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CHESTNUT HILL -- As at other parishes throughout the archdiocese, those preparing to enter the Church at Easter gathered at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Chestnut Hill to participate in the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion on Feb. 21, the first Sunday of Lent.
That day, the future Catholics joined a virtual gathering with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, at which the cardinal addressed catechumens and candidates.
The Rite of Election for catechumens -- those who have never been baptized -- and the Call to Continual Conversion for candidates -- those who are Christian but not Catholic -- are some of the last steps of preparation for entry into the Catholic Church. Traditionally, the cardinal would preside over these ceremonies for all catechumens and candidates together at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. This year, due to limits on the size of gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, parishes held these ceremonies separately.
St. Ignatius of Loyola Church held their Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion during their live-streamed Sunday Mass, which would not usually have any of the faithful physically present. The only attendees were the catechumens with their godparents and the candidates with their sponsors.
"We very specifically chose our livestream Mass because it doesn't have a community in it, because it gave us more room to spread out, but it also gets it out to more people than we might have normally at a Mass," Boston College Campus Minister Ellen Modica said after the event.
She has worked in catechesis for decades -- sometimes at the college, sometimes in the parish, and sometimes in both at once. This year, she ran the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program for people from both communities. In the first semester, they met in person, but in the second semester, their numbers grew to the point that they transitioned to meeting through Zoom.
Modica said the biggest difference this year is not having the full community present to support the catechumens and candidates.
"Part of these rituals is to have people praying over them. And there's not that many people here," she said.
The celebrant at the Mass was Father Joe Costantino, S.J., the pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish.
After the Liturgy of the Word, Modica called the five catechumens and their godparents forward for the Rite of Election. Father Costantino questioned the godparents, who affirmed the catechumens' readiness to become Catholic. The catechumens expressed their desire to enter fully into the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist. They each signed their names in the Book of the Elect. Father Costantino then declared them members of the elect, to be initiated into the Church and participate in the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
Next, Modica called the three candidates forward with their sponsors for the Call to Continuing Conversion. Father Costantino questioned the sponsors, who affirmed that the candidates had come to a deeper appreciation of their baptism, reflected on the tradition of the Church, joined other Catholics in prayer, and advanced in a life of service. He recognized their desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and invited them to join in the repentant spirit of Lent and be faithful to the covenant of their baptism.
During each of these rites, Father Costantino asked all those present or watching the livestream to support the catechumens' and candidates' testimony and include them in their prayers. Afterwards, he jokingly said that they were all smiling under their masks.
One of the Elects was Ivy DiBiase, a Boston College undergraduate student from Portland, Maine. In an email to The Pilot, she said she decided to go through RCIA for two reasons: her grandparents were Catholic, and she wanted to carry on their traditions; and she has had "wonderful experiences," learning about Christianity in college. The first of these, she said, was in her freshman year, when her classmates invited her to attend a candlelit Mass.
"Now, three years later, one of my close friends who introduced me to (the candlelit Masses) is my sponsor, so it really came full circle," DiBiase said.
She said that during the Mass, "I was comfortable and proud while taking part in the ceremony, as opposed to the previous sensation of being a cautious observer."
Another of the newly Elect was Evan Richard, a 28-year-old engineer who lives near the parish and college. Speaking to The Pilot after the Mass, he said that he has always believed in God, but his actions did not always reflect his beliefs. He had been reflecting on this for some years before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
"They say world crises increase religiosity in people a lot, and I think that was the same for me. It was a lot of forced reflection, a lot of forced time alone with my thoughts. And that was when I finally had the courage to say, 'OK, I'm going to sign up for these courses, the RCIA class. I'm going to participate in this religion that my culture is so steeped in,'" he said.
Later that same day, 160 of those preparing to enter the Church and those supporting them in their journey joined Cardinal O'Malley in a virtual gathering via Zoom. During this event, pastors and catechists from across the archdiocese read the names of their parish's catechumens.
Speaking from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the cardinal told those preparing for initiation, "You new Catholics are God's gift to us. We rejoice and give thanks that you're responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to join our Church."
He spoke about the Mass readings for that Sunday, which included the story of Noah in the ark. He said the story of the flood is a metaphor for the Church.
"Despite all of the challenges that we face, the Church is Christ's plan for mankind's salvation. And although it's sometimes a rough ride, Christ has promised that he would be with us always," Cardinal O'Malley said.
He said that the flood "prefigures baptism, which saves you now, and a new humanity emerges." He called Lent a "baptismal retreat" for those preparing to profess their faith and "a reminder to all of us to renew our own baptismal life of discipleship."
"We thank God for your presence among us, and we rejoice as we accompany you during this Lent on this baptismal retreat, preparing us for the day when you will make your baptismal promises and we, together with you, will renew our own," Cardinal O'Malley said.