Monday, March 11, 2013

Exhortation before Rite of Baptism in the Extraordinary Form

The 1954 Collectio Rituum says in the Praenotanda before the Rite of Baptism, “If there is to be an instruction, the priest should give this at the beginning of the rite, at the church door, or upon entering the baptistery, at the point when the change of stoles is indicated, or at the dismissal.  Since I needed to bless the water for Baptism beforehand, I gave the instruction/exhortation before that.  Here it is:

It is a great pleasure and honor for me to be able to celebrate the Baptism of my niece little Margaret Susanne with all of you this afternoon. First, a little bit of context is needed. Before recently, if Catholics wished to celebrate the Mass or the sacraments as they were most commonly done before the Second Vatican Council, that is mostly in Latin, one needed special permission from the local bishop even though these were never abrogated. Thankfully, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has expanded access to the older forms so that those who still desire them no longer need special permission. The older form of the Sacrament of Baptism is what we have gathered this afternoon to celebrate so I would like to explain a few of its different parts.

First, there will be an elaborate blessing of the Baptismal water that is required by the ceremony. Then, we’ll see that the ceremony for the baptism of a child is simply an abridgment of that for an adult. In olden times baptism of adults was not administered in one continuous ceremony but in stages spread out over a period of time. We see this in the RCIA today.

The ritual of Infant Baptism itself is divided into four parts with different subparts that move from the narthex to the nave to the font. The first major part takes place in the entryway symbolizing that at this point the child is not yet a member of the Church. This part involves the Questioning of name and intent, the Breathing on the child, the Sign of the Cross, the Imposition of hands and the Imposition of salt. These basically outline the ancient enrolling of adult catechumens.

The breathing ritual harkens back to the book of Genesis. The priest breathes three times on the child in the form of the cross recalling the breath of God breathed into the nostrils of Adam. This breathing is also a form of exorcism and it, with the two that follow, symbolize not that the child is possessed or has sinned, but simply that due to the original sin of Adam and Eve her human nature as well as ours is fallen, weakened, and susceptible to the power of Satan. These exorcisms symbolize a true dispelling of the evil spirits that would try to influence her. The laying on of hands that happens here symbolizes an act of appropriation. The Church acknowledges or claims the child as her own, places a protecting hand around her, and commends her to God.

The last ceremony of the first part is the imposition of salt and also may seem unusual. Salt is a condiment meant to flavor foods and also preserve them. Christ told the Apostles: “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13). In the Rite of Baptism salt is a symbol of wisdom – that the child be given a taste for heavenly doctrine; and a symbol of immortality – that she be preserved from final corruption. The ancient ritual of the enrolling of catechumens also ended with the giving of blessed salt. This salt will also be blessed with an exorcism prayer of its own.

The second part of Baptism brings about the Admission of the child into the Church building. This involves a Second exorcism, the Sign of the cross, the Imposition of hands, the Admission into the Church, and the Recitation of the Creed and the Our Father.

The exorcism of the child here has its roots in olden times when the catechumen had at this stage advanced to the rank of a petitioner. He continued with his instructions and was subjected to an examination called a scrutiny. The priest now uses the power of exorcism received from Christ to free the child from the tyranny of Satan and to fit her throughout life for the whole Christian warfare against sin. The ancient enemy of mankind seeks to dispute with the Son of God for the possession of a child’s soul. But in this confrontation Jesus is victorious.

In the laying on of hands here, we remember the occasion when little children were brought to our Lord. St. Mark tells us that “embracing them and laying hands on them He blessed them” and St. Matthew adds that this blessing was accompanied by a prayer.

In admitting the child into the main body of the Church, the priest places one end of his stole on the child, a beautiful gesture that reminds us of those in the Gospels who reached for the fringe of Christ’s garment in search of salvation. Furthermore, the Church has now thrown open her doors to the child and welcomed her into God’s house. In the Adult catechumenate a special day is assigned for entrusting the candidates with the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Gospels – the whole deposit of faith. It is this stage that is being recalled when the priest, together with the godfather, recites the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer as the child and family process to the font.

The third part of the Baptismal Rite takes place in the nave or main part of the Church near the baptismal font and includes the third and definitive Exorcism, the Ephphetha prayer, the Renunciation of Satan, and the Anointing with the Oil of Catechumens.

After the final exorcism we see the last semblance of the ancient last scrutiny or examination. It was called “the opening of the ears” or the Ephphetha prayer, Aramaic for, “Be opened!” In the Gospel, Christ used spittle in healing the deaf mute. Here too, the priest wets his thumb, touches the ears and below the nose of the child, and prays that her inner faculties will be attuned to perceive the good news of Christ’s redeeming grace and its fragrance.

The child through the godfather, now publicly renounces the devil three times, corresponding to the later threefold profession of faith. After renouncing Satan, the child is anointed with the Oil of Catechumens. The Christian life is a contest and a struggle against the powers of evil. Therefore, as an athlete of Christ the child is anointed with oil, signifying that she is willing to engage in the contest, and that she is being given suppleness and strength for this purpose. In olden times the entire body of the candidate was anointed, in imitation of wrestlers and athletes who anointed their entire bodies with olive oil prior to entering the arena.

Finally there is the fourth and last part of Baptism which occurs at the Baptismal font and involves the Profession of faith, Baptism itself, the Anointing with Chrism, the White linen cloth, the Lighted candle, and the Last words of good will.

The candidate is now brought to the font, where we have the most highly symbolic act of the whole ritual: baptism in water which signifies and effects the cleansing of the soul, death and burial of the old life that comes from Adam, and resurrection to the new life that comes from Christ. After Baptism, the newly baptized receives the anointing with Sacred Chrism. The child is given a priestly anointing, because through baptism she shares in the priesthood of Christ; and the anointing is done on the crown of the head, because she shares likewise in his kingship. Finally she shares too in His Prophetic life in order to preach the Gospel by her words and deeds.

The bestowal of the white garment reminds us of ancient times when baptism was administered by immersion and the candidates stripped off their old garments before descending into the font, never to wear them again. Figuratively it meant putting off the old man of sin who stems from Adam. On coming out of the font they clothed themselves in new white garments as a sign of their new innocence as St. Paul says, “putting on Christ as a garment.”

Finally, the child is presented with a lighted candle. Formerly, with burning torches held aloft, the “newborn from the dead” marched into the church to assist for the first time at the Eucharist, singing as they went, the psalm, “I will go to the altar of God.” This is reminiscent of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The present ritual points to the truth that baptism is related not only to the past – the sacrifice of Christ; not only to the present – the grace of new birth; but also to the future – the glory of the life to come. After the ceremony, as so many before her have done, the mother may consecrate the child to the protection of our Lady.

This beautiful prayer, said after the Baptism, is as follows:

O Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, when the Son of God decided to take upon himself our human life in order that we might share in his divine life, he did not wish to come to us without your pre-cooperation; He deliberately willed to have need of you. Look down today from heaven upon little Margaret. She has received from her parents the life of man and now by the Holy Sacrament of Baptism she has been given a life which is infinitely superior, the very life of God. We know that just as God is her Father and our Father you are in regard to her spiritual life her Mother and our Mother. We confide this child to you, show yourself as mother, watch over her education, nourish her with the life of grace, make her progress in her Christian life just as her human parents aid her to progress in physical as well as spiritual life. Protect the precious life which has just been received. Be for her a real mother, to guard her in your arms when the devil seeks to destroy her spiritual life in your Son Jesus Christ. May she love you as Jesus Christ loved you, for our love for you is nothing else but a participation in the love of your Son for you. In the name of this child, Margaret, we wish today to make her very first prayer to her heavenly Mother, “Hail Mary, etc. Amen.”

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