The primary way that the Church assists the catechumens (now called the elect after the celebration of the Rite of Election last Sunday) in their conversion process during Lent, is through the celebration of rites called Scrutinies. These ritual celebrations on the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent are communal prayers celebrated around the elect to strengthen them to overcome the power of sin in their lives and to grow in virtue. To scrutinize something means to examine it closely. The community does not scrutinize the elect; the elect scrutinize their own lives and allow God to scrutinize them and to heal them.
There is a danger in celebrating the Scrutinies if the community thinks of the elect as the only sinners in our midst who need conversion. All of us are called to continuing conversion throughout our lives, so we join with the elect in scrutinizing our own lives and praying to God for the grace to overcome the power of sin that still infects our hearts.
Many parishes today seek to surface the concrete issues that the elect need to confront; these issues then become the focus of the intercessions during the Scrutinies. Some parishes extend this discernment process to the wider community so that all are called to name the ways that evil continues to prevent them from living the gospel fully. Even if the parish does not do this in an organized way, every Catholic should spend some time reflecting on what obstacles to gospel living exist in his or her own life. Then when the Scrutinies are celebrated, we will all know that the prayers are for us as well as for the elect.
Taking seriously this dynamic of scrutiny and conversion gives us a richer perspective on Lenten “giving up”. What we are to give up more than anything else is sin, which is to say we are to give up whatever keeps us from living out our baptismal promises fully. Along with the elect we all need to approach the season of Lent asking ourselves what needs to change in our lives if we are to live the gospel values that Jesus taught us. Our journey through these forty days should be a movement ever closer to Christ and to the way of life he has exemplified for us.