St. Philip’s will mark the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday liturgies on March 5th at 8 a.m., noon, 6:30 p.m., and a service designed for children at 5:30 p.m. in the gathering room upstairs in the parish house. Please plan to participate, as together we begin our journey through Lent toward the resurrection of Easter Day. And please check out the link above, to read some thoughts sparked by children’s Ash Wednesday services of years past.
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.
“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.
The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” (Book of Common Prayer, 298)
These two phrases express the mysterious reality at the heart of the sacrament of baptism: that all baptized persons, regardless how old or young, are members of Christ’s body and ministers of the gospel. All are called to eat and drink at his table, and then to go into the world in peace, to love and to serve the Lord.
I do mean all. If you’re preparing for your infant to be baptized, you may wonder: how can such a young child be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Can tiny babies, who can’t walk or talk, really serve the Lord?
They can, and they do. One ministered to me during a Christmas Day Eucharist a couple of years ago. I was at the altar, praying the eucharistic prayer thanking God “for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation…and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son,” when an infant cried aloud. She was an audible sign of the Incarnation, reminding us what Jesus would have sounded like at the beginning of his life: not yet able to speak recognizable words, but already skilled at communicating needs and connecting to her fellow creatures. That baby girl glorified God, and served as a minister of the gospel, simply by being who she is.
Of course, children need guidance as they grow, to understand more fully what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ within the household of the church. That’s why parents and godparents promise, at baptism, to “be responsible for seeing that the child [they] present is brought up in the Christian faith and life,” to pray for the child, and to be a witness for them to what Christian faith and life look like in practice. And that’s why the community doesn’t leave parents and godparents to do that work alone, but promises to “do all in [our] power to support [those being baptized] in their life in Christ.” All of us do that work of formation trusting that God will guide us, help us, and bless our efforts.
I see the fruit of those efforts when I hear young children, every Sunday, praying the Lord’s Prayer with enthusiasm. They’re proud to have learned the words, and I imagine Jesus smiling along with me at their joy and focus. I see it when children come forward for communion with their hands outstretched, and respond to my “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven” with “Amen.”
But what about when you’re sitting in church with a child who won’t say the prayers and can’t seem to keep still, or with a grouchy teen-ager who’s there under protest? Those moments, more challenging for parents, are another visible sign of God’s grace and a testament to who we are as Christians. We are all forgiven sinners, who come together weekly to celebrate the resurrection, and who support each other daily as we seek to hear Jesus Christ’s call and follow him. No fidgeting, no bad mood, not even a family argument can get in the way of that. Alleluia!
The next two opportunities for you or your child to be baptized are All Saints Sunday, November 3rd, or the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, January 12th 2014. Please talk to your child’s catechist, to Rhonda, or to our rector, Jonah, if you are considering baptism.
I recently co-officiated for the first time at our parish’s Ash Wednesday liturgy for children. I loved it: our worship retained all the solemnity of the “adult” service, while emphasizing God’s constant offer of forgiveness. Tears sprang to my eyes more than once as I placed a cross of ashes on the forehead of each person who came forward, from infants to elders, inviting each to remember the universal truth, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
As I surveyed my fellow creatures of dust during the readings and prayers (no, clergy don’t always focus fully on the liturgy either!), I found that I identified with two groups in particular: squirmy children, and their parents. In the restless little ones, shifting in their seats, refusing to face forward or to stand up for the prayers, remaining tight-lipped through the congregational responses, being distracted by the toys on the Gathering Room’s shelves (just lying there, begging to be picked up!), I saw myself as God must so often see me. Silent when God would have me speak, chattering when God is inviting me to be quiet, distracted by whatever dashes across my path rather than focusing on the One who is the Way. On Ash Wednesday, I knew those wriggling children truly to be my sisters and brothers, and I gave thanks to God for the divine patience that’s been shown me over the years.
I also identified with the parents of those squirmers: the adults who try valiantly to embody God’s patience and compassion as they seek to form their children in the practices of our faith. A whir of thoughts can crowd the mind of a restless child’s father or mother: Is she disturbing our neighbors? Who cares: she’s disturbing me! Why will he sit quietly for table grace and offer bedtime prayers at home and then refuse even to say “amen” in church? Is there a bribe I can offer, or a punishment I can threaten, to spur better behavior? No, that’s probably not quite the right message to send about God’s love….Now where were we in the service, again? My child’s not the only one who’s having trouble paying attention!
It’s a lot to cope with. But the Ash Wednesday liturgy for children offers a response (if not a prescriptive answer) to those parental concerns. Our prayer of confession acknowledges that God “desire[s] that everyone turn away from those things that keep us from knowing your love,” and asks the Lord to “Open our hearts and our minds to your Holy Spirit, that we may know your love forever.”
God calls, “Turn,” and we respond, “Open us.” Because, we trust, that’s what God most wants from us: open hearts that our Creator can fill with love. We pray and worship with our children so that all of us can learn to recognize our Good Shepherd’s voice and to turn away from the things that separate us from Him and from each other. We know that the postures we assume during worship help form us: we stand for the Gospel to honor Jesus, and we sit for sermons so that we can settle in and listen for the divine Word within the preacher’s words. We want our children to practice those postures so that they’ll know that God is always ready and waiting to meet them—not so they can be “well-behaved,” or our worship can be quiet.
You’re already helping your children to turn and be opened, by modeling reverential postures and behavior for them, and by gently enforcing the age-appropriate boundaries you’ve set. So please know that while your immediate concern might be a half-hour or hour-long liturgy, God’s perspective is both longer and broader. God has endless time and patience to keep calling your child, and you, and me back into the divine embrace. You’re doing your part by heeding that call, and helping your child to hear it. Over time, this Lent and far beyond it, God will do the rest.