Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sunday of Lent
Who can’t relate to the poem “Footprints in the Sand”?
For those who are not familiar with it, it’s a narrative poem about a person – this could be a woman or a man, but since the author is a woman – envisioning her life as a walk along the shoreline. As she looks back, she sees footprints trailing behind her in the sand. Upon realizing that at times there are two sets of footprints following her, at other times only one, she says to our Lord, “During the hardest times there is only one set of footprints! Where were you when I needed you most?” Jesus responds:
“My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
For me, this poem represents what the Scrutinies during Lent are all about: discovering Christ’s presence throughout the journey of our life, especially in the darkest hours, and how he healed our wounds, bore our burdens, and carried us where we could not carry ourselves.
As the word “scrutiny” suggests, the Scrutinies during Lent are a period of deep examination, purification, and enlightenment, meant especially for those preparing for the Sacrament of Baptism. But it is not only for “the Elect,” who are preparing for Baptism. The invitation is for us to search our lives in order to see Jesus walking with us, along the way.
By celebrating the Rite of the Scrutinies, which includes special readings for the occasion, the Church invites us all as a congregation to participate in unique ritual ceremonies chosen particularly for the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent. We are supposed to pray in a special way for the Elect (those who are preparing for baptism) and join them in reflecting on themes found in readings for those days: that is, the mystery of Christ revealing himself in the midst of our very own lives. We’re especially invited to “walk the walk” with Christ and the Elect.
The Gospel readings for the following three Sundays are taken from the Gospel according to St. John (chapters 4, 9, and 11 respectively). These are the ordinary readings for Year A, when we would normally read from the Gospel of St. Matthew. But even during Years B and C, when we normally read from Saints Mark and Luke, parishes will choose the readings from the “Scrutiny” Gospels of Year A, instead of Year B or C, only when those who are preparing to receive the sacrament baptism are present at Mass, and the special rites called “the Scrutinies” are celebrated as well.
If you are fortunate enough to be present at the liturgy during the celebration of the Scrutinies here are 3 ways you can take advantage of this special opportunity, even if you are not receiving the Sacrament of Baptism at the Easter Vigil this year.
3 Ways to Live the Scrutinies
- Pray with and for the Elect to be well prepared to receive Christ’s sanctifying grace through the Sacraments at Easter, as they enter into full communion with Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. Pray that they will open their hearts entirely to Christ and allow him fully into their lives, that he may heal them from the wounds of sin. Offer this prayer for yourself, for the people in your life, and for everyone present at that liturgy as well.
- Allow the Elect to bear witness to you. Through their stepping forward into the mystery of Christ’s healing and love, you may recall the gift of your own call baptism, or envision it if you were too young to remember it, and give thanks to God for all the moments of encounter when he touched, healed, and transformed your life.
- Read and meditate on the Gospel passages for these Scrutinies (the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent) and apply them to your own life. You may ask yourself these questions: When did Jesus enter into my life? How was he present to me, even in the most difficult times, when I may have felt farthest from him? How did he heal me, accompany me, and bring me to where I am, here, today? Where is he calling me now?
Of course, if you are preparing for baptism, then the upcoming liturgies are prepared especially with you in mind. We are with you and we’re praying for you. We’re so proud of you and look forward to your being baptized!
For the next three weeks, we would like to help you intensify your Lenten journey, by sharing our reflection on the beautiful readings that the Church has chosen for the Scrutinies. Leading up to this Sunday – the Third Sunday of Lent – we will meditate first on the connection between the first reading and the Gospel, as we usually do, and then in another post we will focus more closely on the Gospel itself. We invite you to apply the Gospel themes to yourself as you to look back on your life and search for answers to the following questions.
How has Jesus Christ walked with you in your life, even if you did not recognize his presence at the time? How has he touched you and healed you? How has he transformed your life? How is he inviting you to walk with him today?
For our upcoming reflections this week we will use this Sunday’s readings, particularly the Gospel of St. John, chapter 4, which narrates Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.