THE RITE OF BAPTISM FOR CHILDREN
Hand in hand with the renewal of the quality of celebration of infant baptism goes the question of preparation. preparation of both parents and parish, preparation that is both long-term as well as immediate. But why 10 much emphasis on preparation?
For a start participation requires preparation.
If there is to be meaningful participation that is full, conscious, and active, then there is no escaping the need for adequate preparation 10 that people are as aware as possible of the real significance of what they are engaged in presenting a child for baptism.
Preparation is also a law of life. We dare not run a marathon, sit an examination, etc. without spending some time preparing beforehand. Good preparation usually results in a good performance and outcome. Likewise with liturgy. In preparing for liturgy, however, we are not just preparing for the half-hour or hour we are in the church for the particular sacrament. Rather we are preparing ourselves to some extent for the implications of what is done in and through the liturgical celebration which, in the case of baptism, means preparing ourselves for the life journey of faith into which we are initiating our child. It is a step not to be taken lightly.
That the Church itself is aware of this comes through all too clearly in its various documents on the subject, a sampling of which is given here:
Before the celebration of the sacrament it is of great importance that parents should prepare to take part in the rite with understanding.
Rite of Baptism for Children;
Christian instruction and the preparation for baptism are a vital concern of Gods people, the Church. Therefore, it is most important that catechists and other lay people should work with priests and deacons in making preparations for baptism.
Parents must give thought to the baptism and prepare themselves spiritually.
Instruction on Infant Baptism;
Parents are to be prepared by means of pastoral advice and indeed by prayer together.
Code of Canon Law *851.
These are just a few references to the need for preparation from official Church quarters. They leave us in no doubt as to the mind of the Church. But perhaps the most telling incentive of all in regard to this question comes from the actual rite of baptism itself.
There at the door of the Church, after the parents have named their children and presented them for baptism, the priest, in what I term “The Three Rs of Baptism” says:
“You have asked (request) to have your children baptized.
In doing 10 you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep Gods commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbour.
Do you clearly understand (realization) what you are under-taking?
This sets out the matter fairly plainly. It is the last line, the question. “Do you clearly realize what you are undertaking ?
that perhaps more than anything else places on the shoulders of a local Christian community, priest and people alike, the responsibility of setting up in the parish some structure whereby this preparation can take place.
As with the celebration. it is impossible for just one person to nm a baptismal preparation programme in a parish. There is no getting away from the need for having a team. Apart from the practical side of the matter, in that a team can be much more effective than an individual, there are other things to be said in its favour. For a start, a team presents an image of Church which is communal. It is a community, the Body of Christ. And it is a community which the infant is entering. In addition. the involvement of members of the community with the parents beforehand helps put flesh and blood on the words the priest lovingly addresses to the child at the door of the Church:
“The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.”
By the time the parents come to the church for the baptism they will have already experienced this as reality and not as mere empty word and ritual. Also, different members have different gifts. In regard to anything having to do with babies the natural gifts of women ought to be recognized and given full scope. In the Faith Friends approach to baptismal preparation it is women, mainly, who visit the home. There they meet not only the parents but also the infant. A human contact involving physical touching, words, etc. is hereby established. There are few more potent ice-breakers.
Mention of Faith Friends leads us to a reflection on various baptismal programmes and approaches. There are many to be found.
The rot thing which needs to be said is that the perfect programme does not exist. Also, it must be kept in mind that different parishes have different needs and what works well in one pariah letting might not be the best in all situations. However, it can be very worthwhile to consider what is available, what is being tried e1aewbere, and then to decide what might be best in our own locality.
The Veritas Pre-Baptismal Programme, devised by Mickey and Terri Quinn. a couple living in Newry, is an extremely well thought-out programme. It consists of four meetings held in homes, ideally before the birth of the child. One of its strengths is that it can be operated by small teams consisting of just three people: a married couple and a priest, religious, or catechist. The advantage of this is that a parish can have quite a number of teams thus cutting down on the workload of any one team. In Britain especially, this approach has met with quite an amount of success. The feeling amongst many Irish parishes, it seems, is that four meetings is a bit too unrealistic, at least at this stage. However, for anyone thinking of initiation a parish baptismal programme of any kind, the Quinns Leader Guide, “Handling our Faith” is well worth a read.
The Faith Friends Approach to baptismal preparation was developed in the parish of St. Michaels, Inchicore, by Sr. Briege OHare and Fr. Jimmy Nolan. Information concerning Ibis approach is to be found in the little training manual, “The Ministry of Baptism” published by Columba Press and on the video, “A Vision of Parish” by Veritas. This approach concentrates not on meetings but on visits to the home on the understanding that there are many people in parishes who seem to find it difficult to come out to meetings and to participate in a structured course of preparation for baptism. A Faith Friend is a person, who visits the family before and after the baptism.
There are two meetings beforehand. The first meeting is a contact one meant to communicate the joy of the community at the birth of the child and the forthcoming baptism. It is a meeting for the establishing of a relationship with the family. The second visit has to deal with the rite of baptism 10 that the family feel comfortable about it and have an idea u to its significance and meaning.
Sometime after the baptism the Faith Friend again visits the home, this time bringing a small bottle of the water in which the baby was baptized. Very often this visit is characterized by great joy and warmth. Finally, a year later, there is the visit of remembering at which a baptismal anniversary card is given.
The main features of this approach with its visits may be characterized by the words: welcome, friendship, support. There is no doubt that in certain parishes, particularly the newer suburban ones, this approach has much to offer.
Two comments might be worth making, however. H, u often happens, the Faith Friends are almost exclusively women then it tends to reinforce the idea that religion in the home is just the mothers job, thus letting the father off the hook. Secondly, while the visits have much going for them they tend to keep families isolated from one another whereas a meeting brings them up close together. If baptism is to be a communal celebration then it might be worth considering the value to be bad from holding even one short meeting beforehand. Men, as well as women, might very well be encouraged to be involved in this as well as in the celebration itself.
The Veritas video,”Our Childs Baptism”, emerged as the result of Ray Topleys experiences in working with baptism teams around the country. It is meant to be a resource for parishes irrespective of the particular approach or programme they adopt for their situation.
It is based on the principle of liturgical catechesis one finds in the post-conciliar documents stating that the starting point of our thinking and catechesis and teaching on the sacraments ought to be the words and gestures of the liturgy itself. Therefore, one of the aims in producing this video was to place on screen, with the help of the best of modem technology, the rite of baptism so that parents could have an idea beforehand regarding what would happen on the day itself. Hopefully, such knowledge assists participation and enables people to feel at ease.
Parishes make use of this video in a number of ways. Some use it in the context of meetings while others have a number of copies and show it in the home to individual families.
Whatever approach is used one needs to keep in mind a few basic ideas concerning video in this context The aim is not merely to impart information but to provoke thinking and discussion. Too much use of and too much reliance on video can kill off any discussion 10, perhaps the best approach might be to show just a few relevant snippets and lead from there into discussion. If one wishes then, u a follow up, the video could be loaned out to the family, especially now that so many homes have video recorders.
In launching a baptism programme in a parish there could easily be the temptation to aim too high. A sound piece of advice, often quoted by Mickey Quinn. is the following:
START SMALL and MOVE SLOWLY
Keep it manageable, make a success of it, and only then extend it. That is what is behind the words small and slowly.
However, the other two words are also important, start and move. That is, do something. Someone, twisting an old saying, once said, “If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly”. It is worthwhile thinking about this. Very often we hesitate to undertake a particular task that needs to be done because we feel we have to have it all perfectly planned out beforehand with the result that it never gets done in the end.
Another piece of advice is in order in this regard: “Where theres a will, wisdom will always find away”. The sacrament of baptism, its very depth of meaning, beauty and richness, challenges us all to discover new ways of responding to the vision regarding the preparation, the celebration and the living out of its reality u found in the Rite of Baptism for Children with which we have been blest in this post-conciliar age.
Preparation of parents is one thing. But what of the community at large? If the phrase, “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy” is to further mean what it says then the local believing community needs to be made aware of what is being done in its name. The ideal, of course, is that the community be present at baptismal celebrations but this is neither possible nor practical given the number of baptisms which occur in a parish.
However, there are other ways of involving the community.
One is through the inclusion in the Prayer of the Faithful on the baptism Sunday an intercession for those to be baptized that day and for their families.
Other ways of alerting the community to their role is through the parish bulletin where might be listed the names of those baptized in my given month or through using the bul1etin board at the back of the church for photographs of the newly ¬baptized. There is one member of a particular baptism team whose chief function is to lake a Polaroid photograph of each child for such a purpose.
The celebration of a baptism at the Easter Vigil is, of course, the principal way the Church has of reminding us of our own baptism. However, as many people may not be present at the Vigil, some thought might be given to designating one Sunday during the Easter season at which a baptism would be celebrated at each of the main masses, in this way ensuring that most of the parishioners experience at least one baptism a year for the purpose of reflecting on their own and on realizing their obligations regarding all others.
Only by a common rediscovery of the true meaning of Baptism, of its fulness, beauty, power and joy,
can we again make our faith “the victory that overcomes the world” (1 In 5:4) Fr. Alexander Schmemann
POINTS OF CONTACT BETWEEN FAMILY AND PARISH
1. Pre-Natal Blessing
Communal celebration held about four times a year, usually close to or on one or other Marian feast
2. Parents Approach Parish to Arrange the Baptism
An opportunity to let the parents know that there will be some preparation for baptism in the form of a visit to the home and/or a preparation meeting.
3 Visit(s) to the Home
Undertaken by one (or two) of the members of the baptism team. Can serve several purposes: as a reminder of the forthcoming meeting if there is to be one; u a warm and friendly human contact and as an important element in Christian community building; u m opportunity to discuss aspects of the rite and answer questions relating to baptism.
4 Preparation Meeting
Conducted by the baptism team. Cm include input on handing on the faith in the home; the rite of baptism; a simple prayer ritual; discussion; and a cup of tea.
5 Celebration of Baptism
In keeping with the vision contained in the new rite the priest, team. and people endeavour to celebrate the sacrament in a manner worthy of it.
6. Visit to the Home
Sometimes referred to as the Water visit as a small bottle of the baptismal water is brought to the family. It mirrors the continued support of the Christian community.
7. Anniversary Contact
A remembering of the baptism in the form of a card or visit to the home by one of the baptism team.
8 Thanksgiving Service
Held at the end of the year or around the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in early January. All the babies baptized during the year are brought by their families to a short prayer service and social.
THE MOVEMENT OF THE RITE
In this rite there is a real sense of movement.
The rite begins at the door:
– the place of welcome and entry.
– the question is put to the parents and godparents as to what they are seeking. Here it is implied that they have a knowledge of what they are seeking.
– the invitation to sign the child with the acceptance of a way of life.
– the procession into where the main body of believers gathered. The child is being brought into a community.
Next the rite moves to the place of the Word of God:
– the lectionary provides a selection of readings, yet they are only suggestions. They might well form the basis of pre-baptismal scripture preparation.
– the opportunity to proclaim the Word in a homily would seem to be of vital importance. It is a special time for the family to hear the Word and to respond to it: What have you done with your baptism? This homily is the summit of the preparation of the couple for their childs baptism. It should evoke their response to the question about accepting to bring their child up in the practice of the faith, which will come later in the rite.
– the Word leads to prayer: thus the intercessions and litany are to be seen as a call to prayer, a call to be saints! It will lead to the prayer that calls for a driving out of all that is evil.
Next the movement is to the Font:
– the place of the Font is seen by ancient tradition as especially sacred, being the place where the Holy Trinity becomes present, as at the Jordan when Christ was baptised.
– the possibility of immersion has to be considered, as suggested above.
– the use of more than just a token dab of oil is called for, because of the solemnity of the rite.
– the rite calls for preparation of the parents and godparents regarding biblical texts on water, so that the rich significance of the blessing of the water is not missed.
– the use of music for psalms, acclamations and litany and for all other appropriate moments of the celebration is highly recommended since in this way the liturgy is given a nobler form and other ministries in the community become involved.
– the profession of faith and the renunciation of sin raises searching question for the parents and godparents.
– the parents should be the ones to hold the child for the pouring of the baptismal water, or to lift the child out of the Font if immersion is used.
– the anointing of the childs head with chrism (the second anointing) is especially important as expressing the descent of the Spirit on the baptised to make them Christians, just as He descended on Jesus to make Him the Christ (Lk. 4:18). This has to be explained to the people, perhaps in the instruction of the parents before the rite takes place.
– the clothing in the white garment should be not just a token but a real vesting as a sign of the Christian dignity of the baptised who have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). This may call for changes in the baptismal robes, perhaps even keeping the main christening garment until this point in the ceremony.
– the Paschal Candle should have a special place in the liturgical space of each community. The use of the lighted candle should be related to the Paschal Candle. This baptismal candle can then be retained until the childs First Communion and Confirmation.
– the rite of “Ephpheta” is a beautiful reminder of the gospel, (Mk. 7:34), and that, over and above the commitment of parent and godparents to this child, Our Lord Himself is committed to bringing this child to the fulness of a living, personal faith.
Finally the procession moves to the altar:
– here the Church solemnly hands over to the new Christian the most treasured possession in its treasury of prayer, the Our Father. This also brings out a link with the Eucharist.
– the rite concludes with the special blessings, underlining again the crucial role of the parents. The options for these prayers should have been considered beforehand.
THEREFORE THE RITE CALLS FOR:
– a community
– movement in procession
– emphasis on symbol and the worship space/elements.
– preparations for texts and implications of responses.
– The time for Baptism: Easter Vigil if possible Sundays of Eastertide Sunday Mass (at least sometimes) Sundays
– the place is the place of the Eucharistic community.