On the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent the scrutiny rites are celebrated during mass. These liturgies recover and reclaim much of the early church’s insistence on rigorous self-examination before taking up the way of Jesus. You really want to follow this crucified Messiah? asked second- and third-century priests and catechists. Then scrutinize your deepest commitments: how do you make your livelihood? (pimps and gladiators had to find new jobs); what’s your position on violence and war? (those with “the power of the sword” had to renounce it).
In contemporary language the priest prays that the elect will be “strengthened against worldy deceits of every kind” and that they might be encouraged by the example of “catechumens who have shed their blood for Christ.”
For those preparing to be received into full communion at the Easter Vigil, the scrutinies are sobering. They are also beautiful. (One of the petitions in the third scrutiny’s intercessions for the elect prays “that the whole world, which God has created in love, may flower in faith and charity and so receive new life”).
There is also the scrutiny-like penitential rite for those baptized candidates who are coming into the Catholic Church from other Christian traditions. Also sobering, also beautiful, this liturgy solemnizes the candidates’ desire (and the Church’s) that they be duly prepared to receive the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.
And as catechumens and candidates have undergone these rites during this Lenten season, a new pope also finds himself under scrutiny.
Under a microscope is more like it.
But what has been revealed so far is also sobering. And beautiful.
An archbishop with a pastor’s heart and the people’s admiration and affection.
A man who has communicated with each word and gesture a deep and long-standing humility, an endearing sense of humor, and a desire to shepherd the church in new and necessary ways.
The reforms he will promote (yet unknown, of course; there will likely be some disappointments) will be revealed, I suspect, less through pronouncements and press releases, and more through his own humble witness to what the gospel is at heart–love of God and neighbor, especially the poor and suffering neighbor.
And his name.
Francis isn’t a name; it’s a plan for a Church that is poor, simple, gospel-centered, and devoid of all power. It’s a Church that walks the way together with the least and last, that creates the first communities of brothers and sisters who recite the breviary under the trees with the birds. It’s an ecological Church that calls all beings those sweet words “brothers and sisters”. Francis was obedient to the Church and the popes and at the same time he followed his own path with the gospel of poverty in hand.
As we make our way toward Easter may each of us scrutinize with love and compassion–ourselves, the church, the new pope–that we might “walk the way together with the least and last.”
This is the sobering call of the faith we confess.
And it is beautiful.