RBC 8-9: When To Baptize

The question often comes up. here’s what the rite says:

8. As for the time of baptism, the first consideration is the welfare of the child, that it may not be deprived of the benefit of the sacrament; then the health of the mother must be considered, so that, if at all possible, she too may be present. Then, as long as they do not interfere with the greater good of the child, there are pastoral considerations, such as allowing sufficient time to prepare the parents and to plan the actual celebration in order to bring out its true character effectively. Accordingly:

  1. If the child is in danger of death, it is to be baptized without delay, in the manner laid down in no. 21.
  2. In other cases, as soon as possible – if need be, even before the child is born, the parents should be in touch with the parish priest (pastor) concerning the baptism, so that proper preparation may be made for the celebration.
  3. An infant should be baptized within the first weeks after birth. The conference of bishops may, for sufficiently serious pastoral reasons, determine a longer interval of time between birth and baptism.
  4. When the parents are not yet prepared to profess the faith or to undertake the duty of bringing up their children as Christians, it is for the parish priest (pastor), keeping in mind whatever regulations may have been laid down by the conference of bishops, to determine the time for the baptism of infants.

Many couples these days prepare for the baptism liturgy during pregnancy. Note the expectation of an early baptism. While the mother’s health is quoted as a reason, the mobility of American society means that relatives, friends, and others will arrange to attend.

    9. To bring out the paschal character of baptism, it is recommended that the sacrament be celebrated during the Easter Vigil or on Sunday, when the Church commemorates the Lord’s resurrection. On Sunday, baptism may be celebrated even during Mass, so that the entire community may be present and the relationship between baptism and eucharist may be clearly seen; but this should not be done too often. Regulations for the celebration of baptism during the Easter Vigil or at Mass on Sunday will be set out later.

    The rite gives a clear preference here. Easter Vigil number one. Sunday number two. How do pastors and liturgists interpret “not too often?” Are parents more reticent these days about baptism at Mass? My sense of my present parish is yes, somewhat. Which is too bad. The relationship is one of the post-conciliar aspects that still needs work.

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    Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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    4 Responses to RBC 8-9: When To Baptize

    1. Well, make of it what you will, but the “baptisms (and other sacraments) during Mass” is one of those great ideas from the Council that has proved impractical (the other one is the idea of not distributing holy communion from the tabernacle during Mass).

      Maybe after I’ve been a priest longer, I won’t find it so hard to do this, but the few times I’ve done it, I found the way baptism is integrated into the Mass hard to keep track of, so it was stressful to get everything right. Whenever a Mass calls for something special inserted, it adds stress and is harder for me to pray the Mass.

      When I’ve done a baptism in Mass, I could feel and hear the reaction — negative — of many present to a baptism at Mass (because it would, presumably, take longer).

      The family is often more stressed, whereas baptism in its own liturgy is more relaxed. When baptism is celebrated in its own liturgy, it is very comfortable providing some explanations and mystagogy along the way, that would not go over well in Sunday Mass.

      Finally, it’s hard enough coming up with one homily for Sunday, a baptism seems to call for some modification, or a whole new one. That stops being fun when you become a pastor.

      We offer to do baptisms in Mass, and I’ll do it if requested; but I don’t push it.

    2. concordpastor says:

      Of course we regularly celebrate other sacraments and rites in the context of the Eucharist: acceptance into the order of catechumens; scrutinies; Christian initiation at the Great Vigil; confirmation; marriage; holy orders; anointing of the sick and, most regularly, funerals.

      With varying degrees of success we have actually come to expect these rites to be celebrated within the Eucharist. I’m not sure why infant baptism should present particular or peculiar difficulties.

      I’m a pastor, older than Fr. Fox, who has regularly been celebrating baptisms at Mass for nearly 14 years. I find two words in his critique helpful in making my response here: “inserted” and “integrated.”

      If the rite or sacrament in question is understood by the priest as something to be integrated into the Eucharistic celebration and if he has grown to a certain level of comfortability both as presider at Eucharist and with the sacrament at hand, then it’s likely that the assembly will experience the celebration as an integrated whole.

      To whatever degree the presider is unsure or uncomfortable with this effort towards integration, the celebration may be experienced as an attempt at “inserting” one sacrament within another.

      This is not at all a critique of Fr. Fox’s presiding – which I have never experienced. In fact, from reading his blog my intuition is that his presiding is prayerful, graceful and reverent – without a doubt.

      It may take time, however, before he’s able to smoothly integrate a rite or sacrament within the Eucharist. (Although I’ll bet that he already does this very well with marriages, anointing of the sick and funerals – without blinking an eye.

      Of course, infant baptism at Mass has a unique combination of moving parts which include an infant (or two or three!) and their parents and godparents. I agree that this isn’t always easy but my experience tells me that it is very much possible.

      I’ll also wager that Fr. Fox deals quite well with these “moving parts” when baptism is celebrated apart from the Eucharist and I’ll bet that with a little more experience he would be able to deal with them just as well at Sunday Mass.

      “Integration,” here, is key while “inserting” can be deadly. If the presider approaches the celebration as “Mass with the several elements of the baptismal rite inserted,” then the celebration will look just like that. But integration is not only possible, it is suggested by the rite itself.

      On a practical level, I prepare a presider’s book for every celebration of baptism at Mass. The book is based on a template so I don’t start from scratch each time. Working from one book is a first step towards integration. (This definitely helps in “keeping track” of things!)

      I begin the liturgy simply with the questions addressed to the parents and godparents and the signing of the child with the Cross. I then invite the assembly: “Let us trace upon ourselves that same Cross by which we have been claimed by Christ, in the name of the Father…” Given the effort for integration and the fact that a sprinkling rite will follow the baptism, I move to the opening prayer.

      The Liturgy of the Word is that of the day. I preach the same homily I do at other Masses that weekend (total of 4). Knowing that I will preach this homily at a baptism Mass does lead me to prepare a slightly shorter homily than usual. At the Mass with baptism, I will end my homily with a connection to the child to be baptized, his/her family and the sacrament we are about to celebrate. The intercessions follow.

      The baptismal ritual then carries us through its own steps (blessing of water; renewal of baptismal promises; baptism; anointing). Since we immerse, the child is then taken to be dressed in its baptismal garments and upon return to the sanctuary we have the prayer over the white garment and the presentation of the light of Christ. Godparents are invited to present the bread and wine and Mass continues. At the blessing and dismissal I pray the blessing for parents as indicated in the baptismal ritual before the blessing of the whole assembly.

      After 14 years I know most of this by heart and I can report that the greater majority of our people are pleased, not disappointed, to be at a Mass where baptism is celebrated. Sunday Mass in our parish usually lasts just a few minutes over an hour. Mass with baptism lasts about 10 minutes longer.

      Probably about 2/3 of our baptismal families choose to celebrate this sacrament on a Sunday afternoon at 1:00, outside of Mass and 1/3 choose Mass as the setting.

      Families and the whole assembly have learned by experience what this rite can be and its potential for building the spiritual community of the parish.

      Again, Fr. Fox’s love for the liturgy is quite clear in his blogging. Thus I both respect his cautions here and encourage him to work at integrating this sacrament into Mass as he has several others. I don’t exactly recall how my celebrations of this went 14 years ago, but I’m quite certain this is something I’ve grown into.

      On another day, at an earlier hour, I may respond to Martin’s comment about communion from the tabernacle! :-)

    3. FrMichael says:

      Baptism within Mass: definitely based on the demographics of the parish. We would have baptisms at all of our Sunday Masses each week if one third of the baptisms occurred during Sunday Masses. The baptismal ritual itself adds about 10 minutes to the Mass if not rushed, with only 90 minutes between crowded Masses– doesn’t work as a regular practice. Something has to give, and that is usually the homily.

      So while I love to baptize babies during Mass, I sure don’t advertise it. The regular Mass attendees know it’s an option if they request, and that seems to work well enough.

    4. I thank the Concord pastor for his very kind remarks toward me and his account of his experiences.

      He may be right, in time I will see the matter differently. But I am just not keen on it; since the rubric says “may,” I think that doesn’t make me a rebel. His observations do give me food for thought.

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