We are getting a conversation moving here about baptism – we began with reflections on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and continued on this topic, fortuitously enough, because of the news regarding Pope Francis’ baptism of a child whose parents were civilly married (Check out Claire Bordelon’s excellent reflection here if you haven’t already.).
Assigned to a bustling four-church, three parish, two full-time priest operation in South Boston, I’ve been privileged to baptize a great number of children since I was ordained last May. I can’t state how many exactly, but I’m fairly certain I am at or near the century mark: I think that’s a fair sample size upon which I draw a few lessons, such as …
- Welcoming is important. The Rite of Baptism may officially begin when asking parents the name they have given their child, but a welcoming environment begins well before this. I always try to be present in the church as families begin to arrive, ready with a smile and a hospitable demeanor. I also take the time to briefly outline the Rite before we begin, putting the skittish at ease. Baptisms may represent, for some, their first time in a church in years. Clergy: leave the attitude at home, Jesus welcomed sinners, welcoming babies and new parents ain’t that difficult in comparison.
- Proto-catechize. A long discourse after the Gospel regarding the spiritual effects of baptism may not be the best way to draw people into the Rite itself. An expansive message that places the obligation for exemplifying Christian virtue may be more effective. At the same time, reminding all present of the promise of New Life given to each in the assembly at their own baptism draws a strong connection to the efficacy of the sacrament. In other words, The Body of Christ metaphor worked for Saint Paul. It still works.
- Don’t forget the Communion of Saints: I find that the Litany of Saints is a great moment for anamnesis – that is, remembrance. Before we begin the Litany, I always give a short catechesis on the role of the saints: not just exemplifying virtue, but also interceding with us and for us constantly. I then invite all present to recall one person in their lives who has died, but has passed the faith on to them. During this recollection, I ask the assembly to call upon that person to pray with us and for us as we continue the baptism. The Letter to the Hebrews promised “a cloud of witnesses.” Ask them for help!
- And finally, pray the prayers. Baptizing a child is exciting stuff: we’re unleashing the power of the Risen Christ here. People notice when you pray as if you were reading the phone book. When clergy pray, we ought pray earnestly. When we bless the mothers, fathers and assembly at the end of the Rite, we ought give people the impression we are really asking God to bless them!
Feel free to click the comment link above this article and add your own tips or experiences!