Scrutinizing the Scrutinies

So this morning you went to Mass and the Gospel reading was the Prodigal Son…unless you were suddenly transported to Cycle A, and if the Elect were being sent out for the second of the Scrutinies this week, you almost definitely did the Cycle A readings.

Lent is one of those oddly confusing times in the Church year when things suddenly change and sometimes the faithful don’t completely understand why. Liturgically we are in Year C. The Parochial Vicar at our parish apparently did the readings from Year C this morning at the earliest Mass because that’s what was on the Hymn Board. But just minutes before Mass began, the liturgist/music minister changed it and it dawned on me: Scrutinies.

This is one of the absolute best explanations of what the Scrutinies are that I have found on the web. The priest will often use the readings from Cycle A during the Scrutinies if the Elect are at Mass as they closely align with what the Elect are studying in the Scrutinies themselves. The Creighton website has a very clear description of how this works:

In order to inspire in the elect a desire for purification and redemption by Christ, three scrutinies are celebrated.  By this means, first of all, the elect are instructed gradually about the mystery of sin, from which the whole world and every person longs to be delivered and thus saved from its present and future consequences.  Second, their spirit is filled with Christ the Redeemer, who is the living water (gospel of the Samaritan woman in the first scrutiny), the light of the world (gospel of the man born blind in the second scrutiny), the resurrection and the life (gospel of Lazarus in the third scrutiny).  From the first to the final scrutiny the elect should progress in their perception of sin and their desire for salvation.

I don’t know about you but it makes me rather glad to have been born Catholic and raised that way. And I appreciate the priests who take the time to explain the change to their flock, particularly if those are mostly folks who are “cradle Catholics” like myself.

However, sometimes that doesn’t happen and the faithful are simply confused as to why the readings are not what’s in their Magnificat (in Years B and C). And that confusion can sometimes breed unintentional frustration and contempt.

I for example, no matter what parish I’ve attended over the last five years and which Mass I’ve been at…have always managed to be at the Mass where the Elect are dismissed for the Scrutinies. So, for the last five years, I’ve heard the Cycle A readings. Note: it’s not required for the readings to be changed, but is allowed at the Pastor’s discretion.

My mother and I were discussing this today and she related that her priest decided he would stick with Cycle C. When asked why he answered, “For the last four years, the people have heard Cycle A. The people are sick of Cycle A.” He has a point. Especially at a parish as small as theirs is and with only two candidates and no catechumens. Even without those qualifiers, pastors shouldn’t feel they have to make the change.

To me, the change of year feels more like a courtesy to the Elect as in most parishes I’ve been in, the priest makes a really big deal in the homily as to why those readings were chosen. But is it really discourteous of the priest if he elects NOT to change the readings? I would say no, it’s not discourteous as those readings also have important lessons and revelations in them. It’s not as if most priests would get up and say, “Well, today the Elect are being dismissed for the Second Scrutiny and I’ve decided to not have those readings at this Mass.” Yes, there could be that priest, but most of them aren’t him.

I don’t mind the Scrutinies, but I also sympathize with the woman at Mass today who dropped her daughter’s Magnifikid rather dramatically onto the seat. There is a sort of “what’s the point of having different liturgical cycles if we don’t utilize them,” feeling in the pews when things like this happen. So, what’s someone confused and frustrated to do?

Well, if you can figure out which Mass the Elect will most likely be dismissed at (and most parishes put it all at one Mass), avoid it for a few weeks. I know people who change up their routine for exactly that reason. But more importantly: talk to your priest. Tell him how you feel. Sure some priests are going to do whatever they want anyway, but many priests don’t know parishoners might feel that way or may not understand the change. I don’t know that anyone specific said something to my parents’ priest, for all I know he saw people’s eyes glazing over and decided on his own to shake things up by going with the program. And maybe a better understanding can be reached so that no one unintentionally resents the new members of our “one, holy,  Catholic, apostolic church.”

I decided next weekend to take my boys to a different Mass than our usual not because I resent the Scrutinies or the Elect, but because right now my soul and heart are needing something a little different this year. The original readings today seemed to really speak to me when I studied them before Mass and I’m thankful that it appears that there might be a homily for them I can listen to online from our Parochial Vicar.


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