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Celebrating Infant Baptism During Sunday Mass
CELEBRATING INFANT BAPTISM DURING MASS
The Rite of Baptism for Children strongly recommends that baptisms take place on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, at a communal celebration for several children. It promotes the value of welcoming new members into the Church in a liturgy which includes the active participation of the assembly as well as music, processions, symbols and all the elements of a genuine celebration.
The obvious way to meet these recommendations is to incorporate the sacrament of baptism into the parish Sunday Mass. According to the Rite, this practice is to be encouraged because it enables the entire community to be present and brings out clearly the relationship between baptism and the eucharist.
This means that instead of a small group of family and friends gathering somewhat awkwardly in an empty - and perhaps alien - church for a quasi-private ceremony conducted in a virtual monologue, they are welcomed into a joyful gathering of the parish community where they are served by a variety of ministers and supported in their commitment.
However, the Rite also says that baptism at Sunday Mass “should not be done too often”. In fact, surprisingly few parishes have made it a regular feature of their liturgical practice. There are some common reasons behind both these statements.
From the point of view of the worshipping community, there may be resistance to Sunday Mass being unduly prolonged on a regular basis or to the pattern of Sunday readings and homilies being frequently interrupted. To priests, musicians and liturgists who are already fully occupied with the demands of Sunday Mass, it might just seem too much extra to take on.
These logistical difficulties can all be overcome by using some relatively simple strategies to incorporate the celebration of baptism smoothly into the Sunday worship of the parish.
A group of specially prepared welcomers can be organised to greet families and friends arriving for baptism and to make any last-minute arrangements. Ideally those parishioners who are involved in parish baptism preparation sessions would take on this role. It is also helpful if seating is reserved in the appropriate place in the church for members of the baptismal party.
Including the parents and children as well as the godparents in the entrance procession (provided they have been adequately prepared and instructed) helps to incorporate them into the community and the celebration from the outset. It also reflects the fact that baptism, for all Christians, is our rite of entry into the Church.
The Sunday Mass need not be any longer than usual when the celebration of baptism is included. The rite of reception replaces the penitential rite and Gloria, with the opening prayer following directly after the signing of the infants. Instead of reciting the Creed, the assembly can be invited to join the parents and godparents in responding to the questions about the rejection of evil and profession of faith.
It is inappropriate to regularly substitute the readings for baptism for those set down for the Sunday. Only rarely might it be considered necessary to replace one of the readings with a passage more apt for the occasion.
The assembly’s participation is enhanced if they can both see and hear what is happening during the ritual. People should be invited to be seated and small children, family and friends encouraged to gather round the font.
From personal experience I know that nothing touches, or teaches, an assembly more than the sight of a naked, vulnerable baby emerging dripping from the waters of baptism. Sharing eucharist together after such an experience takes on a dimension which makes the effort and planning involved more than worthwhile.