Receiving the Easter Sacraments will be like a homecoming for Crystal Jacobs of Anabel, Missouri.
A member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon, Mrs. Jacobs started attending Mass as a girl in Arizona with her grandmother and aunt.
“I really enjoyed going with them, and I liked the atmosphere and learning about what the Church teaches,” she said.
Mrs. Jacobs, a member of St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, and her son Matthew were among the 72 catechumens and 82 candidates from parishes throughout the diocese who gathered with Bishop W. Shawn McKnight and their godparents and sponsors on Feb. 26 for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.
Held in cathedrals throughout the world on the First Sunday of Lent, this ritual is a significant milestone in the process of preparing to receive the Easter sacraments and become committed, active members of the Catholic Church.
Catechumens, now known as the Elect, are seeking Baptism and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil. Candidates have already been baptized and are seeking full communion with the Church.
Mrs. Jacobs is a catechumen. Her Sunday trips to Mass trailed off sometime during her teen years, possibly when her grandmother’s health started to fail.
“Then, I just continued on with my life,” she recalled.
That changed when she met her husband, Randy, who had been baptized and raised Catholic but was not practicing.
Married in 2008, they moved to Macon County in 2013.
They decided to place their children in Immaculate Conception School in Macon and gradually started coming to Sunday Mass.
“We love the people here,” she said. “We love the atmosphere.”
Their children, Matthew and Colton, now in first and seventh grades, are going to Mass three days a week and learning all about what the Church teaches.
Mrs. Jacobs had been thinking about becoming Catholic for a couple of years. Last fall, Father William Peckman — pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon, St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, St. Patrick Parish in Clarence and the Mission of Sacred Heart in Bevier — mentioned that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) was about to begin.
“Boom! That was my chance!” said Mrs. Jacobs.
She spoke to the priest after Mass, who steered her toward Deacon Lloyd Collins, who coordinates the RCIA for the Macon, Shelbina and Clarence parishes and the Bevier mission.
Deacon Collins gave her the times and dates and invited her to attend.
“My husband is ecstatic about it!” said Mrs. Jacobs. “In fact, everybody I know is happy that I’m doing this.”
Matthew attends the weekly preparation sessions with his mother and hopes to receive Sacraments of Initiation with her at Easter.
“He was a little leery at first,” said Mrs. Jacobs. “But after the first couple of sessions, now he looks forward to it every week.”
Mrs. Jacobs said her fellow parishioners, her mentors in the RCIA and her fellow catechumens and candidates have forged a joyful bond.
“Everyone is very kind and the atmosphere is very welcoming,” she said. “I feel welcomed, not judged.”
This year’s Rite of Election was held in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Columbia, because the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City is closed for renovation.
The candidates and catechumens have been preparing for several months — some for even longer — through RCIA.
The RCIA is a restoration of the catechumenate, the communal process through which people were prepared to become Christian in the early Church.
After listening to the readings and preaching a homily, Bishop McKnight greeted each of the catechumens and candidates individually as their names were called out.
He accepted the catechumens’ names into the Book of the Elect and urged the catechumens and candidates to spend the rest of Lent pursuing repentance and deeper conversion with the support of the Church.
“God is always faithful to those he calls,” the bishop told the catechumens. “Now it is your duty, as it is ours, both to be faithful to Him in return and to strive courageously to reach the fullness of truth, which your election opens up before you.”
In his homily, he said the root of every sin known to mankind comes from “we think we know better than God.”
“This is precisely why the Son of God became one of us: to free us from the enticement and slavery to this inauthentic version of ourselves: we are our best selves when we become who God created us to be!” he stated.
The bishop likened these final weeks of preparation to the 40 days Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert before embarking on His public ministry.
“This period of purification and enlightenment prepares your soul by clearing from it all the enticements and attachments to sin, so that you can open yourselves up completely to the will of God and the gift of His Holy Spirit,” he stated.
He said the entire local Church welcomes the candidates and catechumens and rejoices that they have encountered God in the world in spite of the evils that are present in it.
“We celebrate that you, too, will become another light of Christ in a world so desperately in need of Jesus’s love,” he said. “And we look forward to you experiencing the joy of receiving Holy Communion for the first time at this Easter Vigil.”
Surrounded by friends
Dakota Williams, a member of Ss. Peter & Paul Parish in Boonville, said taking part in the Rite of Election with people from all over the diocese was an uplifting experience.
“It really makes me feel great about what I’m becoming in the faith and how far along God has led me,” said Mr. Williams, who hopes to be baptized at Easter. “It’s just kind of nice seeing how far I’ve come.
Some friends “who are now like family” introduced him to the Catholic Church, “and it’s really opened me up to new views about the faith,” he said.
He’s looking forward to these final weeks of preparation and to the Easter Vigil.
“I’m sure it will be a great time and I’ll be glad to be baptized,” he said.
His parents are happy for him, and he’s convinced that God has been guiding him through this process and will continue to do so.
“I just love what Jesus and God brings to me and I love the people who surround me when I’m around the Church and faith,” he stated.
He asked for prayers for safe travels and for good health and wellbeing for everyone involved.
“On this rock”
Logan D. Munford, age 14, enjoyed taking part in the Rite of Election, with rituals linked to the earliest days of the Church.
“It’s rooted in tradition,” he said. “It’s really scriptural, what the bishop says and does.”
Logan is clear about why he’s becoming Catholic.
“Because it’s the Church that Jesus Christ established,” said Logan, a member of St. Brendan Parish in Mexico.
He’s certain of that “because he told St. Peter that ‘On this rock, I will build my Church,’ and the Church became,” he said.
This understanding came from a great deal of study — “through reading the Bible and reading things online about it,” he said.
“I was curious, because I’d never been to a Catholic church, and I was wondering about why they do the things they do,” he stated.
He started by going to Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Latin, “because that’s what made me interested in it,” he said. “And a lot of my friends thought that was interesting and they wanted to go, too.”
He hopes his commitment to becoming Catholic gives clear witness to his friends, some of whom are Catholic “but aren’t very invested in it.”
His parents are very supportive of his decision.
Gathering with other catechumens and candidates in his parish is helping him learn and understand even more about the universal truth the Church upholds.
“It’s fun, because I get to learn about the Church and meet other people who are becoming Catholic,” he said.
He asked for prayers “for everyone to be able to understand the faith and what’s going on at Mass and what the Eucharist is.”
Namely, “That Jesus is present in the Eucharist. It’s not a symbol,” he said.
All Catholics are encouraged to keep the candidates and catechumens in prayer through these last, most intense weeks of preparation before they’re received into full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil.
The symbols of fire, light, water, oil, bread and wine will be highlighted in a Liturgy filled with some of the Church’s richest traditions and rituals.
Neophytes, as newly initiated members of the Church are known after the Easter Vigil, will continue meeting regularly through Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after Easter.
That phase, called Mystagogia, is a time to “savor the mystery” of Easter and to experience a full and joyful welcome into the community.
Mrs. Jacobs asked for prayers that her children will continue practicing their faith and following the teachings of the Church into and through adulthood.
She knows that a good childhood experience helps.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been to that church in Arizona,” she said. “But I remember that it was good.”