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RCIA: The Scrutinies 2023

This ancient rite of the Catechumenate for Adults, comprising several distinct steps toward 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 to learn and live out the Christian faith, is sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals. It is important that these rites be celebrated among the entire parish community as we come together to accept and encourage our new brothers and sisters into our ecclesial family.

The First Scrutiny of the Elect

Sunday, March 12, 2023 -11:00 a.m. Mass

The Second Scrutiny of the Elect

Sunday, March 19, 2023 – 11:00am Mass

The Third Scrutiny of the Elect

Sunday, March 26, 2023 – 11:00am Mass

On the third, fourth, and fifth 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, each thematically linked to the Gospel reading for that Mass. View photos from the First Scrutiny held Sunday March 12, 2023.

View a selection of the photos below and the full album here.

What are the Scrutinies?

On the third, fourth, and fifth 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, each 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 accomplishes 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 with a series of intercessions. It culminates 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 what’s wrong with them but to celebrate all that’s beautiful, good, and true in them. Jesus “scrutinizes” us with Divine Light, revealing all that is valuable within each of 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.

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 First Scrutiny

This Scrutiny leads the Elect to focus on conversion and on the new life that will begin through the sacraments. In the Gospel, Jesus encounters the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:5-42). Our Lord is the Light who alone is able to examine and scrutinize the hidden places of our hearts. When He encountered the Woman at the Well, she was moved to acknowledge her sinfulness. In the presence of the Divine Physician, she exposed the festering sores of her soul and began to experience healing. So also the Elect are encouraged through the prayers of this rite to open their souls to the Divine Physician, to allow Him to bring light where there is darkness and healing to any and all wounds. The prayers of exorcism, which conclude the ritual, beg God to deliver the Elect from the deceits of the Devil.

Just as Moses once struck the rock with a staff in the desert to quench the thirst of the Israelites, so Christ, the New Moses, promises the Samaritan Woman “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In fact, the New Moses is Himself the spiritual Rock (see 1 Cor 10:4), for blood and water flow from His pierced side as He hangs on the Cross. The twin streams, flowing from that pierced side, are the sources of eternal life, made tangibly accessible through the sacraments.

Tradition gives us the name of the Samaritan Woman as Photina, which means Light Bearer (Lucina in Latin). Soon the Elect will receive the Living Water and will become radiant bearers of the Light of Christ. Let us continue to hold them in prayer during these final weeks of their journey.


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 an 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’s 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 led 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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