Friday, August 31, 2018

The Seven Sacraments and Their Liturgies, Part 9: The reception of converts

Previous parts in this series:
Part 1: Introduction to the Sacraments
Part 2: Baptism
Part 3: Confirmation
Part 4: Eucharist
Part 4.1: De Defectibus
Part 5: Penance
Part 6: Extreme Unction
Part 7: Marriage
Part 8: Holy Orders

At the Great Commission, Jesus commanded his apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:16‑20, Mark 16:14‑18, Luke 24:44‑49, John 20:19‑23, Acts 1:4‑8). The Catholic Church over its history has quite literally preached the Gospel to all nations. There are Catholic parishes in every country in the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Receiving new members into the Church has always been a crucial part of her mission. After Emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church spread quickly throughout Europe. People were converting en masse to Catholicism. On Easter, AD 404, in Constantinople, three thousand people were received into the Church. Anytime someone converts to the Catholic Church, there is rejoicing in heaven, just as the prodigal son's father rejoiced when his son returned home (Luke 15:11‑32).

To be fully received into the Catholic Church, converts must receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. These are hence known as the sacraments of Christian initiation. However, recall from part two of this series that anyone is a valid minister of Baptism. So long as they use water and the form, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” the person is validly baptized. This means that most Protestant Baptisms are valid. Baptism also cannot be repeated. Thus, there are three possible cases.
  1. The convert has never been baptized. This is the case with converts from atheism, Judaism, Islam, and paganry. In this case, the convert is known as a catechumen. He receives all three sacraments of Christian initiation.
  2. The convert has certainly been validly baptized. This is the case with most converts from Protestantism. It was the case when I was received into the Church. In this case, the convert, known as a candidate, is not baptized again. Rather, he makes a formal profession of faith and then receives the sacraments of Penance, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.
  3. There is doubt as to whether or not the convert has been validly baptized. This is the case with some converts from Protestantism, as well as converts from the Jehovah's Witnesses and similar sects. The convert might have been baptized, but it might not have been valid due to a defect of form or matter. Like in the first case, the convert is called a catechumen. He receives conditional Baptism, which has all of the same ceremonies as a regular Baptism, except that the priest says, “If thou art not baptized, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” The conditional Baptism is followed by the profession of faith and the sacraments of Penance, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.

In all three cases, the convert must be carefully examined, instructed in the faith, and prepared intellectually and spiritually to become Catholic. For catechumens, this period of preparation is called the catechumenate. In ancient times, the catechumenate would last a long time, as long as two or three years, to make sure that the individual was well prepared to be a strong and faithful member of the Catholic Church. The long catechumenate was also partially due to fear of persecution and a resulting hesitancy in accepting new members. Today, the catechumenate is not quite as long, but catechumens and candidates still need to be instructed in the faith. The pastor of a parish is responsible for ensuring that converts are properly instructed.

The traditional time for catechumens to be baptized and received into the Catholic Church is the Easter Vigil. Since the time of the early Christians, the Easter Vigil has been celebrated on Holy Saturday as a preparation for the greatest feast of the year. Easter is an appropriate time to celebrate Baptism, because through Baptism, we partake in the Lord's Resurrection (Romans 6:3‑6). For this reason, the Baptism of catechumens is an important part of the Easter Vigil. In addition, until 1955, the Pentecost Vigil on the Saturday before the Day of Pentecost was celebrated in a similar manner to the Easter Vigil. Catechumens who were not baptized at the Easter Vigil could be baptized at the Pentecost Vigil. Today, it is permissible to receive catechumens into the Church whenever they are ready, but the Easter Vigil and Pentecost Vigil are still particularly appropriate times to do so.

Baptism of an adult

The ceremony of Baptism for an adult is a long and beautiful one, divided into seven parts. These seven parts may be done on seven separate occasions, in imitation of the ancient catechumenate, but this is not commonly done. If it is impractical to carry out the entire ceremony, it is permissible to use the shorter ceremony for Baptism of infants instead. When catechumens are received into the Church at the Easter Vigil or Pentecost Vigil, the whole of the ceremony up until the priest and catechumen enter the baptistery is usually done earlier in the day, before the vigil. The priest wears the surplice, violet stole, and violet cope. At least one godparent is present for the catechumen. (For the sake of brevity, I will not provide all of the texts of the ceremony. You can find the English text of the ceremony here.)

Part one
To begin the ceremony, the catechumen stands outside the church, because he is not yet admitted into the Church. The first of the seven parts is the spiritual preparation of both the priest and the catechumen. First, the priest kneels before the altar to spiritually prepare himself to carry out so great a ritual. He does so by singing psalms, almost like a little hour of the Divine Office. Thus, the Church sanctifies this rite by imitating the form of her great sacrifice of praise, the Divine Office. Like at each hour of the Divine Office, the priest opens with Psalm 69:2 (“O God, come to my assistance.”) and the Gloria Patri. For an antiphon, he sings Ezekiel 36:25, which is a foreshadowing of the sacrament of Baptism.

Effundam super vos aquam mundam, et mundabimini ab omnibus inquinamentis vestris, dicit Dominus. I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, says the Lord.

Also in Ezekiel 36:25 but not included in this antiphon, God says, “I will cleanse you from all your idols.” The priest then sings Psalms 8, 28, and 41. These three psalms do not appear together in the Divine Office; they are assembled solely for this rite. Psalm 8 is a psalm of praise to God for his work in creation, particularly in creating mankind in his own image. It begins, “O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth!” Psalm 28 also gives praise to the Lord, singing of the mighty works done by his voice. Finally, Psalm 41 describes the soul's longing for God. It begins, “As the hart panteth after the fountains of water; so my soul panteth after thee, O God.” After repeating the antiphon, the priest sings a couple prayers for the catechumen in the form of the preces of the Divine Office.

Once the priest is spiritually prepared through this imitation of the Divine Office, he goes to the entrance of the church to meet the catechumen. Like in the rite of Baptism of children, which we described in part 2 of this series, the priest asks the catechumen's name, what he asks of the Church (faith), and what faith offers him (eternal life). The priest then admonishes the catechumen, instructing him on the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave in Matthew 22:36‑40to love God and to love your neighboras well as on the Holy Trinity.

The catechumen then renounces Satan, all his works, and all his pomps, and publicly professes his faith in God by declaring, “Credo” (“I believe”), three times. This renunciation of Satan and profession of faith is done again later in the ceremony, at the same place where it is done in the Baptism of children, but for adult catechumens, before they can even be admitted into the Church, the priest must be sure that they are spiritual prepared.

As in the Baptism of children, the priest breathes on the catechumen as Christ did to the apostles after his Resurrection, praying that the Holy Spirit may come upon the catechumen and drive away any evil spirits. Next, the priest makes the Sign of the Cross on the catechumen's forehead and breast, with the same prayer used in the Baptism of children, adding, “Having entered into the Church of God, be happy in knowing that you have escaped the snares of death.”

Now that he has made the decision to enter God's holy Church and has spiritually prepared himself, the catechumen formally and publicly renounces whatever other religion he may have adhered to in his past life. The Roman Ritual provides different forms depending on if he was previously a pagan or idolater, a Jew, a Muslim, or a heretic. The priest commands the catechumen to reject his past errors and commands him to worship only the one true God.

Several prayers are then offered for the catechumen. The first prays for God to show him the way of truth.

Te déprecor, Dómine sancte, Pater omnípotens, ætérne Deus: ut huic fámulo tuo N. qui in hujus sǽculi nocte vagátur incértus, ac dúbius, viam veritátis et agnitiónis tuæ júbeas demonstrári: quátenus, reserátis óculis cordis sui, te unum Deum Patrem in Fílio, et Fílium in Patre cum Spíritu Sancto recognóscat, atque hujus confessiónis fructum, et hic, et in futúro sǽculo percípere mereátur. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
Let us pray.
I entreat you, blessed Lord and Father, almighty and everlasting God, to point out the way of truth and godly knowledge to these servants of yours who wander in uncertainty and doubt in the darkness of this world. Open their inner sight, the better to see you as the one God, the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father, in union with the Holy Spirit. May it be their good fortune to enjoy the fruit of this avowal both now and forevermore; through Christ our Lord.

After this prayer, the priest makes the Sign of the Cross on the catechumen's forehead, ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, breast, and shoulders, and then thrice over his whole body, praying that each part of his body may be filled with the love of God and do his will. The priest closes this first part of the ceremony with three more prayers. The first prays for God's protection over the catechumen. The second prays for the catechumen to be reborn into the New Covenant as part of God's chosen people. Finally, the priest lays his hand on the catechumen while saying the third prayer, which prays for the catechumen's freedom from all evil.

Part two
This leads into the second part of the ceremony, which is the ancient ceremony of tasting salt. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus tells his followers, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt represents divine wisdom and protection. At Baptism, the catechumen becomes part of the salt of the earth. If the salt is not already blessed, the priest blesses it and exorcises it with a special blessing. Then, if the catechumen is was previously a pagan or an atheist, the priest says a special prayer. This prayer is not said for converts from Judaism, Islam, or heresy.

Dómine sancte, Pater omnípotens, ætérne Deus, qui es, qui eras, et qui pérmanes usque in finem, cujus orígo nescítur, nec finis comprehéndi potest: te súpplices invocámus super hunc fámulum tuum N., quem liberásti de erróre gentílium, et converstióne turpíssima: dignáre exaudíre eum, qui tibi cervíces suas humíliat ad lavácri fontem, ut, renátus ex aqua et Spíritu Sancto, exspoliátus véterem hóminem, índuat novum, qui secúndum te creátus est; accípiat vestem incorrúptam, et immaculátam, tibique Deo nostro servíre mereátur. Per Christum Dóminum nostum.
Let us pray.
Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God, who is, who was, who ever shall be, whose beginning is unknown, whose end is inconceivable. We humbly implore you on behalf of these servants of yours whom you have freed from the shackles of error; graciously heed them as they bow low before you at the cleansing font where one is born over again by water and the Holy Spirit. May they put off the old man and put on the new man created in your image; may they receive the pure and spotless robe and thus become worthy of serving you, our God; through Christ our Lord.

The priest puts a pinch of salt in the catechumen's mouth, saying the same prayer as in the Baptism of children, before offering the greeting of the risen Christ: Peace to you (John 20:19). This is followed by a prayer similar to the one used in the Baptism of children, praying that the catechumen may be satisfied with the bread of heaven.

Parts three, four, and five
The third, fourth, and fifth parts of the ceremony are the three exorcisms. The exorcisms in the Baptism of adults are much stronger and more elaborate than those in the Baptism of children, because adults are much more likely to be possessed with demons, especially if they have been following a false religion for many years.

If both male and female catechumens are present, they are exorcised separately. Interestingly, the form of exorcism is different for men and women. To begin each exorcism, the priest commands the catechumen to kneel and say the Our Father. The Our Father is a powerful prayer against demons, because it consists of the sacred words of Jesus Christ himself. After the Our Father, the godparent and the priest both make the Sign of the Cross on the catechumen's forehead. In the first and second exorcisms, the priest first offers a prayer to almighty God, and then addresses the demons, casting them off in the name of Jesus. In the third exorcism, which is the same for men and women, the priest says two prayers addressed to the demons. In the exorcisms, the priest makes frequent Signs of the Cross, because the devil cannot tolerate the symbol of God's infinite love. After the three exorcisms, the priest lays his hand on the catechumen and says one more prayer, praying for God's blessing and mercy upon him.

Part six
Finally, after being examined and spiritually prepared, professing his faith, and being thrice exorcised from demons, the catechumen is brought into the church in the sixth part of the sacred ceremony. Once inside the church, he recites the Apostles' Creed and the Our Father, which are two of the most necessary prayers for every Catholic to know. They then proceed to the entrance of the baptistery, where the priest pronounces one final, solemn, and grave prayer of exorcism.

Nec te latet, sátana, imminére tibi pœnas, imminére tibi torménta, imminéri tibi diem judicii, diem supplícii sempitérni; diem, qui ventúrus est velut clíbanus ardens, in quo tibi, atque univérsis ángelis tuis præparátus sempitérnus erit intéritus. Proínde damnáte, atque damnánde, da honórem Deo vivo et vero, da honórem Jesu Christo Fílio ejus, da honórem Spíritui Sancto paráclito, in cujus nómine atque virtúte præcípio tibi, quicúmque es, spíritus immúnde, ut éxeas, et recédas ab hoc fámulo Dei N., quem hódie idem Deus et Dóminus noster Jesus Christus ad suam sanctam grátiam et benedictiónem, fontémque Baptísmatis dono vocáre dignátus est: ut fiat ejus tempulum per aquam regeneratiónis in remissiónem ómnium peccatórum. In nómine ejúsdem Dómini nostri Jesu Christi, qui ventúrus est judicáre vivos et mórtuos, et sǽculum per ignem.
Surely it is no secret to you, Satan, that punishment is your lot, torments your portion, that the day of judgment threatens you, that day of never ending torture, the day that shall be like a flaming furnace, in the midst of which everlasting perdition awaits you and your apostate angels. Therefore, accursed one, deservedly doomed, pay homage to the living and true God, pay homage to Jesus Christ, his Son, and to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. In his name and power I command you, unclean spirit whoever you are, begone and stay far away from this servant of God, N. For today Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, freely calls him to his holy grace and blessed way and to the waters of baptism, where he will become God's dwelling by the water of rebirth that gives full remission of sin We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is coming to judge both the living and the dead and the world by fire.

Just like in the Baptism of children, the priest takes some spittle and touches the catechumen's ears and nostrils, saying, “Ephpheta,” just as Jesus did in Mark 7:32‑35. After this, the catechumen once again makes the threefold renunciation of Satan, all his works, and all his pomps. The priest then anoints the him with the Oil of Catechumens before commanding evil spirits yet again to flee from the him. The anointing concludes the penultimate part of the ceremony.

Ego te linio Oleo salutis in Christo Iesu Domino nostro, ut habeas vitam æternam.
Pax tibi.
Et cum spiritu tuo.
Exi, immúnde spíritus, et da honórem Deo vivo et vero. Fuge, immúnde spíritus, et da loco Jesu
Christo Fílio ejus. Recéde immúnde spíritus, et da locum Spíritui Sancto Paráclito.
I annoint you with the oil of salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord, that you may have everlasting life.
Peace to you.
And with your spirit.
Go out, unclean spirit, and pay homage to the living and true God. Depart, unclean spirit, and give place to Jesus Christ, his Son. Stay far away, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.

Part seven
We now come to the seventh and final part, the Baptism itself. When catechumens are baptized at the Easter Vigil or the Pentecost Vigil, the preceding six steps may be done earlier in the day, with only the seventh part done during the vigil itself. The catechumen is brought into the baptistery. Like at the beginning of the ceremony, he is asked his name. He then professes his faith in Jesus Christ, saying, “Credo,” three times. Finally, the priest pours water on the catechumen's head or immerses him in water three times, pronouncing the essential form of the sacrament.

N., ego te baptízo in nómine Patris, et Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti.
N., I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

If there is doubt as to whether or not the catechumen has been validly baptized before, the priest gives Baptism conditionally. All of the other ceremonies are identical.

N., si non es baptizátus, ego te baptízo in nómine Patris, et Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti.
N., if thou art not baptized, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

After being baptized, the new Christian is immediately anointed with Sacred Chrism as a member of Christ's eternal priesthood.

Deus omnípotens, Pater Dómini nostri Jesu Christi, qui te regenerávit ex aqua et Spíritu Sancto, quique dedit tibi remissiónem ómnia peccatórum, ipse te líniat + Chrismáte salútis in eódem Christo Jesu Dómino nostro in vitam ætérnam.
The almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has caused you to be born over again of water and the Holy Spirit and pardoned you all your sins. May he now anoint + you with the chrism that sanctifies in Christ Jesus our Lord, and bring you to everlasting life.

The newly baptized is given a white garment and a candle, symbolizing the purity of Christ and the light of Christ, as in the Baptism of children. If the bishop is present, or if the priest has received permission from the bishop, the newly baptized immediately receives the perfection of the grace of Baptism through the sacrament of Confirmation. The rite for Confirmation is the same as for anyone else. Mass usually follows, at which the newly baptized completes his initiation into the mystical Body of Christ through the reception of his first Holy Communion.

Profession of faith for candidates already baptized

The case of a convert from Protestantism who has already been Baptized is entirely different in principle. He was once a Catholic, because the sacrament of Baptism made him so, but he has separated himself from the one true Church by following a heretical sect. Thus, it is only necessary for him to make a profession of faith, renounce his former errors, and be absolved of his sins through the sacrament of Penance. If there is doubt as to whether or not he has been validly baptized, he receives conditional Baptism, usually in private, either before or after the profession of faith. The candidate then kneels in front of the priest before the altar, places his hand on the Book of Gospels, and says the profession of faith. This profession of faith is called the Tridentine Creed. Just as the Nicene Creed was written at the First Council of Nicaea to renounce the Arian heresy, the Tridentine Creed was written at the Council of Trent to address the Protestant heresies. It begins with the Apostles' Creed, the basic statement of the Catholic faith. (The “Vatican General Council” mentioned in the last paragraph refers to the First Vatican Council, held between 1869 and 1870.)

I, N.N., __ years of age, born outside the Catholic Church, have held and believed errors contrary to her teaching. Now, enlightened by divine grace, I kneel before you, Reverend Father __, having before my eyes and touching with my hand the holy Gospels. And with firm faith I believe and profess each and all the articles contained in the Apostles' Creed, that is: I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell, the third day he arose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty, from there he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

I firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and all the other constitutions and ordinances of the Church.

I admit the Sacred Scriptures in the sense which has been held and is still held by Holy Mother Church, whose duty it is to judge the true sense and interpretation of Sacred Scripture, and I shall never accept or interpret them in a sense contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers.

I profess that the sacraments of the New Law are truly and precisely seven in number, instituted for the salvation of mankind, though all are not necessary for each individual: baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony. I profess that all confer grace, and that baptism, confirmation, and holy orders cannot be repeated without sacrilege. I also accept and admit the ritual of the Catholic Church in the solemn administration of all the aforementioned sacraments.

I accept and hold in each and every part all that has been defined and declared by the Sacred Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification. I profess that in the Mass there is offered to God a true, real, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; that in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist the Body and Blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is really, truly, and substantially present, and that there takes place in the Mass what the Church calls transubstantiation, which is the change of all the substance of bread into the Body of Christ and of all substance of wine into his Blood. I confess also that in receiving under either of these species one receives Jesus Christ whole and entire.

I firmly hold that Purgatory exists and that the souls detained there can be helped by the prayers of the faithful.

Likewise I hold that the saints, who reign with Jesus Christ, should be venerated and invoked, that they offer prayers to God for us, and that their relics are to be venerated.

I firmly profess that the images of Jesus Christ and of the Mother of God, ever a Virgin, as well as of all the saints should be given due honor and veneration. I also affirm that Jesus Christ left to the Church the faculty to grant indulgences, and that their use is most salutary to the Christian people. I recognize the holy, Roman, Catholic, and apostolic Church as the mother and teacher of all the churches, and I promise and swear true obedience to the Roman Pontiff, successor of St. Peter, the prince of the apostles and vicar of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, without hesitation I accept and profess all that has been handed down, defined, and declared by the sacred canons and by the general councils, especially by the Sacred Council of Trent and by the Vatican General Council, and in special manner all that concerns the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff. At the same time I condemn and reprove all that the Church has condemned and reproved. This same Catholic faith, outside of which none can be saved, I now freely profess and I truly adhere to it. With the help of God, I promise and swear to maintain and profess this faith entirely, inviolately, and with firm constancy until the last breath of life. And I shall strive, as far as possible, that this same faith shall be held, taught, and publicly professed by all who depend on me and over whom I shall have charge.

So help me God and these holy Gospels.

The priest then says either Psalm 50 or Psalm 129, concluding with the Gloria Patri. Both of these psalms are penitential in character. After a few more prayers, the priest gives absolution from any bond of excommunication that the candidate may have incurred as a result of his adherence to heretical sects.

Auctoritate Apostólica, qua fungor in hac parte, absólvo te a vínculo excommunicatiónis quam incurristi, et restítuo te sacrosánctis Ecclésiæ sacraméntis, communióni et unitáti fidélium, in nómine Patris +, et Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti. Amen. By the authority of the Holy See which I exercise here, I release you from the bond of excommunication which you have incurred; and I restore you to communion and union with the faithful, as well as to the holy sacraments of the Church; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The priest and candidate then go to the confessional, where the candidate makes his first confession, confessing of the sins he can remember having committed in his life. Once the priest has given absolution, the candidate is restored to God's sanctifying grace and is once again a full member of God's holy Church. If the bishop is present or the priest has permission, the candidate is then confirmed. Finally, he receives his first Holy Communion.

The reception of a convert is an exceedingly joyful occasion. Through Baptism, a catechumen is freed from all original sin and from any personal sin he may have committed, and he is given God's sanctifying grace for the first time. Through the profession of faith and the sacrament of Penance, a candidate is welcomed home into the holy Catholic Church and restored to God's good favor. Through Confirmation, a convert perfects the grace of his Baptism and becomes a full adult member of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Finally, through the reception of Holy Communion, a convert completes his reception into the Catholic Church by uniting himself completely with the most sacred Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unbelievable amounts of grace are received through these sacraments.

In Matthew 20:1‑16, Jesus tells us that even the workers who came at the eleventh hour still got paid the full wages of the day. Thus, God joyfully welcomes every convert to his holy Church. For me personally, converting to Catholicism is the best and most life-changing decision I have ever made. It is the division between the “BC” and “AD” parts of my life, so to speak. For anyone thinking about converting, I can tell you firsthand that true, divine happiness is to be found in the Catholic Church and nowhere else.

New terms
  • sacraments of Christian initiation – The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist, which converts must receive in order to be fully initiated members of the Church.
  • catechumen – A convert who is preparing to be baptized.
  • candidate – A convert who has already been baptized and is preparing to make the profession of faith and be confirmed.
  • conditional Baptism – Baptism using the words, “If thou art not baptized, I baptize thee...” used in cases where there is doubt as to whether or not a catechumen has been validly baptized.
  • catechumenate – A catechumen's period of instruction and preparation to be received into the Catholic Church.
  • Easter Vigil and Pentecost Vigil – Special ceremonies held the day before Easter and the day before Pentecost, which are the traditional times to receive catechumens into the Church.
  • Tridentine Creed – A long profession of faith written at the Council of Trent, specifically addressing the Protestant heresies, recited by candidates when they are received into the Church.

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