By Laura Dobson
Neither the Daytona Beach 500 Race nor the NBA All-Stars Game was the most exciting event in the Diocese of Orlando on February 26, Bishop John Noonan proclaimed. Even the Academy Awards scheduled for that evening in Hollywood paled in comparison to the celebration of the Rite of Election at St. James Cathedral where 553 people had come to celebrate that God had chosen them to be His Elect; God’s adopted children in Christ.
“Today you’re receiving the greatest award,” Bishop Noonan said, “You’re welcoming Jesus Christ into your life. Our relationship with Jesus is important — without a relationship with Jesus we have no direction. Today we welcome you so that on Easter Sunday you will have the joy of Jesus Christ sending you out into the world as his disciples to spread the good news.”
The Rite of Election is the second step in the initiation process for catechumens (the name for the unbaptized who are preparing to become Catholic). It is celebrated at the beginning of Lent and marks the entrance into the intense period of preparation to receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter vigil: Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation.
“This is one of my favorite celebrations of the year. It celebrates what God is doing. God brings us home in the ark of the Church and these are the ones called forward to lead,” said Father Robert Webster, Diocese of Orlando director of liturgy and worship
Before arriving at St. James Cathedral on Feb. 26, the catechumens had already signed their names in the Book of the Elect at their parishes. At the Rite of Election, they witnessed their catechumenate directors process to the altar and present the books to Bishop Noonan who signed his name officially acknowledging their election by God.
The cathedral overflowed with catechumens and their sponsors at two celebrations scheduled at 2 and 3:30 p.m. that day to accommodate them all.
Nancy Filetti, director of initiation at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs stood in the aisle at the pew where her parish was sitting and explained, “I just wanted to tell them I love them — 28 people — 14 catechumens and 14 sponsors — lots of beautiful hearts and beautiful souls. I came through the initiation process in 2006 and I decided this is my ministry and this is my sponsor, Deacon Marshall Gibbs.”
Deacon Gibbs volunteered, “She is absolutely unbelievable and now she’s brought us Bruce Tennenbaum.”
“I’ve been a quietly practicing Catholic — except for communion — for 42 years we’ve been married,” said Tennenbaum who was sitting with his wife Julie. “I reached a point in my life where I wanted a stamp of approval.”
As part of the celebration, sponsors or godparents were called to affirm that the catechumens had indeed been well prepared to receive the sacraments. Bishop Noonan then called the assembly to affirm the witness of the sponsors and to agree to support the catechumens in their preparation. Finally, the catechumens themselves were called upon.
“Do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist?” Bishop Noonan asked.
There followed a resounding, “We do!”
Bishop Noonan joyfully declared. “My dear brothers and sisters, I declare you to be members of the Elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil.”