We Have Met The Baptist, and He Is We

Even my wife was asking me about this resolution from the CDF on baptism.

That is what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirms in response to two questions regarding the validity of Baptism conferred with the formula, “In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The responses from the CDF were confirmed by Pope Francis at the end of June and published on Thursday.

To cite a post-conciliar theological term, that formula is pretty far out. I’ve never encountered anything like it. And in forty years of liturgical ministry, I’ve seen a lot. I would never say that I’ve seen it all. Especially after a story like this. The official line on question #1:

Whether the Baptism conferred with the formula «We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit» is valid?

RESPONSE: Negative.

A lot of recent focus has been on how the Trinity is expressed in “adapted” form. Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and the like. That question, I’m sure, has been settled a long time ago. I don’t know that many people have paid attention to the subject of the ritual sentence. But they should have been.

My sense on the pastoral ministry end of this is that “we” have stuff to do, and don’t need to fuss about changing the liturgical particulars at the “magic moment.” Just say the words–these are easy. The hard part is making of the newly baptized what Christ intends them to be. That is lifelong. And a whole lot harder. In a way, these adaptations might reveal what my wife often refers to as “Vatican II done in a Vatican I way.”

Who is “we”? The priest and Christ? The communal “we” does have significant responsibility: bringing children to liturgy, forming them in faith, giving them apprenticeships in charity, justice, prayer, and most of all, in discipleship. Let’s not forget Jesus’ mandatum in Matthew 28. Discipleship is the priority. Baptism happens alongside, or even afterward.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit … (19)

There’s number two:

Whether those persons for whom baptism was celebrated with this formula must be baptized in forma absoluta?

RESPONSE: Affirmative.

In plain English, the CDF prescribes a do-over. The problem here is that parish baptism registries do not distinguish between the formal rite and form far out. Maybe in the past few years, people have captured this on their phone. Or it’s on social media somewhere. If 100% of Catholics read Vatican News or the CDF daily briefs, maybe there would be some checking. And calling the parish office.

If it were one or two individual priests doing it for years–more my suspicion on the truth of this–then the cleric responsible would be making calls for return appointments. Hopefully that doesn’t throw other sacraments into a whirlwind of scrupulosity. Thing is, I don’t know too many priests who would accept this judgment, and make moves to correct it. Too embarrassing. Too much horning in on local prerogative.

If baptism marked entry into a country club, then it wouldn’t really matter the words used, as long as the overall event was followed ritually and recognizably, and the registries filled with the right info. Thankfully, baptism is not rush week for the church. It is not about club membership. It is, as Saint Matthew relates Jesus telling us, all about discipleship. And there are a lot of people with perfectly valid baptisms who go about their lives as if they were baptized by “we.” Or worse.

I have nothing to offer constructively on this point. We are in the middle of a pandemic. We are having a heck of a problem scheduling normal baptisms as it is. I do not foresee clergy fessing up on this and turning on the liturgical sprinklers for the masses at the Masses. I don’t think every parent is going to bring their kid back to Church. They have membership. Nobody can tell them otherwise. I don’t think the Temple Police will be scanning baptism videos on social media. The only way out is forward.

Bottom line: will this scare a few wayward clergy into doing it rite/right? Likely the best we can hope for.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Church News, Rite of Baptism. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to We Have Met The Baptist, and He Is We

  1. Liam says:

    I agree, having spent my share of years in the land of Creative Recreating Ritual Over and Over Again, this is a formulation that struck me as WOTLP*, and the responses were what I would have expected.

    I also agree that clergy and communities are likely to resist taking remedial action. Which, btw, is also inhospitable. Hospitality isn’t only about how you welcome people. It’s also about how you deal with your own misdealings with them, however sincerely undertaken. We have a lot of people focused on the former; much less on the latter (it’s usually more congenial to focus on dealing with *other* peoples’ misdealings with other people than our own).

    * Way Out There, Like Pluto.

  2. Devin Rice says:

    The Summa Theologiae does provide detailed answers about the effects of invalid sacraments scattered thought the 3rd part and supplement. And I believe Thomas’ thinking has been received by the Church (perhaps even the Orthodox with their concept of oekonomia). For exam, an interesting digression on those who are go through the motions of ordinationsbut were never baptized is found in the Supplement Q35A5. See here https://www.newadvent.org/summa/5035.htm#article3

    To summarize – God can do whatever he wants, human beings cannot. God wants us to receive certain graces through the (valid) sacraments. If human beings try and but are unable to obtain the sacraments, that is on God. If it comes to light that a sacrament was invalid that is on us. And we will be held accountable for that.

    Though throughout most of Christendom, we never had to deal with this time of lunacy. And I doubt the Eastern Churches do either. The shear arrogance of some Roman clergy.

    • Todd says:

      The discussion is interesting to a point. There are also examples in Acts of the early Church coming to terms with baptism, the Holy Spirit, and the fruits of the early experiences of God in the proto-sacraments. Other people take these things as more frequent topics of discussion than I do. I’m more interested–and worried–in the fruits of the mission than I am in the theoreticals of invalid sacraments.

      I suppose part of that is being a lay person on the fringes of priestworld. “I don’t listen to musicians. Only bishops.” “Chrism can’t possibly be used in infant baptism. It’s for confirmation.” I’ve conditioned myself to shrug and move on.

      I wouldn’t be so sure about 1965-2020 being a special time of lunacy for Roman clergy. What other eras lacked in liturgy off the rails might have been remedied by other faults and failures.

    • Todd says:

      “Very strange” is the comment that strikes me as most apt. I wonder if there are clergy out there who, seeking an easy way out of the priesthood or diaconate, might go back and check if they happen to have a video. I suppose it would be the easiest way to laicization. Mark Shea picked up on this earlier today, and my comment there was essentially, how will anybody ever know, lacking some video that proves?

      • Liam says:

        Well, perhaps, they’d have to be young enough to have had it captured (baptismal certificates, btw, certify that a baptism has been conferred according to the rites of the Church, so they are of no help if clergy decide the rites can be “improved”…). The subject of this situation however was not such a one; he had his sacraments conferred promptly.

        The answers at the FAQ at this link (I will pick the link apart to avoid having this comment go into moderation) are not as bad as one might fear: https:// www. aod. org/ sacramentsupdate

      • Todd says:

        I feel free to leave the question of how and what needs to be repeated validly to bishops in consultation with their canon lawyers. It holds little interest for me. Likewise, the matter of priests “improving” the liturgy. By and large, they don’t listen to me. And if they are not my pastor or a liturgical colleague, I don’t care about them.

        I do recognize the potential scramble for an easy way out for someone in holy orders. I did notice the Detroit priest was “re-ordained,” apparently under the notion that “something” had to be done. I suppose if a man wanted to opt out of “something” past his confirmation, it would be easier than Mexican deacons getting the go-ahead from Rome.

        The whole improvisation of rite is so blanking silly. It creates such headaches, and really, what does it change or improve? You understand why I even hesitate to blog about such things today.

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