The Time and Place for Baptism

There is a Time and Place for Baptism

According to the book of Ecclesiastes, ‘there is a season for everything and a time for every purpose under heaven’.

This is true for celebrating sacraments. Easter (meaning the Vigil, Easter Sunday and the Easter Season) is the time for initiation in the Catholic Church. This is no arbitrary practice. Easter is our annual peak celebration of the paschal mystery – the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In baptism we participate in Christ’s dying and rising to new life. The readings, prayers, symbols and rituals of Easter provide the ideal context and catechesis for Christian initiation. We would need then to have very good reasons for initiating new members outside this time. The convenience of a family, fitting in with the school program, etc. are not good reasons!

Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. It is a time to prepare for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation at Easter, whether of infants or adults. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called for the baptismal and penitential aspects of Lent to be given greater prominence in the liturgy (CSL #109). The baptismal aspect of Lent involves preparing candidates to be initiated at Easter and, for those already initiated, preparing to renew their baptismal promises at the Easter ceremonies. It is not a season for baptising.

If we bow to pressure from families to baptise in Lent, then we place individual preference above the wisdom and tradition of the Church. Those parishes which do not celebrate baptisms during Lent but defer them until Easter are sometimes told that the family will simply go to a neighbouring parish to have the baptism ‘done’ at a time of their choosing. What a pity!

Baptising in Lent, confirming in Ordinary Time, marrying on Holy Saturday all suggest that one day or season in the Church year is much the same as the next. As a consequence, the liturgical seasons lose their purpose and meaning; the rhythm of the Church year is flattened out so that there is no longer any ebb and flow, any light or shade. The whole year has a sense of sameness about it like the secular year because we give way to convenience and a false sense of ‘being pastoral’.

Parishes that do not conduct initiation in Lent often cover the baptismal font to show visually that baptisms are not conducted then.The dry font is an image of the desert, of the Lenten fast, of our thirsting for baptism at Easter. If the practice is carried out every year, then people come to appreciate its symbolism.

Parents sometimes want their baby to be baptised in a school chapel or other place which has some meaning to them as individuals. Through baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, we are made sons and daughters of God, are incorporated into Christ and are initiated into the Church.

The Catholic Church is manifested locally as the Sunday Eucharistic community, that is, the local parish. It is this community which calls people to the life of faith and welcomes them into full membership. It is the parish community that makes God’s love concrete to the children and provides the sense of belonging that is central to baptism. Holding a baptism somewhere apart from the parish church suggests that baptism is a private, rather than ecclesial, matter.

There is a time for baptism - preferably Easter, but certainly a Sunday outside of Lent, and a place - the parish church.

Elizabeth Harrington