Baptisms at Sunday Mass: Which Sundays?
March 26, 2007
When parishes plan for celebrating baptism at Sunday Mass, one consideration is the frequency of baptisms in the parish. In moderate sized parishes, in many rural and small town parishes, it is now fairly common that all the baptisms are celebrated at Sunday Mass. In larger parishes with more baptisms and family circumstances, some but not all the baptisms may take place at Sunday Mass.
If a parish wants to begin celebrating some or all baptisms at Sunday Mass, or if a parish wants to settle on a select number of Sundays for this practice, how might they decide? Are some Sundays or particular liturgical seasons more appropriate than others?
As usual, we begin with the liturgical year in mind and the Lectionary in hand. Some liturgical seasons are well suited for baptism at Sunday Mass—the Easter season, for instance, when the whole church reflects on the meaning of baptism into Christ; or the Christmas season, with the great feasts of Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord that are rich with baptismal imagery and meaning.
The season of Lent, on the other hand, centers on preparing the Elect for baptism—the Rite of Election, the scrutiny liturgies at Sunday Masses, the presentations—and preparing the rest of the church for our renewal of baptism vows at Easter. In this season, the focus on preparation and repentance makes it difficult to celebrate a baptism at Mass and do it justice.
Are there other feasts or times of the year that are well-suited for baptism at Mass (whether on a Sunday or a feast day)? The year has plenty of points when celebrating this new beginning works well. Besides the Sundays of Easter and Pentecost, besides Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, most of the Sundays in Ordinary Time are appropriate times for baptism with the entire parish community. Then consider these feasts: the birth of John the Baptist, he who points toward the Lord; the triumph of the Cross; All Saints Day; Christ the King. Think of the feast of the Presentation. Look at the patronal feast of the parish or the anniversary of the dedication of the parish church.
Considering these points in the liturgical year, look then to the Lectionary for these feasts and seasons and Sundays. The presumption is that the Lectionary’s readings will be used for the Sunday or feast day Mass when baptism occurs (“…the Mass for that Sunday is used, and ...the readings are taken from the Mass of the Sunday, or, for special reasons, from those provided in the baptismal rite.” From the Introduction, Rite of Baptism for Children, # 29). The lectionary is well-suited to shaping our baptismal life; that is what it does for us, week after week, season after season.
Baptism is intended to amplify our Sunday Eucharistic liturgy, the weekly renewal of our baptismal way of life. While some parishes simply announce that baptisms will take place at Mass “on the fourth Sunday of the month,” the resources for more careful planning are the liturgical calendar and the Lectionary. These are the guides we use to shape the Sunday and feast day liturgies of the church. These will help us plan for baptism at Sunday Mass so that it is not imposed upon the liturgy but echoes the baptismal basis for our gathering in faith.
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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