On this Third Sunday of Lent, for many of us the ashy smudge has long since faded from our foreheads and with it some of the initial Lenten enthusiasm. As you look around your community you will see weariness, resignation, the look of, “will this Lent ever end?” The music and the rituals of the Lenten liturgies have become familiar and already it is easier to move through them without thought.
Luckily for us, in come the elect (those seeking to become Catholic on Holy Saturday night), to celebrate the First Scrutiny with us. In parishes with the elect, the Gospel from Cycle A is used and speaks of the woman at the well with her thirst for the living waters of Christ. Those of us who do not have elect, will be using Cycle B in which the Gospel will tell us that “fervor for your house will consume me.”
The elect have been studying, reflecting, praying and asking questions about the Catholic Faith. Now on the Third Sunday of Lent, they stand before us for the first of three scrutinies. A scrutiny is a ritual during which we, the church, along with the elect, pray for a spirit of repentance, an understanding of sin and the desire to live in true freedom as children of God. The godparents of the elect stand with them during the prayer of exorcism. This prayer asks that the elect be delivered from the powers of evil and falsehood and be open to receiving the gifts of the Holy Sprit. The exorcism concludes with the priest imposing his hands on the head of each elect as the community prays for them in silence.
Each year when I talk with elect after a scrutiny, they describe the imposition as a powerful moment. They feel the loving embrace of God and the entire community. In most parishes, the rite concludes with the elect being sent out of our liturgical gathering. At first this might appear cold and unwelcoming on our part, but the elect go knowing they have our support. They are filled with the desire for more God moments of conversion.
Whenever I witness a scrutiny I feel humbled, challenged and encouraged in my own faith journey. Having been raised as a cradle Catholic, I have had it so easy. Sure I have had to make decisions about my faith, but my commitment was never scrutinized by an entire parish community! I did not have to stand before them and ask for their prayers and support. I have never had to leave for the Eucharist because I was not of one faith with everyone else. So if you find your Lenten fervor in need of a boost — hug one of your elect. Their fervor for the faith is bound to rub off on you.
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh. She has a master’s degree in liturgical studies from St. Mary University in Winona, Minn.