October 27, 2008

25:1

Yesterday was baptism day. We have baptisms on the last Sunday of the month. We take turns, which means each of us gets to preside four times a year.

I really enjoy it, even with all of its ritual chaos and the depressing presence of those who are only "cultural Catholics." It's a beautiful ritual with a theology that, to me, is almost overwhelming in its implications.

On the other hand, preaching on baptism day is always a little jarring for me because most of my baptismal preaching is at funerals and wakes. So I am very accustomed to preaching the doctrine, theology, and Scriptural foundations of baptism, but not in the actual context of someone being baptized. In fact, the ratio in my ministry is about 25:1. That is, for each time I can preach on the actual occasion of baptism, I have about 25 opportunities to preach on baptism in the context of Christian death. (You can ask what this might mean demographically for the future of our parish, but that's another question.)

In the end (literally) the point is the same; being buried with Christ, united with his humanity, and becoming subject to the new life of the Resurrection. The eternal life given at baptism is not something that will be enjoyed at some future point; eternity is not subject to now and then. Jesus says, "you have eternal life," not "you will have eternal life." So whether we're at the beginning and end of our pilgrimage on this earth, the eternal life we have through the passing over of Christ is the same.

4 comments:

ben in denver said...

Baptism is something that I'm very passionate about. We had 2 babies born in our parish last week, one last Sunday night, and the other on Tuesday. They were both baptized yesterday.

I don't understand why this isn't the common practice everywhere. Children aren't all born within a few days of the last Sunday of the month, so why should all baptisms happen then? Imagine if somebody called for a funeral and was told that the parish only conducts funerals on the last Sunday of the month.

Canon law is very clear:

Can. 867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.

Restricting the celebration of baptism to once per month makes meeting this obligation that canon law places on parents very difficult. I would imagine that common sense would interpret "the first few weeks" as no more than 3; otherwise that canon would read "within the first month" or "within the first few months". After I learned of the canon, which, oddly enough not covered an any of the baptism preparation classes I have taken, it has meant that we have scheduled the baptisms of our children before they were born--except that last one, which was done in the hospital.

Now I understand that something must be done to make sure that all of these "cultural Catholics" are catechized in some way, and grouping people into baptism classes is a convienient way to do this. I understand that this is done so that the minister of baptism is able to fulfill his obligation under canon law to see that the child has a well founded hope of being raised Catholic. However, it seems that the obligation of the parent is not given too much consideration in many parishes. It is perhaps even more scandalous that well catechized catholic parents routinely wait 3-9 months to baptize their children, than it is that poorly catechized cantholics don't bring their newly baptized children back to church until it is time for first communion.

I know my opinions on this matter are not widely shared, and I hope I've not offended anybody. But since you brought up baptism, I though I would share some of the passion. And hey, I didn't even bring up my feelings about the salt, so I've really restrained myself here ;)

Brother Charles said...

Ben,

You know my heart is with you. And when it is the case of actual parishioners who attend Sunday Mass, I have often scheduled and prepared everything before the birth. Unfortunately, for many, the baptism process is the first and last time you see them.

Now I would love to celebrate Baptism more often--as I say, I really enjoy it--even to the point of doing it during Mass, as is most fitting. But there are a few factors that necessitate slowing the process down.

First, since it's often your first contact with people you have to determine if they have legal custody of the child. People are always surprised to hear that this is not an uncommon issue. For infants, a birth certificate usually suffices, but for larger "canonical infants," you have to do a little more sometimes. With all of the complexities of people's families and living arrangements, already in my clerical life I have delayed a baptism until the requesting parent/guardian actually had civil custody.

Second, my experience is that most couples need a little help in learning how to elect sponsors, and there are often gentle battles to explain to them why godparents need to be confirmed, at least.

Third, and this is a whole-family pastoral concern, the baptism is also a good chance to invite people to convalidate their marriages, or to get married in the first place. And so that's an extra conversation.

But, I at least use the salt when I "make" holy water. :)

ben in denver said...

I really am surprised that custody of the child is a common issue. What do you do if that cannot be resolved? Is there a different process for the larger "cannocal infants" if he expresses a personal desire for the sacrament?

There is a great young priest at a parish a little to the north of where I live who has done a lot of great work on regularizing the family arrangements. I think this is an area of chruch life that needs a lot of attention. I think it is legitimate to ask if there is a well founded hope that the child will be raised in the faith if his parents are not married.

Godparents are difficult. My oldest daughter's godparents left the church over the issue of a tubal ligation, and my oldest son's godparents have been C&E catholics for a decade now.

The salt! What a sacramental! I went through the extraordinary form baptism rite as an adult, and the taste of the salt on the tounge really focuses the senses. I also like the 3 solemn exorcisms--I could literally feel the power of those prayers in body body as they were prayed over me. The older form for adults also includes a prostration. It is, I beleive, the only time in the roman rite that a lay person makes the prostration in the liturgy. It was important for me that I do this before the blessed sacrament at least once.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the story of your baptism! Coming from another of the baptized who went through it as an adult. (I was 20)