Tell people they'll face a scrutiny before they can join
your community, and they'll probably say, "Thanks, but no
thanks." Boldly our church expects not one but three scrutinies
of catechumens before their baptism at Easter.
Scrutinies are rites of self-searching and repentance. When
people from another spiritual background seek baptism in the
Catholic Church, they do so by stages. First we accept them into
the order of catechumens. Then as they complete their
catechetical formation we enroll them among the "elect", or those
chosen for baptism. This rite of election generally coincides
with the beginning of Lent. Three times during Lent the church
prays the scrutinies to encourage a spirit of repentance among
those who seek a worthy celebration of baptism.
Although scrutinies have returned fairly recently to
Catholic parishes, they originated early in church history. St.
Ambrose and St. Augustine celebrated them in the fourth and fifth
century to mark the spiritual progress of the catechumens. The
moral preparation of catechumens included prayers of exorcism, to
drive out the spirit of evil which kept them from embracing
Christ as their light. In the scrutinies the church discerned if
those exorcisms had achieved their effect. Catechumens entered
the church, stood barefoot on goatskin, and renounced evil
influences all night. Those unworthy of baptism had to wait
another year for Easter to roll around again.
Today's scrutinies seem less intense. They still include an
exorcism, in which the priest or deacon prays that the spirit of
evil may be replaced by the spirit of good. Their purpose is not
so much to examine the candidates' mental readiness, but their
spiritual readiness. Scrutinies offer the catechumens the
support they need to approach the waters of baptism worthily.
For those who are already baptized, the scrutinies invite us to
embrace the same spirit of self-searching and repentance. At
Easter we renew our baptismal promises as we see the catechumens
baptized. So during Lent we renew our repentance as we see the
catechumens scrutinized. The scrutinies remind us of the
seriousness of our Christian life and inspire us to turn from
evil and pursue good. They enliven our recommitment to Christ at
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This bulletin insert originally appeared in Ministry
& Liturgy, a pastoral planning resource used by the worship leaders
in your parish as an aid for better liturgy. Copyright
© 1996, Resource Publications, Inc. 160 E. Virginia St. #290, San
Jose, CA 95112, (408) 286-8505. This article may not be reproduced in any
form without permission from the publisher. For permission e-mail
Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate
in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.