The congregation gathered inside the church as it usually does before Mass. Meanwhile, Julie stood outside the church with her sponsor, waiting for us to come outside to join her, welcome her, and process with her into church. The parishioners met with her outside and enveloped her all around with her at the center -- the effect being that the we brought her into the fold of our parish community literally and metaphorically.
In a few months, she will be confirmed and will receive Holy Communion for the first time in the Catholic Church.
The rite we celebrated today with Julie brings back a great number of memories and emotions for me, as rituals, in part, are meant to do. I was agnostic all my life (nearly atheist at one point), had never been baptized, and in 2005, after lots of contemplation, evaluation of other denominations, and self examination, I made the decision to become Catholic. I was fortunate enough to have as a resource Lu who, I found out some time after she agreed to be my sponsor, had been a School Sister of Notre Dame who taught Latin for many years. (The Holy Spirit clearly was guiding my choices!) She was and is a great blessing to me. I also had and have the benefit of a wonderful pastor, spiritual adviser, and pastoral associate.
One of the most poignant parts of the Rite of Welcome was the signing of the senses. After the procession into the church, Julie stood with her sponsor in front of us all. We all sat down so everyone would be able to see what was happening. My pastor read aloud these words while Julie's sponsor made the sign of the cross over Julie's forehead, eyes, ears, lips, heart, shoulders, hands, feet, and finally, from head to toe over her entire body:
Receive the cross on your forehead as a reminder of your baptism into Christ's saving death and resurrection.As Father spoke these words, my mind easily returned me to the memories of two years ago, when I was recipient of the same ritual. In particular, the signing of the shoulders really touched me because it is a vivid reminder not only of our need to surrender our selves to Christ, but also that Christ is with us at all times.
Receive the sign of the cross on your ears, that you may hear the voice of the Lord.
Receive the sign of the cross on your eyes, that you may see the glory of God.
Receive the sign of the cross on your lips, that you may respond to the word of God.
Receive the sign of the cross over your heart, that Christ may dwell there by faith.
Receive the sign of the cross on your shoulders, that you may bear the gentle yoke of Christ.
Receive the sign of the cross on your hands, that Christ may be known in the work which you do.
Receive the sign of the cross on your feet, that you may walk in the way of Christ.
I sign you with the sign of eternal life, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is the only burden I have ever borne that has made life easier rather than harder.