Sunday, January 25, 2015

On the eve of the baby's birth, some thoughts on baptism

As the new baby's arrival approaches, Rosemary's and my thoughts are occupied with many, many important preparations. There's a house to clean, birthing supplies to gather, babysitters to engage, and, arguably more important than anything else, a baptism to arrange. Rosemary and I strongly believe that there is nothing more valuable that we can offer the children we bring into this world than baptism, by which they are claimed for Christ and granted the gift of eternal salvation. Of course, the cleansing with water together with those all-important words "I baptize you in the name..." is only the beginning, as there's everything that follows in terms of raising them to recognize and appreciate the gift they've received and to enable them to live according to what they've received by word and by example. Yet all that follows is predicated on bringing them to church to be baptized.

Cletus Anthony's baptism at the hands of Fr. Peter Bauknecht at Mater Dei Latin Mass Parish in Dallas two years ago. He is accompanied by his godparents James and Lisa, dear friends of ours who recently welcomed a child of their own.

We're deeply pleased, in that regard, that our pastor at St. Catherine of Siena in Wake Forest, Fr. Phil Tighe, has agreed to baptize the new baby according to the older ritual book a few Sundays from now. Both Clement and Cletus were baptized according to the older ritual during our years in Dallas, when we attended Mater Dei Latin Mass Parish, staffed by the Fraternity of St. Peter. During that time we became very attached to the deep symbolism of the older rite, which the FSSP uses exclusively, and there was never any doubt in our mind that we'd seek out the older form of baptism for future children as well. Since it will be Fr. Tighe's first baptism according to the older form, he has asked me to meet with him ahead of time and to guide him through it. His request has led me to study the rite in far more depth than I did when Clement and Cletus were baptized, when all I had to do was follow along with in the expert direction of the FSSP priests. This post, in turn, contains some of my reflections as I've gone through the rite.

First of all, a little background for the uninitiated. The Catholic Church revised many of its liturgical celebrations decades ago, most recognizably the Mass, which was simplified, and which also came to be celebrated almost exclusively in the vernacular instead of Latin. The revisions also encompassed baptism and the other sacramental rituals. The idea was to simplify these ancient celebrations, "mysteries," as the early Church Fathers called them, making them more accessible to people who might otherwise find them arcane and old fashioned. Often this meant jettisoning Latin, the Church's liturgical language for 1,800 years, making the celebration more intelligible, as well as simplifying the ritual actions performed by the minister. Laudable goals indeed, as mysteries are meaningless if people can't enter into them to some degree, but many people, myself included, feel that a great deal of the reverence, symbolism, and richness of the rituals--their essential mystery--was also lost in the process. 

Let me emphasize that this is not a screed against the new baptismal rite. I was recently to the baptism of a colleague's child, and I found it symbolic and moving. Cyprian, likewise, was baptized according to the new ritual book by a dear priest friend who also happened to have been the homilist at our wedding. The new rite retains a great deal of symbolism and, most importantly, results in a child claimed for Christ and welcomed into His Church. Cyprian is just as much baptized as are Clement and Cletus.

Here is Fr. (now Msgr.) Joe Hirsch in a catechetical moment six years ago at Cyprian's baptism at St. Peter's in Middle Ridge, Wisconsin,, together with me and Rosemary and with Cyprian's godparents, Rosemary's older sister Renee and my grandfather, who was my own confirmation sponsor and an important influence on my faith, especially during my teenage years.

That said, my experience of the older ritual has left me awed. If you're interested, you can view the ritual in its entirety here. To start with, it impressed me years ago when Clement was baptized that it was that his godparents, our friends Dwight and Emily, who held him throughout the entire ritual. In the new rite, the godparents simply stand by, witnessing the action. In the old ritual, on the other hand, the godparents not only hold the child, but make all the responses for him. 

Priest: "N. (name of the child), what do you ask of the Church of God?"
Godparents: "Faith."
Priest: "What does faith offer you?"
Godparents: "Eternal life."
Priest: "If, then, you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments: thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and thy neighbor as thyself." 

That the godparents make these responses on behalf of the child struck me, I think, because their task is a sort of spiritual parenthood. When Rosemary and I discuss possible godparents for our children, we think of people who've inspired us in our own walk of faith and who will be able to do the same for our children. We think of people that we trust to pray regularly for their godchildren and who will intentionally foster a special bond with them in regard to the faith. So it makes sense that the godparents, who take special spiritual charge of the child in a similar manner to the  parents concerning themselves with the child's physical well-being and education, hold the child as he is baptized and answer the questions posed to him on his behalf.

Here Emily, Clement's godmother, holds him as Father Phil Wolfe marks him with the sign of the cross at the entrance of the church.

Notably, these early questions in the older ritual occur outside the church. The idea is that the child is not yet a member of the Church community. Rather, he petitions for entrance through the answers of his godparents at the entrance of the church. After the initial questions, the priest breathes on the child, asking that Satan depart from him. He makes the sign of the cross three times and imposes his hands. Recalling Christ's admonition that we are to be the salt of the earth, he places a tiny bit of salt in the baby's mouth, praying:

Priest: "N., receive the salt, which is a symbol of wisdom. May it bring you God's favor for life everlasting."
 After another exorcism, another sign of the cross, and another imposition of hands, the baby is finally admitted to the church proper. I vividly recall this entrance from Clement's and Cletus' baptisms. Fr. Wolfe and Fr. Bauknecht, respectively, laid their purple stoles upon the child and led him, carried by his godparents, into the church and to the baptismal font while reciting the Apostle's Creed and the Our Father, the two most important prayers of our Catholic faith. For both baptisms we had quite a crowd of friends and onlookers (especially since the baptisms occurred right after the regularly scheduled Sunday Masses), and everybody followed behind, reciting these prayers together with the godparents.

In my perusal of the rite, I was struck by the number of times Satin is referenced, both before and even after the entrance into the church. This is a major difference between the old rite and the new, where there is only one exorcism immediately before the baptism itself. In the old rite, on the other hand, the priest has already urged Satan to depart twice, and he has also exorcised the salt (a "creature of God") prior to placing it in the child's mouth, There is also the solemn exorcism, which is retained in the new rite. While Satan might be an awkward topic to us moderns, C.S. Lewis famously said that Satan's most devious, most effective ploy is making us forget that he exists, or even disbelieve in his existence.

Here we are entering into the church proper at Cletus' baptism.

There is absolutely no forgetting that the Church firmly believes in Satan's reality, and in his role in leading us astray, in the older ritual of baptism. I like that. I was disturbed, in fact, by how in the Liguori Publications video our parish required us to watch described baptism without a single reference to Satan. Especially since we've been praying Compline together as a family during Advent and Christmas, I always have the words of St. Peter, from Tuesday nights, on my mind:

"Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith." (1 Peter 5:8-9)

 Baptism is not merely a "welcoming ritual" and a marker of entrance into the Church community, the two elements the video dwelt upon the most. It's a freeing from the snares of Satan, who has claim over us as a result of the original sin we inherit from our first parents. Baptism is a welcoming into the life of Christ, who redeemed us by His sacrifice on the cross and gives us the grace to persevere in our journey to eternal life through the sacraments, beginning with baptism. From the solemn exorcism:

Priest: "I exorcise you, every unclean spirit, in the name of God, the Father almighty, nd in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Judge, and in the strength of the Holy Ghost,that you may depart from this creature of God, N., whom our Lord has called to His holy temple in order that he may become a temple of the living God and that the Holy Ghost may dwell in him. Through the same Christ our Lord, Who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire."
Of course, this is followed by the renunciation of Satan, where the godparents again speak on behalf of the child:

Priest: "N., do you renounce Satan?"
Godparents: "I do renounce him."
Priest: "And all his works?"
Godparents: "I do renounce them."
Priest: "And all his pomps?"
Godparents: "I do renounce them."
Like in the newer ritual, the child is then anointed with the oil of catechumens, the profession of faith is made, and the baptism occurs in the

"name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
or in Latin,
"In nomine Patris, et Filii, and Spiritus Sancti."
 The white linen cloth, a symbol of the purity of the soul cleansed from original sin, and the lighted candle, a symbol of the child's new faith, to be kept alight all through his life, are part of the rituals new and old.

Cletus' godfather, James, holds the candle signifying the grace of Cletus' baptism to be kept burning throughout his Christian life.

In conclusion, I'm excited that Fr. Tighe has agreed to perform the new baby's baptism according to the older ritual. I understand that the '60s were heady times, but I've been at a loss for years now as to why so much symbolism would be deemed irrelevant in the revisions of these rituals. To be sure, I'm grateful that the older forms are still permissible and that they are gaining traction among many young Catholics. It seems to me that what the older ritual emphasizes is precisely what we've need of today in our modern, secular culture.

From the Churching of Women, immediately after Clement's baptism.

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