LITURGY Q & A: Baptisms at Mass

Fr. Edward McNamara Says They’re Laudable, If Done Occasionally

CTV Screenshot - Pope baptizing 28 babies in Sistine Chapel

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Have the rubrics changed when you are having a baptism during Mass? Now they are starting Mass with the profession of faith instead of doing it after the homily. This leaves out the opening prayer and the Confiteor. To me that is a disruption, and every time I go to Mass I wonder what they are going to do next. — J.S., Houston, Texas

A: Rather than hazard a personal answer I will here present ample extracts from three documents which clarify the Church’s view on this matter.

The first document, issued by the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Australia, addresses among other things the question as to the suitability of this practice. It says:

“The Rite of Baptism for Children strongly recommends that baptisms take place on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, at a communal celebration for several children. It promotes the value of welcoming new members into the Church in a liturgy which includes the active participation of the assembly as well as music, processions, symbols and all the elements of a genuine celebration.

“The obvious way to meet these recommendations is to incorporate the sacrament of baptism into the parish Sunday Mass. According to the Rite, this practice is to be encouraged because it enables the entire community to be present and brings out clearly the relationship between baptism and the eucharist.

“This means that instead of a small group of family and friends gathering somewhat awkwardly in an empty – and perhaps alien – church for a quasi-private ceremony conducted in a virtual monologue, they are welcomed into a joyful gathering of the parish community where they are served by a variety of ministers and supported in their commitment.

“However, the Rite also says that baptism at Sunday Mass ‘should not be done too often.’ In fact, surprisingly few parishes have made it a regular feature of their liturgical practice. There are some common reasons behind both these statements.

“From the point of view of the worshipping community, there may be resistance to Sunday Mass being unduly prolonged on a regular basis or to the pattern of Sunday readings and homilies being frequently interrupted. To priests, musicians and liturgists who are already fully occupied with the demands of Sunday Mass, it might just seem too much extra to take on.”

The archdiocese then offers some pointers to find a balance between these two realities in its own pastoral context.

The second document was published in 1984 by the Liturgy Office of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and I believe it covers most of our reader’s questions as to the suitability and motivation for occasionally celebrating baptism during Sunday Mass. To wit:

“Importance of Baptizing Children

“1. The term ‘children’ or ‘infants’ refers to those who have not yet reached the age of discernment and therefore cannot profess personal faith.

“2. From the earliest times, the Church, to which the mission of preaching the Gospel and of baptizing was entrusted, has baptized not only adults but children as well. Our Lord said: ‘Unless a man is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The Church has always understood these words to mean that children should not be deprived of baptism, because they are baptized in the faith of the Church, a faith proclaimed for them by their parents and godparents, who represent both the local Church and the whole society of saints and believers: ‘The whole Church is the mother of all and the mother of each.’

“3. To fulfill the true meaning of the sacrament, children must later be formed in the faith in which they have been baptized. The foundation of this formation will be the sacrament itself that they have already received. Christian formation, which is their due, seeks to lead them gradually to learn God’s plan in Christ, so that they may ultimately accept for themselves the faith in which they have been baptized.

“Ministries and Roles in the Celebration of Baptism

“4. The people of God, that is, the Church, made present by the local community, has an important part to play in the baptism of both children and adults. Before and after the celebration of the sacrament, the child has a right to the love and help of the community. During the rite, in addition to the ways of congregational participation mentioned in the General Introduction to Christian Initiation no. 7, the community exercises its duty when it expresses its assent together with the celebrant after the profession of faith by the parents and godparents. In this way it is clear that the faith in which the children are baptized is not the private possession of the individual family, but the common treasure of the whole Church of Christ.

“5. Because of the natural relationships, parents have a ministry and a responsibility in the baptism of infants more important than those of the godparents.

“(1) Before the celebration of the sacrament, it is of great importance that parents, moved by their own faith or with the help of friends or other members of the community, should prepare to take part in the rite with understanding. They should be provided with suitable means such as books, letters addressed to them, and catechisms designed for families. The parish priest (pastor) should make it his duty to visit them or see that they are visited; he should try to gather a group of families together and prepare them for the coming celebration by pastoral counsel and common prayer.

“(2) It is very important that the parents be present at the celebration in which their child is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit.

“(3) In the celebration of baptism, the father and mother have special parts to play. They listen to the words addressed to them by the celebrant, they join in prayer along with the congregation, and they exercise a genuine ministry when:

“a. they publicly ask that the child be baptized;

“b. they sign their child with the sign of the cross after the celebrant;

“c. they renounce Satan and recite the profession of faith;

“d. they (and especially the mother) carry the child to the font;

“e. they hold the lighted candle;

“f. they are blessed with the prayers formulated specifically for mothers and fathers.

“(4) A parent unable to make the profession of faith (for example, not being a Catholic) may keep silent. Such a parent, when making the request for the child’s baptism is asked only to make arrangements or at least to give permission for the child’s instruction in the faith of its baptism.

“(5) After baptism it is the responsibility of the parents, in their gratitude to God and in fidelity to the duty they have undertaken, to assist the child to know God, whose adopted child it has become, to prepare the child to receive confirmation and participate in the holy eucharist. In this duty they are again to be helped by the parish priest (pastor) by suitable means.

“6. Each child may have a godfather (patrinus) and a godmother (matrina), the word ‘godparents’ is used in the rite to describe both.

“7. In addition to what is said about the ordinary minister of baptism in the General Introduction to Christian Initiation nos. 11-15, the following should be noted:

“(1) It is the duty of the priest to prepare families for the baptism of their children and to help them in the task of Christian formation that they have undertaken. It is the duty of the bishop to coordinate such pastoral efforts in the diocese, with the help also of deacons and lay people.

“(2) It is also the duty of the priest to arrange that baptism is always celebrated with proper dignity and, as far as possible, adapted to the circumstances and wishes of the families concerned. All who perform the rite of baptism should do so with exactness and reverence; they must also try to be understanding and friendly to all. […]

“Adaptations by the Minister

“29. If baptism takes place during Sunday Mass, the Mass for that Sunday is used, or, on the Sundays of the Christmas season and of Ordinary Time, the Mass for the Baptism of Children, and the celebration takes place as follows:

“(1) The rite of receiving the children (nos. 33-43) takes place at the beginning of Mass and the greeting and penitential rite of the Mass are omitted.

“(2) In the liturgy of the word:

“a. The readings are taken from the Mass of the Sunday. But in the Christmas season and in Ordinary Time they may also be taken from those given in the Lectionary for Mass (111, 474-489) or in this baptismal rite (nos. 44, 186-215).

“b. When a ritual Mass is prohibited, one of the readings may be taken from the texts provided for the celebration of baptism for children, with attention paid to the pastoral benefit of the faithful and the character of the liturgical day.

“c. The homily is based on the sacred texts, but should take account of the baptism that is to take place.

“d. The Credo is not said, since the profession of faith by the entire community before baptism takes its place.

“(3) The general intercessions are taken from those used in the rite of baptism (nos. 47-48). At the end, however, before the invocation of the saints, petitions are added for the universal Church and the needs of the world.

“(4) The celebration of baptism continues with the prayer of exorcism, anointing, and other ceremonies described in the rite (nos. 49-66). After the celebration of baptism, the Mass continues in the usual way with the presentation of the gifts.

“(5) For the blessing at the end of Mass, the priest may use one of the formularies provided in the rite of baptism (nos. 70, 247-249).

“30. If baptism is celebrated during Mass on weekdays, it is arranged in basically the same way as on Sunday, but the readings for the liturgy of the word may be taken from those that are provided in the rite of baptism (nos. 44, 186-194, 204-215).”

Similar norms are issued by many dioceses and bishops’ conferences. Our third and final extract is that of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland, which, while repeating some of the above norms, also offers some new perspectives and pastoral guidelines:

“Celebration of Baptism during Sunday Mass

“Why Baptism during Mass?

“’The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.’ These are the words of the priest at the beginning of Baptism. Therefore it is wonderful if the community is gathered to welcome these new Christians. Baptism is so often seen as a private family function rather than a celebration of a Sacrament that effects the whole community. If so many people gather to say farewell to a member of the community at a funeral why not have as many present to welcome a new member amongst us during the celebration of Baptism. Obviously it would not be possible or desirable to have all Baptisms celebrated during Sunday Mass but it is good to do it on a suitable occasion like the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. It is also an occasion for people to experience something different at Sunday Mass. It is an opportunity for each person to revisit and think about their own Baptismal calling.

“To celebrate Baptism during Mass needs a slight adjustment to the preparation meeting and the ceremony itself. The main changes are as follows:

“1. The anointing with the oil of Catechumens can take place at the preparation meeting. It is lovely to have the babies present for a change, it can create a lovely atmosphere at the meeting. It gives the opportunity to explain that in the early church people spent much time preparing for Baptism and the ceremony was spread out over several weeks. For adults the anointing with the Oil of Catechumens took place many times as part of the preparation for Baptism. Therefore it is very appropriate that we continue do this from time to time. The prayer over the ears and mouth can also be said at this meeting.

“2. The entrance procession and entrance song takes place after the opening rites of the Baptism.

“3. The penitential rite can then be omitted.

“4. The water used for the Baptism can be blessed prior to the ceremony, or better still at an earlier mass.

“5. The Profession of Faith is replaced by the Renewal of Baptismal Promises.

“6. The Blessing of the newly Baptised and the parents can take place after the prayer after communion before the final blessing.

“7. Ideally the pouring of Water should take place at the Baptismal font unless this cannot be seen by any of the people. In this case a large vessel can be used in the sanctuary.

“8. It is very important that the congregation can see and hear what is going on.

“Other things to do

“Fix dates and times well in advance.

“Contact parish readers and let them know what is happening and whether the family are reading the prayer of the faithful.

“Contact music group and tell them about the change in entrance procession and ask them to sing appropriate pieces during the different parts of the ceremony, e.g. pouring of water, lighting of candle, putting on the white robe.

“Write about the feast day in the parish newsletter and let people know the previous Sunday at what mass the baptism will take place.

“Make sure that members of the Baptism team have an active and visible role in the ceremony and that the parish becomes aware of the importance of the Baptism team.

“Have a Baptism banner with the names of the newly baptised displayed on it. Leave this banner in a prominent place for all masses that Sunday.

“Leave out the oil of Chrism in a large decanter so that it is visible at the other Masses too.

“Reserved signs for parents for when they come up in procession

“Radio Microphones …

“Other points about the Preparation Meeting for Baptism During Mass

“Emphasize the important role of the Christian Community.

“Invite family members to read the Prayer of the Faithful and bring forward the gifts.

“During the meeting celebrate a small prayer service for the anointing with the oil of Catechumens. Have a scripture reading and all pray the Our Father.

“Ask the families to bring the babies wrapped in a coloured blanket on the day of baptism and keep the white blanket until the appropriate moment. The change in colour is very dramatic.”

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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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