In this week’s interview, communication manager David Hazen speaks with Archbishop George J. Lucas about the people who will become new members of the Catholic Church by receiving the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, and our responsibility in response to this gift from God.
Q: As you meet people who are coming into the church as adults, what common themes do you find in their stories? How are they attracted to the church?
Everyone has a different story, of course, but the most common point of attraction is another person. It can be a temptation to take this for granted, but we should not. Jesus asks us to be alert to the possibility of sharing our faith with others, which happens in various ways.
Sometimes there are friendships at work. Sometimes a person is preparing to marry a Catholic, and the attraction of the faith becomes evident through that relationship. Sometimes parents who for whatever reason did not bring their children to the faith when they were young have the opportunity to do so a little later in life. Their example has endured over so many years and their children who are now adults have seen it and have been attracted to it. The Rite of Election is very moving because the one who is being initiated is brought to the church by someone else – not dragged in, of course, but accompanied. This is a concept that Pope Francis keeps offering to us, and we see it very beautifully illustrated in these cases.
Q: We know the Easter Vigil is the high point of the liturgical year. For those being initiated into the church, this may be their first Easter Vigil. What do you hope they experience?
It is a very beautiful liturgy. I am sorry that more people do not get to experience it since it happens late in the evening on Holy Saturday. It is really one of the high points of our liturgical year and I do not tire of celebrating it.
The moment of baptism is always a very powerful moment for me. When baptizing adults, we have the opportunity to use a lot of water, so it is a physical experience for them and the rest of the congregation. My hope is that they have the knowledge and the experience that something really new is happening. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and sacraments of initiation, the man or the woman becomes a new creation. They become at that moment adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father and he claims them as his own. They are incorporated into the communion of saints.
We have at the Easter Vigil a long litany of saints whom we ask for help, protection and accompaniment for the one who is being initiated. We also recall that we are part of this great procession of the baptized. It is a procession of saints that is led by Mary and all those who have gone before us in faith. That litany of saints is very powerful because those whom we mention know fully now what it means to have been baptized, to be brought into the household of faith. They are enjoying the inheritance. So we can imagine, rightly, that they want that for us. So we count on their prayers, and I think we sense that they are with us.
It is similar to the experience of welcoming a new member into the family. When there is a birth or somebody comes in by adoption or by marriage, we’re going to have a new son- or daughter-in-law or brother- or sister-in-law, the family dynamics change. We’re looking them over because we’re hoping this is going to be a change for the better. We’re confident that at the moment at baptism, someone new is coming into the household of faith and into our family. So the church enjoys the benefit of this new member, and that person brings with him or her something the church has never had before because they are a unique manifestation of God’s creative love.
It is a moving time, I hope, for the one being baptized. But it is also a very powerful moment for the rest of us in the church. Something new is happening and none of us will be the same.
Q: We also know that the church asks Christian communities to accompany these new members in the period after their initiation. How should we respond to that instruction?
I think we should take it seriously. I am glad you bring it up. Certain privileges and new realities are offered to the one who is being initiated. Also, certain responsibilities are now theirs as members of the Body of Christ. Likewise, new responsibilities are being placed on all of us who are receiving them into the church. They need to experience being received. They need to experience that in a practical way, because baptism is just the beginning. So, I would invite all of us who are members of parish communities to think about what we are going to do differently as a result of these new members being with us.
We know it does not go well in a family when there is not a loving acceptance of one another. We cannot imagine that those who are being initiated into our parishes and the Catholic Church this Easter will flourish without a loving community surrounding them.
It is important that we don’t look at new members of our parish for what they are going to do for us – as simply more contributing members, or more workers for this project or that project. We hope that if they want to do that, they will feel welcome to do it. But we welcome them for their sake and for God’s sake. It is a sign of God’s favor to them but also to our parish community that we have new members.
Are they going to have friends in the parish? Who will go out of their way to take them out to breakfast, invite them over for coffee? Who is going to take responsibility to see that kind of support is offered to our new members? They cannot have active friendships with 5,000 parishioners, but five to 10 maybe. But who will those people be? Will they experience having to break into a sort of closed association somehow, or is somebody going to open the door that they can walk through for fellowship, for friendship, for prayerful support, for continued learning? There are so many things which are part of parish life, but we have to make sure to welcome those who are joining us at Easter.
Some parishes are very good at this and they take the time for months leading up to Easter to introduce the catechumens and candidates to other members of the parish. It is good that we offer a nice round of applause to welcome them at the Easter Vigil, but what are we saying by that applause? We are happy at that moment, of course, but I hope it is also a sign of commitment to make sure these new members meet the real people in the pews around them, people here who have their own struggles, but who recognize and desire to know those who have been initiated as brothers and sisters in Christ.
I would add that those who come to the church as adults are doing us a favor. That is not their main intention of course. But they are reminding us that baptism is not an event that only happened in the past. It was a singular event, and we have a record of it, but it was the beginning of life in Christ that must continue. The Lord wishes for us to have a deepened experience with him. It is good for us to pay attention to adults who have made the decision at a mature point in life and who often have to make sacrifices in order to take this step. It is a real change for them in terms of the life of grace, but it often affects other relationships that they might have. That has often been the case since the beginning of Christianity. So, something important is being “invested” by them, and that is an investment that we should be making too. They give us good examples and encouragement. All the more reason to welcome them and say, “Thanks be to God for our new members.”