Catechumens and their sponsors line up to sign the book at the Rite of Election during the First Sunday of Lent at the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King in Hamilton. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Hamilton

Easter baptism follows ancient Church tradition

By  Tony Gosgnach, Catholic Register Special
  • March 24, 2016

HAMILTON, Ont. - The practice of Christian Baptism at Easter, preceded by several weeks of instruction, prayer and other rites, dates as far back as the fourth century. In early times, candidates for the Catholic Church, known as catechumens, recited a creed on Holy Saturday to signify the completion of their studies and then, at dawn on Easter morning, were immersed in a font and baptized.

While some things have changed over the centuries, such as moving baptism to the Easter Vigil celebration, the practice remains essentially the same. In the Diocese of Hamilton, more than 120 people have been preparing to be received into the Catholic Church this year.

Christina Ronzio, the diocese’s director of liturgy, said baptism at Easter is a reflection of an individual’s participation in Christ’s dying and rising.

“At the Easter Vigil, we hear St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 6, which says: ‘Do you not know that you, who have been baptized into Christ’s death, share not only in His death, but also in His resurrection? And so you rise to new life with Christ.’ ”

Ronzio described it as “a very powerful experience for these people who have journeyed, sometimes for decades, to this new life. There has been something in them that has said, ‘Something is missing’ and, in that moment, it is very overwhelming for them as they participate in that dying and rising. They themselves are made a new creation.”

Ronzio noted the backgrounds and stories of this year’s catechumens in her diocese are diverse.

“They range in age from eight to 98 years old,” she said.

Some come as children who are in the Catholic school system and have told their parents they wanted to join the Church. That is the case with one family at St. Raphael’s parish in Burlington. Eleven-year-old Holly goes to the local Catholic school and parishioner Patty McConnell says Holly has loved attending school Masses and told her parents that she wanted to receive “the bread of life.” So the three of them entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program and have been looking forward to entering into full communion with the Church.

As Fr. Frank Wagner, St. Raphael’s pastor, remarked in quoting Isaiah 11:6, “And a little child shall lead them.”

Another family met Wagner while he was stationed in Mississauga and was attracted by his homilies, love of God and warm personality. When he was transferred to Burlington, the family followed and entered the RCIA program.

McConnell, who has been sponsoring the mother and daughter in that family, said she silently prayed, as the mother signed her name into a book to become one of the elect, that the catechumen would always be open to the Holy Spirit in her life.

“Tears were falling,” she recalled. “A gift of the Holy Spirit? I have a very good feeling that our family will generously use their gifts and talents in our parish.”

Leorita Staresina, an RCIA team member at St. Francis Xavier parish in Stoney Creek, tells the story of a couple in their 30s who have a son attending a Catholic school. They became interested in joining the Catholic Church after attending several weddings and funerals. Since joining the RCIA program, “They are always the first ones to arrive and participate fully by volunteering answers and asking relevant questions,” said Staresina.

“I believe that this journey has also brought them closer together as a couple and strengthened their marriage.”

These stories don’t surprise Ronzio.

“Different people come to the Church in different circumstances of their lives. Sometimes they come to church with a Catholic and say, ‘Hmmm, there’s something calling me to this community.’ Other times, they’ve been going to Mass for years with a spouse and they say, ‘Now is the time.’ ”

A follow-up for the newcomers will be held April 3, the Second Sunday of Easter, when Bishop Douglas Crosby invites all those initiated and received into full communion to come to the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King. There, they will celebrate the Eucharist with him.

“It is an opportunity for him to join with hundreds of people — when you combine those baptized and confirmed — to come together with him in unity,” said Ronzio.

(Gosgnach is a freelance writer in Hamilton, Ont.)

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