Treating Baptism

baptism @ Mass 4

Baptism is a responsibility for anyone who chooses it. Converts, committed Christians, and even parents and godparents. Pope Francis has some thoughts today that struck me:

As he has done on a couple of occasions before, the Pope asked those present whether they remembered the date of their baptism and gave them a piece of advice.  Or rather a “task”. He asked them to look up the date of their Baptism when they go home today, “ask what the date of your Baptism was and thus you will know the date of this beautiful day.” Otherwise, you risk not knowing the date and seeing it simply as an event that once took place in the past  – and not even through your own decision but through your parents’ – and therefore has no bearing to the present.”

The young miss, my wife, and I all know our dates of baptism and initiation into the Catholic Church. These days are occasions of family celebrations. For me, they are also times to reflect on faith and the commitment of baptism.

It’s a curious thing to ponder adding old material back into the Church’s rites. It’s got to help, right? The argument for restoring four strongly-worded exorcisms from the 1570 Rite:

Hence the exorcisms are aimed at improving the fruitfulness of the Sacrament, not the fact of it. Just as we can reasonably conclude that one who is not catechized before or after the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism would generally show far less fruit, so also it seems reasonable to conclude that, other things being equal, the traditional exorcisms help to ensure the fruitfulness of the sacrament that is conferred.

There are problems with this line of thinking:

  • The Rite of Christian Initiation provides three exorcisms, and I’ve known priests who think these exorcisms are too negative or too long.
  • The Rite of Baptism provides for intercessory prayer, and if the priest or lay people present want to pray for deliverance from the devil, they are free to do so. In terms as strong as they wish, I suppose.
  • Sowing doubts in the efficacy of the modern Roman Rite. Check commentary there for skeptics because a son or daughter did not stick with the Church, or how much better things were and how free from the devil we were in the days of world wars, lynch mobs, world-threatening dictators, exploitative child labor, prohibition, the Great Depression, and First World Apartheid.
  • Blaming all sorts of things on an external evil allows believers to free themselves from responsibility. Are human beings good people under the influence of something they can’t control? Or do we commit serious sins that have serious consequences? Or do we get to select which serious sins are our own fault or something else’s?

Instead of pining for the good-ol’ days, why not consider some pastoral wisdom?

  • Remember baptism days like we remember birthdays and the anniversaries of marriage and ordination.
  • Celebrate them as a party, but also as a platform to reflect on the commitment of baptism and what that means to those at the party.
  • Praying for deliverance from evil is not a magical thing that can only be conducted by the clergy. Christians say the words every day. Do we mean it? Or are we just passing the buck?

Baptism is a responsibility. Let’s take responsibility for it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Treating Baptism

  1. Liam says:

    I had not heard of “deliverance ministry” (in Fr Pope’s linked blogpost) before.

    I come from a Catholic culture where I was implored never to address the Evil One directly as a lay person (instead to directly my addresses to God and His Saints), because that would invite things I might regret, and never to discuss the Evil One casually. This was the uniform teaching of parents, nuns and priests I received in the 1960s and 1970s. Then again, I grew up in a family that has a strict hierarchy of abuses of the gift of speech, with blasphemy and cursing (cursing NOT being the same as flattery, but malediction specifically) occupying the gravest levels (hence, in our family, do say “go to Hell” or “damn you” was FAAAAAAAR worse than using of the classic American profanities).

    I do think think we have watered down God’s battle (and early Christians truly embraced the idea that it was indeed the most supreme battle, and one that we participate in through the sacraments*) with personalised evil too much, and would not think undue some revisiting of the ritual in that regard.

    * If we want to recover some of the premedieval sensibility of the Christian church, it would necessarily partly involve recovering this agonistic sensibility to some degree more than we have in recent times.

  2. David D. says:

    Seems the CofE is in the midst of its own baptism controversy:

  3. Jen says:

    Hrm. I don’t know what I think about the whole deliverance ministry thing with its emphasis upon all things diabolical. ON the one hand, I don’t doubt there is some sort of evil force in our universe. On the other hand…I have to wonder how much attention is attracted thinking so much about it. And (if I had a third hand), all too often in evangelical cycles, the devil gets blamed for things the person just doesn’t like, understand, or tolerate. I’m not sure the third thing is something we (as Christians) need to emulate.

  4. John Donaghy says:

    This is a little off the issue of exorcisms – but related.
    The Latin American sacramentary has a long series of questions of “Do you renounce?” which are really quite pointed. These are sometimes used in place of the short form of renunciations. It can be quite challenging.
    I have a translation if anyone is interested.

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