Integrity and Sincerity in the Baptismal Liturgy

An interesting thread unrolled a few days ago at PrayTell. Deacon Fritz Bauerschmidt suggested we lighten up on those seduced by the tendency to talk-show-host their way through liturgical presidency. I’m inclined to agree.

As an occasional preacher and liturgical presider, I can also testify to the temptation to “do” more. Words. Explanations. Stuff.

In the setting of infant baptism outside of Mass, I’ve often provided music ministry. Quite often the people are strangers to me. Is there anything I can provide, I think, that will lasso them into regular Sunday Mass? Other people are more likely to be a good influence: the deacon or priest, the baptism prep team, neighbors, family members. I’m convinced the best I can do is conduct ministry with integrity and sincerity. And use the time at liturgy to pray for the child and family.

If there’s anything we can easily do more of, it’s to pray for these people. And pray with them outside of the church as much as we can.

Fritz spoke of the ideal of conducting baptismal ritual at the entrance of the Church. I openly wonder about the integrity of settling a group of people into the pews, then moving them back to the door to “welcome” them.

I witnessed this at my first “professional” baptism liturgy back in 1988. My new pastor and his assisting couple shepherded thirty-eight parents, thirty-eight godparents and their nineteen infants into a nave they filled with other family members and friends. Then those 95 people were herded less to the three double doors leading from the narthex into the nave and more to a wide encircling of all the pews.

Did this make sense? I didn’t think so. Some couples moved farther away from the entrance for the first signations than they were in their assigned row. And why was this done: to satisfy some literal prescription of a rite that didn’t imagine a baptismal liturgy of 600 people, nineteen infants, and a semi-modern church in the American suburbs?

Would it be more in keeping with the rite to station one or two couples at the doors of the church, give each family a generous welcome, and wordlessly sign each infant’s forehead? Then, when the baptismal rituals were conducted in liturgy, parents and godparents would sign the babies, not only with the backing of the ritual words, but with at least one other experience of it. No explanation needed. Signing a child is just something parents do.

Fritz defended the use of processions–and he’s right of course to defend. We Catholics don’t do processions nearly often enough.

But if we’re going to do a procession, it should be done right. For one or two baptisms, maybe it’s better to welcome the families in the parish center rather than in the church. Nothing wrong with having a procession from there with a cross, clergy, musicians, parishioners, and families to the church doors.

The multiple oilings are another issue for me. Maybe it would be better for parents to be given a packet with a small sample of the oil of catechumens and a prayer, with the suggestion that the child be anointed very soon after birth. Or maybe the priest or deacon visits the home of the newborn and anoints there. There are worse uses of pastoral time than to visit people in their homes.

The point of all this is to connect liturgy with lived life and to gently invite people more deeply into the realm of the religious and spiritual. The liturgy exists to this purpose, not as it’s own idol of red and black and printed page.

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About catholicsensibility

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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