AST SUNDAY was a first for me. Parish priests have a definite weekend routine, all of which revolves around the usual slate of confessions and Masses. Throw in a funeral, a plumbing problem, a few CYO games, and a handful of appointments, and you have an average weekend at the parish.
Another feature of most weekends is Baptisms. I have baptized a sizable number of people in five years as a priest and one year as a deacon. Never, however, had I performed a Baptism like the one I performed last Sunday.
Many aspects of this Baptism were just like any other: happy parents, beaming relatives, crying baby, the oils, the candles, etc. What made it unique is that it was the first time I have been asked to perform a Baptism in the Extraordinary Form.
The request for Baptism according to the ancient rite came, ironically, by email. Already somewhat familiar with the rite from having occasionally paged through my copy of the Collectio Rituum, I was happy to oblige. It was a good opportunity for me to delve more deeply into the ritual, trying to understand not only its mechanics but its true “spirit.”
Here are a few observations about the experience:
1. There is a strange power in uttering the words Exorcízo te. These words are actually used three times in the EF rite: once with respect to the salt, and twice with respect to delivering the “unclean spirit” from the one to be baptized. Overall, the prayers present an unabashed Catholic theology regarding the reality of evil and the need for redemption. As a friend of mine recently remarked: the EF Baptism prayers “don’t apologize for themselves.”
2. The EF rite takes sin very seriously. This is signified in numerous ways, but chiefly by the wearing of violet vestments at the start of the ceremony. Whereas, in the new rite, a white stole & cope are worn from the beginning of the Baptism, the EF rite calls for violet vestments until after the anointing with the Oil of Catechumens. Moreover, the entrance into the church proper does not happen until after two of the prayers of exorcism have been prayed.
3. The sponsors figure quite prominently in the EF rite for Baptism. Their role certainly exists in the OF, but it is not as strong. Some of the responses & duties proper to the sponsors in the EF have been transferred to the parents in the new rite. In the EF, the sponsors answer whenever the one to be baptized is directly addressed. One of the sponsors, moreover, is responsible for holding the baby at the font, in order to signify the intimate spiritual relationship that is effected through Baptism.
4. Since the Second Vatican Council, our rituals have mostly been conformed to a pattern which includes a Liturgy of the Word towards their start. The lack of such an element in the EF rite of Baptism can be startling to those who have lived exclusively in the Ordinary Form for many years or decades. There is no first reading, responsorial Psalm, and Gospel, nor is a homily built into the rite. This is not, of course, to say that the EF rite is not scriptural; it is, indeed, drenched with scriptural elements and allusions, but not in the form of a Liturgy of the Word.
5. A major difference between the EF rite and the OF rite is that, at several points, the priest asks questions directed at the one to be baptized, which are answered by the sponsors. The most important instance of this arises at the time of the Baptismal promises. In the new rite, the parents & sponsors are asked to renew their own promises. In the EF rite, though, they are asked to answer the questions directly on behalf of the one to be baptized. This is a subtle, but very significant difference.
6. In the EF ritual, the role of the priest is very clear and very important. Probably the clearest expression of the priest’s role comes during the procession from the door of the church to the baptistery. At this time, as the child is ceremonially led into the church for the first time, the priest places the end of his stole upon the infant. This action represents both protection from the power of the Evil One and participation in the yoke of Christ’s service.
7. It is required that some of the prayers in the EF Baptism ritual be recited in Latin. There is good reason for this. I came away from last week’s Baptism, though, convinced that most people would have no problem having their child baptized according the EF, were it not for the Latin. I love Latin, I have no fear of Latin, and I uphold the value of Latin, especially in the modern world. Nevertheless, we know that Latin can be a lightning rod for many people, a stumbling block that keeps them from embracing the tradition. The EF Baptism rite is otherwise eminently accessible, even to Catholics who have no experience outside the Ordinary Form. The EF rite is direct, beautiful, and not long. In many ways, I think an EF Baptism would be more accessible for OF Catholics than an EF Mass would be at first. In the end, I am deeply grateful to Pope Benedict XVI for having opened the door to these treasures once more.
HIS WAS MY first foray into offering an Extraordinary Form liturgy, and it seemed like everything went well. One notable mistake came toward the beginning of the ceremony. When the time came for the blessing of the salt, I realized that I had set up the salt near the baptistery instead of bringing it to the door. I have made a note of that for next time! Fortunately, the father of the baby came to the rescue and fetched the salt for us.
This was actually a ceremony for “supplying the rites” for a baby who was baptized in emergency a few months ago. There are a few places where the prayers have to be adapted for this situation; these adaptations are provided in footnotes in the Collectio Rituum.
Because responses are required from the sponsors, and in order to facilitate better understanding among the family, it can be useful to have some sort of aid to help people follow allow. We used copies of this booklet, published by Angelus Press.
NE OF OUR HOMETOWN heroes here in Philly is St. John Neumann, our fourth bishop. He grew up in Bohemia and wanted to become a priest. After spending several years in the seminary, when it came time for ordination, it was decided that he would not be ordained, because the Archdiocese of Prague had too many priests already (!). After inquiring among other dioceses in Europe and being rejected, Neumann determined to become a missionary priest in America. He was ordained in New York in 1836 before joining the Redemptorist order and later becoming Bishop of Philadelphia.
St. John Neumann once composed a powerful statement about Baptism. It came in the form of a diary entry that he made on the day of the first Baptism he ever performed. The ceremony was held in Rochester, NY in July 1836, shortly after his priestly ordination. This is what the saintly Redemptorist writes:
“If the child baptized today dies in the grace of this Sacrament, then my journey to America has been repaid a million times, even though I do nothing for the rest of my life.”
The “Little Bishop” (so called because of his short stature) understood the mammoth importance of this gateway Sacrament. Please join me in prayer for Baby Theresa Anne, that she may always remain in the grace of the Sacrament she received last Sunday!