Question: During three Sundays of Lent, we have special rites for adults preparing to become Catholics at Easter. 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 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.
The Lenten scrutinies 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, but I choose to keep the Friday abstinence all the time. What say you?
— Name withheld, Punta Gorda, Fla.
Answer: 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 regimen on the matter of fasting and abstaining from meat (or other foods).
Easter Mass obligation
Question: A fellow Catholic told me that going to the Easter Vigil would satisfy the obligation of Easter Sunday Mass. My opinion is that you still have to go to Mass on Easter Sunday. Who is correct?
— T.M.B.,Wheaton, Ill.
Answer: Attendance at the Easter Vigil fulfills the obligation to attend Mass on Easter Sunday. The vigil is the highlight of the celebration of Easter and indeed may be considered the principal liturgy of the Church year. The whole liturgical year leads up to and draws its meaning from the Easter Vigil.
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.