Why Baptize Infants at Sunday Mass?
March 07, 2007
Since the Church’s Rite of Baptism for Children (up to the age of 7 years) was first introduced in 1969, our practice of baptism for infants and young children has grown and changed. In turn, our understanding of infant baptism has grown and changed.
Before 1969, infant baptism was a private matter, scheduled quickly after birth, with a handful of immediate relatives present. Even the child’s mother might not have been present. The godmother often held the baby, acting as surrogate for the mother. The parish community was not involved, invited, or invoked.
The Rite of Baptism for Children calls for a different approach. Parents and others need preparation for the sacrament, for their own growth in faith and for the Christian formation to which they commit themselves—“It will be your duty to bring your child up…to love God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”
Further, the rite describes the whole Church as the primary minister of baptism; it calls upon the whole parish community to do its part: “Before and after [baptism], the child has a right to the love and help of the community…. the faith in which the children are baptized is not the private possession of the individual family, but is the common treasure of the whole Church of Christ” (Introduction, # 4).
In other words, the Church baptizes for the benefit of us all: Baptism must “clearly appear as the sacrament of the Church’s faith and of admittance into the people of God” (Introduction, # 10). Baptism builds up the Church, builds up the faith of the Church. It is not a “private possession,” but the sacramental means of growth for us all.
This is why the rite calls for celebrating baptism at Sunday Mass, “so the entire community may be present and the necessary relationship between baptism and eucharist may be clearly seen” (Introduction, # 9). This public celebration helps baptism fulfill its sacramental role—to build up the faith of the whole Church. The baptism of an infant becomes the means, the moment, for the whole assembly to reaffirm baptism and to respond again to Christ’s call to follow him.
The whole People of God “should take an active part” in the celebration of baptism, the rite says (General Introduction, # 7)—the same expectation for every Sunday liturgy. So when there is baptism at Sunday Mass, the assembly participates by: lending our voices in song and acclamation, to make one voice, one body; listening closely and actively to the Word, which is intended for “stirring up the faith of the parents, godparents and congregation” (Introduction, # 17); reiterating our renunciation of evil and profession of faith, as we all do every year at the Easter liturgies; and praying as “one body, one Spirit in Christ” (from Eucharistic Prayer III). Further, the assembly ought to extend hospitality to the family, relatives and friends of those to be baptized. The baptism becomes the means of our growth in faith, and by active participation, we become the presence of the Risen Christ for the family and all who are gathered.
(Parishes may reprint “Why Baptize Infants at Sunday Mass” in the parish bulletin or catechetical materials. Please include the author’s name and the following: “Reprinted with permission of EnVisionChurch.org, a resource web site sponsored by The Georgetown Center for Liturgy, Washington, D.C.”)
Rev. Timothy Fitzgerald is a priest of the Diocese of Des Moines, IA. He is the author of: Infant Baptism: A Parish Celebration (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1994; Confirmation: A Parish Celebration (Font and Table Series) (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1999); and co-editor of: The Many Presences of Christ (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1999) and Incongruities: Who We Are and How We Pray (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2000).
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