During Lent, the period of purification and enlightenment, the preparation of the elect for receiving the sacraments of initiation intensifies. The scrutinies, celebrated at the Masses of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, are the primary ritual celebrations of this Lenten preparation. Like the exorcisms celebrated in the early Church, they are directed at the conversion of the whole person. They are meant “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” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults 141).


The celebration of the scrutinies is aimed at an enhanced awareness of the power of sin. Catechumens often prepare for these rites by reflecting as a group on the many faces of sin in the world. These powers may then be named and included in the litany that is sung during the scrutiny rite. The community of the baptized is also called during Lent to consider the mystery of sin. All of us continue to be aware of the “devil on our back,” and of our need for Christ.


At the first scrutiny the church proclaims the story of the woman at the well. She thirsts for living water and finds it in Jesus. At the second scrutiny the church recalls the story of the man born blind. He receives his sight thought the light of the world, Jesus Christ. At the third scrutiny, the church considers the story of Lazarus who is raised from death to life through the power of Jesus.


The ritual: The celebrant invites the elect with their sponsors to come to the front. He prays over them that they be given a spirit of repentance, a sense of sin, and the true freedom of the children of God. An RCIA leader leads petitions that the elect will put away sin and the power of Satan and accept Jesus in their lives. The celebrant prays that they will acknowledge their own sins and reject Satan from their lives. Following this prayer, he may lay hands on each of the elect.