After my last post about baptism (here on October 24th), I received some detailed questions about the liturgy. The baptism liturgy is full of meaning and tradition, and mystery. I hope to answer some of these questions, and hope that the discussion will deepen the experience for you. The baptism rite in the Book of Common Prayer(pages 298-314) answers a lot of questions. It may also raise new questions, which I hope you will feel free to bring to me. Such conversations are some of my very favorites.
Consider, too, asking your child, another child in the atrium, or a catechist to present the baptism work to you. Every adult I know who has witnessed that work has come away with a deeper understanding of the sacrament, and of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Why is baptism reserved for certain days of the church year (BCP, p.312)?
Typically, baptism is celebrated at the Easter Vigil, the day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day (or the Sunday after All Saints’), on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the Sunday after Epiphany), or when a bishop is present to preside over the rite.
Each of these feasts or occasions reminds us of the meaning of baptism, each from its own particular angle. The Vigil powerfully signifies baptism as death and rebirth; Pentecost emphasizes the reception of the Holy Spirit; the Baptism of Our Lord reminds us of our rebirth as sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ; All Saints’ Day, that all the baptized are one in Christ; and the bishop’s visitation, that we are baptized into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Baptism can be done on other occasions if there is a vital reason for it, but that is not usual. Private baptisms are done only in an emergency.
Does the person being baptized have to wear a white robe or dress?
The tradition of wearing a white robe or dress at baptism dates from the earliest days of the church and is retained by many parishes for both child and adult baptisms. Wearing white is not required, however. The white robe of baptism is linked to another liturgical object: the white pall that is placed over a coffin (or urn) at a funeral. The pall refers back to the baptismal robe and brings to mind the hope of the resurrection. Covering the coffin with a pall, rather than any other object, signifies the primacy of that hope over all other hopes, and our allegiance to God through Jesus Christ over all other loyalties.
When can a baptized child take communion?
Any baptized person, regardless of age, can take communion. They can receive a crumb of the wafer if they can’t consume a whole one, or a drop of wine. This applies to gravely ill persons and to persons with dementia or various learning challenges, as well as to infants. A person doesn’t need to “understand” anything about communion in order to receive it. He or she simply needs to have been baptized into Christ’s body, having committed him- or herself to living as his disciple, or living under the care of parents and godparents who have made those promises on his or her behalf.
Parents may choose to wait until their child is old enough to show reverence for the sacrament before allowing him or her to be served communion. If you have questions about when your child might be ready to receive communion, please ask. Your clergy, and your child’s catechist, would be happy to do this discernment with you.
Let’s keep this conversation going!
The next opportunity for you or your child to be baptized is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, January 12th2014. Please talk to your child’s catechist, to Rhonda, or to our rector, Jonah, if you are considering baptism.