The ‘Scrutinies:’ What’s next for our catechumens?

The Rite of Election, held February 26 at St. Augustine Cathedral, was a blessed event. The Cathedral was filled to capacity with catechumens, candidates, sponsors, RCIA Coordinators, pastors, and other members of clergy who have been supporting those on this important journey.

Over the next three weeks, we introduce the Scrutinies to those who are now among the Elect.

What are the Scrutinies? On the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent, the newly named “Elect” participate in three successive rites called “The Scrutinies.” These rites, with roots dating back to the early Church, take place during the Sunday Mass, each thematically linked to the Gospel reading for that Mass.

The three passages from St. John’s Gospel for these Sundays were selected around 500 AD as powerful depictions of the hidden transformation God accomplishes in the Elect through each Scrutiny. Each proclamation emphasizes repentance and conversion as the Light of Christ comes to pierce the darkness of sin and to bring life where there is death.

The Elect, along with their sponsors, kneel before the celebrant and the assembly, who pray for them silently with a series of intercessions. It culminates in a prayer of cleansing and protection (exorcism) with the laying-on-of-hands.

Each Scrutiny is a step in preparing the Elect for the celebration and initiation soon to come and should be celebrated publicly at your parish.

Ordinarily, children under seven who have been preparing for full communion at the Vigil do not participate in the Scrutinies. Instead, they participate in a penitential rite specific to them.

The adaptation of the scrutiny rites for child catechumens is confusing (RCIA 291). Instead of clearly labeling the rites as scrutinies, they are called “Penitential Rites (Scutinies).” And even though the title is plural, only one text is given with an instruction to write your own for a second, using the given text as a model. Nothing is said about a third scrutiny for children.

There are nine readings listed as options for the liturgy of the word and, although the traditional Johannine gospels are listed among them, there is no requirement that they be used and no emphasis in the rite on the progressive nature of these three traditional scrutiny gospels.

Most parishes that have child catechumens simply include the children in the regular scrutinies with the adults. If the liturgy is celebrated well, it is as meaningful for the children as it is for the adults.

The Scrutinies are God’s way of taking a close, loving look at the Elect. God does not scrutinize the catechumens in order to find what’s wrong with them but to celebrate all that’s beautiful, good, and true in them. Jesus “scrutinizes” us with Divine Light, revealing all that is valuable within each of us.

May these Scrutinies call both our Elect and the rest of us into the living waters of baptism, to the light of holiness, to a new life in Christ, through his Resurrection.

More information about the five steps of the Rite of Christian Initiation process can be found by visiting