This one is interesting for the ongoing renewal of the rites of initiation in the Catholic Church. It’s even more interesting ecclesiologically – the Holy See has approved some significant alterations to the Roman rite for the German-speaking church in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg, and Lichtenstein. The main innovation is infant baptism in two stages – first, a blessing of the infant with the oil of catechumens; second, after a period of preparation by the parents, baptism.
1969: The reformed rite of baptism is issued in Latin by Rome.
1971: The German-language rite, with very minor differences from the Latin, is approved.
(BTW, the bishops’ conferences approved this on August 6, and the Holy See approved it already on September 28. This was a different era in the church — depending on your perspective, it illustrates either Rome’s high confidence in national conferences back then, or Rome’s hesitance to examine and correct national submissions.)
1993: The international German-language liturgical task force commissions a revision of the rite of baptism. The justification for infant baptism is to be made clearer, as are the guidelines for proceeding when the conditions for infant baptism are not present (e.g., no chance of Christian upbringing).
1996: The revised manuscript is completed, along with a new “pastoral introduction” written by the German speakers to be included in the ritual book alongside the translated official Latin introduction. The first ritual option is “The Celebration of Baptism with a Period of Preparation,” i.e. two-stage baptism. The second option follows the Latin official rite, with baptism in one single celebration. To the official rite is added a German-language “Rite of Blessing with [indefinite] Postponement of Baptism.”
1997: The German and Austrian bishops remove the “Rite of Blessing with Postponement of Baptism” out of concern that the blessing would seem sufficient to some parents as a replacement for baptism. The rest of the revised rite is approved and submitted to Rome.
1999: Rome rejects the submission and informs the conferences that a new translation would be required in line with an impending new instruction on translation. (Liturgiam Authenticam [LA] appeared in 2001.) The two-stage baptism – this is significant – would be approved, but only if placed in an appendix rather than as the preferred form.
2002: The German-speakers begin retranslating in accord with LA. New is the decision to send draft versions to Rome informally for reaction throughout the translation process.
2006: The conferences approve the new draft including two-stage infant baptism (except in Lichtenstein), and Rome approves it. Different from the official Latin which has rites for one child and for several children, the German-language rite is organized for use within Mass or outside of Mass. The unique “pastoral introduction” may not appear in the ritual books because it is not based on any Latin original. It is printed in a separate pamphlet, which at least makes it easier to distribute it widely. It is not approved for publication by the archbishop of Vaduz. This is twice now that Lichtenstein has gone its own way. For some background on the guy making these decisions, see how the archdiocese of Vaduz got erected to solve a personnel problem.
The Latin 1969 edition has a rite for baptism by non-ordained catechists obviously intended for mission countries, thus not included in the German of 1971. Recently there have been a very few cases where a German-language bishop has authorized a layperson to baptize. The German-language bishops are not anxious for this practice to be publicized or spread, for reasons we all know. But LA requires that all the Latin be translated faithfully. The dilemma was solved by agreeing not to apply LA here. The rite for baptism by authorized laypersons in approved German translation is found only in a separate booklet which cannot be purchased anywhere. The authorized layperson must get it from the chancery.
After the questioning of the parents the celebrant may address the congregation with a prayer not found in Latin: “Dear brothers and sisters, some day these children are to respond for themselves to the call of Jesus Christ. For this they need the community of the church; for this they need our help and support. May God strengthen us for this task through his Holy Spirit.”
The Austrian bishops had decided in 1974 that the anointing with the oil of catechumens immediately before baptism was optional, indeed not recommended, and could be replaced by a laying on of hands. Though approved only in Austria, this practice spread to other German-speaking regions. The new edition preserves the Austrian practice, but only for Austria.
2008: The German-language ritual book appears, after delays getting the layout and appearance just right for the first of a new generation of post-LA ritual books.
The cultural context: In Germany, about 85% of Catholic baptisms are of infants. About 89% of the children of Catholics or Protestants are baptized. More than one-third of all infants are not baptized because they have no parent who is Catholic or Protestant. This, combined with sinking birthrates, means that the annual number of Catholic baptisms from 1965 to 2006 dropped from more than a half million to about 188,000. The vast majority of Catholics want their children baptized, but this is quite commonly seen as a family event rather than a church event. Many parents would be irritated if “their” baptism takes place along with another family’s, or during Sunday Mass. Many feel that they have a right to baptism “their” way since they have faithfully paid their government-collected church tax.
Still, baptism of a child is an important time for lukewarm Catholic parents to be (re-)engaged by the Church, and perhaps to renew their own faith commitment. While the two-stage baptism may not be required of anyone, it offers the opportunity for interested parents to study and renew their Christian faith as they prepare for their child’s baptism.
One wonders how many parents will take up the offer when there is a shorter, easier way. Any reports from the ground??
Dr. Haunerland has kindly replied to my email inquiry and clarified some things for me, for which I thank him sincerely. – awr
Two-stage baptism isn’t merely theoretical; there have been parishes who already practiced it with good experiences. The bishops thought it desirable to develop a model for wider use and to hear about people’s experience with it. The presumption is that the two-stage baptism will not be the norm. But in fact there are often enough young people who inquire about their own faith at the time of their child’s baptism. This option is not intended for those who do not know whether or not they wish to baptize their child, and the first stage is not meant to be a time of decision. Rather, this option is for more or less engaged Christians who, for whatever reason, are moved to examine and deepen their own faith. The two-stage model cannot be required of anyone, and it would never succeed if it were a required hurdle. Rather, it is the Church’s way of saying, You and your faith are important to us. We are there for you, ready to accompany you and support you at a very important stage in your life. It is a free offer. The conferences have deliberately left open the question of how long the first stage lasts. An all-too-long catechetical process would probably not be well-received. Pastoral ministers are speaking of perhaps four sessions, every week or every other week. This would mean a minimum period of a month, but more likely it would be two or three months.
Source: Winfred Haunerland, “Die Feier der Kindertaufe,” Liturgisches Jahrbuch 58 (2008.2-3), 67-94.