief.


The Third Scrutiny

Mother Church leads the Elect by means of the Scrutinies to consider stark contrasts: thirst and water (the First Scrutiny with the Samaritan woman); blindness and sight (the Second Scrutiny with the Man Born Blind). The account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45) forms the Third and Final Scrutiny, as our Lord enters the ultimate contrast: from death, he calls forth life.

Our Lord comes to Bethany, near Jerusalem, knowing that his presence there and the miracle he works will lead soon to his own Passion and Death. St. Thomas, ever a realist, says to the others: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

The scene is filled with emotion. When Jesus, the one who came to give us life in abundance, encounters death, he is deeply disturbed and greatly troubled. For four long days Lazarus had lain in the earth—four days, which in the Jewish understanding meant that he had decayed beyond recognition, fully overcome by the power of death. And yet, the one who proclaims to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life,” is not restrained by the decay of death. “Lazarus, come out!”

At the Great Easter Vigil, the Elect will be lead in spirit to the Stational Church of St. John Lateran. The baptismal font attached to that magnificent Basilica is shaped like a tomb. Through this Third Scrutiny the Elect begin their final journey toward the font. There, they will “die with him;” there also they will embrace new life in the risen Christ. May we all, who accompany our brothers and sisters on this journey, renew our faith in the Son of God, who embraced our death, in order, by the power of his Resurrection, to bring us new and eternal life


Attending Mass at SJC
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