Saturday, March 22, 2014

No Sympathy for the Devil: The Scrutinies and Sin

My best guess is that the people in the pews this weekend who witness the First Scrutiny - a purification rite for those preparing for baptism - have no idea they are actually witnessing a liturgical exorcism.  The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults states the scrutinies are intended to
....uncover then heal all that is weak, defective or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. These rites therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all. (RCIA 141)
If their preparation has been what the Church desires, the elect have already been "instructed gradually about the mystery of sin." (143).   The explanatory material before the rite continues, mentioning that the elect "have already learned from the Church as their mother the mystery of deliverance from sin by Christ" (144)

Most already-baptized adults in the pews received this kind of instruction on sin in 2nd grade, and perhaps again in 8th grade or high school. At best, the last time they thought about it was when they talked about it again in the context of the preparation for baptism of their children.

Do we really understand what is meant by "the mystery of deliverance of sin by Christ?" "Mystery" is not a word we hear often in relation to sin. Just what does this mean for the catechumens, and for us, the baptized, as we watch the ritual casting out of the demons of sin over the next three weekends?

Remember that those over whom the priest or deacon will pray the Prayer of Exorcism over the next three weeks are not yet baptized, and are therefore subject to the full effects of Original Sin and seduction by the Devil.  At baptism, they will put on Christ and receive the blessing of eternal life and the strength to resist temptation. In the meantime, the exorcism and our prayers will strengthen them in their last days as unbaptized people moving toward baptism. It has been said that the closer a person gets to the font, the more the Devil tries to keep him or her away. The prayers of the scrutinies are designed to combat that.

We are talking about "sin" here - with no "s", not "sins" - which, of course, still are committed after baptism by even the best of us.  "Sin" - the consequence of the Fall of Adam and Eve, condemned us to eternal death. Christ's coming reversed that. And THAT is the mystery. The fullness of this mystery will be revealed at the Easter Vigil, when, during the Exsultet, we sing:
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer.
This is the mystery - that God could bring something wonderful - eternal life - out of the darkness of sin and death. That Christ's rising from the dead conquered Satan, sin and death for all time.

So, this weekend, as the elect come forward to have their demons exorcised, we the baptized should rejoice that we have been saved in Christ by our own baptism and are no longer subject to the full effect of Original Sin. For us, this is part of preparation for our renewal of baptismal promises at Easter, when we will once again reject Satan and his empty promises.

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