Talking to a colleague the other day, she excitedly told me that her first grandson would make his first appearance at Mass this Saturday, which, as luck would have it, is one my assignments.
I quickly blurted, “let’s use the Rite of Welcoming an Unbaptized Infant!” (Actually, it’s the “Order for the Blessing of a Child Not Yet Baptized“.)
Yes, that’s a thing. And it’s terrific.
Found in the Book of Blessings (after the Missal and Lectionary, perhaps the most necessary book for the pastoral-minded cleric) on page eighty, the instructions for this “order” begin:
A gathering in preparation for a baptism soon to be celebrated is an opportune occasion for the blessing of a child not yet baptized through a celebration similar to the blessings imparted during the catechumenate. Pastoral practice should include an explanation of why the parents or the minister trace the sign of the cross upon the child, namely, as an indication that the child is marked by the sign of salvation, is already dedicated to God, and is being prepared for the reception of baptism.
The Order itself is rather simple: a greeting, opening prayer and then reading from Scripture, followed by Psalm 150. After this, there are a few intercessions and a prayer of blessing. The highlight of this encounter is an invitation for both the minister and the parents of the child to trace the sign of the cross on his or her forehead.
This blessing can be performed by an ordained priest, deacon, or a lay catechist. Within the blessing itself, there are different options depending on the minister of the blessing. One word of caution: it’s a good idea to read through the prayers and intercessions before hand: there are a few which are a bit balky and may cause the minister to stumble if he or she isn’t careful.
It seems to me that in a time when “welcoming” is such an important part of the Church’s ministry and Pope Francis himself has spoken eloquently of a “culture of encounter” which ought be the bedrock of our evangelical efforts, this short blessing provides local parishes with an opportunity to invite new (or repeat) parents more deeply into the life of the community.
All-powerful God and Father, you are the source of all blessings, the protector of infants, whose gift of children enriches and brightens a marriage. Look with favor on this child and, when he/she is reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, bring him/her into your own spiritual family, the Church, there to become a sharer in your kingdom and with us to bless your name for ever.