What are scrutinies?

Question: Recently during a Saturday evening Mass, our priest held a ceremony called “scrutinies” for six people. There are to be two more. Can you explain what these scrutinies are? 

— Paul Dupraw, Vancouver, Wash.

Answer: The Second Vatican Council called for the restoration of the adult catechumenate, that is, an extended process of Christian formation for those preparing for entry into the Christian faith. In 1974, the Holy See promulgated the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), which contained a series of rites in preparation for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. In 1988, a second edition was published.  

The baptism and confirmation of adults, and their first reception of the Eucharist, normally takes place at the Easter Vigil. In preparation for these sacraments, a series of preparatory rites are prescribed, among them scrutinies, which normally take place during Mass, after the homily, on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent. The scrutinies are usually celebrated during the same Mass each week; so, it is possible that those who attend other Masses may never have observed them.  

The ritual book for the RCIA describes the scrutinies as follows: “The scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Sundays 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 [those preparing for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist]; to bring out, then strengthen, all that is upright, strong and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all” (No. 141). 

Essentially these rites are composed of prayers of intercession and the laying on of hands so that the Holy Spirit may be invoked and the spirit of evil cast out. They are celebrated purposefully at Mass, so that the whole congregation is given the opportunity to pray for and support those preparing for the Easter sacraments and to make the point that conversion is not only a personal matter but a communal commitment. 

The scrutinies are not merely modern developments, but have their origin in the early Church. In the earlier centuries there were three scrutinies, but eventually the number was increased to seven. From the Middle Ages on, owing to the fact that most of those who received baptism were infants, the scrutinies were reduced in number and scope and were only revived after Vatican II. 

Prayer intentions 

Question: I pray for many people all the time, but my list gets longer and longer. Do I have to remember every intention every time? Is it a problem if I forget people sometimes? 

— Paul A. Foster, Clinton, Md.

Answer: Thankfully, God has a better memory than we do. So when we commend someone to God, we can be sure that he continues to hold all the persons for whom we ever prayed in the palm of his hand, even if our memory fails us sometimes.

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 mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.