Question: During three Sundays of Lent, we had special rites for adults preparing to become Catholics at Easter. I had never seen them before. Can you explain what they are, and if they are official rites of the Church or just made up?
-- Name withheld, Salt Lake City, Utah
Answer: The rites to which you refer are called "scrutinies," and they are indeed official rites of the Church. Inspired by the practice of the ancient Church, they have their modern origins in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), published by the Holy See after the Second Vatican Council.
As with many things in life, what you see is what you get. This applies in a certain way to the rites of the Church. They do not have hidden or esoteric meanings; if one watches and listens, the meaning becomes fairly clear. This is true of the Lenten scrutinies. They are essentially special prayers of intercession for those preparing to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. The rites are accompanied by exorcisms -- not the dramatic kind we associate with horror movies, but simple prayers that the spirit of evil may be cast out as the Holy Spirit is invoked.
The official documentation introducing these rites contains this explanation: "The scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Sundays [of Lent] and are reinforced by an exorcism, are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect [the candidates for baptism]; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good" (RCIA, No. 141).
The RCIA is still somewhat unfamiliar to many Catholics. Its language may seem strange. However, I assume that pastors will, over time, work to render it more understandable.
Question: I know that Catholics no longer have to abstain from meat on all the Fridays of the year -- only during Lent. I choose to keep the Friday abstinence all the time, but everyone thinks I am just a weirdo. What say you?
-- Shirley Byrne, Punta Gorda, Fla.
Answer: Abstaining from meat on Fridays certainly does not make one a weirdo. I commend you for holding on to a venerable practice at a time when the general idea of fasting and abstaining in the matter of food has slipped considerably.
One of the aims of the general reforms that came after the Second Vatican Council was to ensure that people were not following Church practices in a merely outward way, without attention to interior meanings and dispositions. As a result, many things were considerably deregulated and left to individual choice.
I would encourage every Catholic to think about developing a personal regimen on the matter of fasting and abstaining from meat (or other foods). I cannot hold myself up as a great example, but your letter makes me think about it.
Reading at Mass
Question: I think I have a good reading voice, and my husband thinks that I should offer my services to my parish as a reader at Mass. Does this take special qualifications?
-- Name and address withheld
Answer: The qualifications for becoming a liturgical reader are simple: baptism, a virtuous Christian life and a good voice for public proclamation. Too many readers have the first and second of these but lack the third. The results for the liturgy and the people listening are problematic.
If I were you, I would offer your services to the person who oversees liturgical reading in your parish, but ask him or her to give you an honest evaluation first.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.