Historically, the roots of the Lenten Season are tied to the final days of intense preparation for catechumens as they near the Easter Sacraments. The Elect, as they are now called, enter into intense preparation for their sacramental initiation into the Church through Baptism, Confirmation and reception of the Eucharist at Easter. This process of preparation, called ‘the catechumenate’ was ritually reinstituted into the Church by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) after centuries of dormancy. Certainly, adults were welcomed into the church prior to this reform, but their preparation and the liturgy that was used, lacked the rich ritual symbolism that we now witness in the restored Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
On the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of the Lenten Season, the catechumens, now called ‘The Elect’ following their call by the Bishop to intense preparation as the completion of their long-awaited journey nears, will hear moving Gospel stories that help to bring out the significance of these days of grace and blessing for them.
On the Third Sunday of Lent in the A cycle, we hear the Gospel from St. John that speaks of the Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The theme of ‘life-giving’ water is highlighted in this beautiful encounter. The Lord who knows the deepest secrets of our heart, senses the ‘thirst’ that this woman has for a reality that will finally bring peace to her searching heart. That search will find its ultimate meaning in the One who speaks with her.
On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, in the story of the healing of the man born blind, the theme of darkness giving way to light presents another important dimension of the Christian journey. The Elect are journeying to the ‘light’ that can never be extinguished. Through the Sacraments of Initiation, they will be ‘enlightened’ by the transformation of their hearts and minds by the light of Christ’s unfailing grace and mercy.
Finally, on the Fifth Sunday of Lent as we near the Great Week, the Gospel story is that of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus and his family, privileged to be called friends of the Lord, dies. His family summon Jesus. Moved by compassion and love, the Lord calls Lazarus from the tomb and commands that ‘he be set free.’ From death to life, we too come forth from the waters of baptism, reborn in grace to take up the mission of Jesus. With St. Paul, we too can now say, “Death where is your sting…” For death has been conquered by the cross of Christ, and the Lord’s rising to new life becomes our ultimate transformation to Glory.