Church of England to provide more accessible language in Baptism service

Read about it here.


  1. To comment from a Catholic perspective, I wouldn’t welcome such a move in the Church because we ought to remember our salvation history in our liturgies.

    I do welcome accessible language, but not a watering down (sorry about the pun) of the rich imagery of our stories.

    Remember the stories, tell the stories and celebrate them using accessible language. [Not, of course, in a phoney Latinised English but in our English language – good, beautiful and formal, adapted to the occasion and culture].

    Anyway, isn’t the baptism liturgy aimed primarily at the one being baptised (assuming adult baptism)? And shouldn’t the one being baptised already know all about the significance of the River Jordan? If so, the present wording would seem perfectly accessible. But perhaps I’ve missed something.

    1. As usual, I agree wholeheartedly with Graham.

      I would add this note from personal experience, however. The practice of including godparents as well as parents in a preparation for baptism (not merely a rehearsal, but an engaging catechetical session) can have phenomenal results, and I wouldn’t want to discount the efficacy of doing something of this kind to remedy the situation rather than removing references that are not well understood by the unchurched.

      Even the churched often have gaps in their religious education that you could drive a truck through!

      “Remember the stories, tell the stories and celebrate them using accessible language.” Amen! Many have not heard the stories. The potential for wonder is great.

  2. It seems to me like it’s enabling the Bible — and salvation history, specifically — to become obsolete in our lives and our celebration of the sacraments today. There’s no need to divorce the rich biblical, historical imagery from the modern-day celebration of sacraments.

    1. This was my reaction as well. Yes, accessible, in language and action, indeed, but we do need to know what we’re actually being given access to. An essential knowledge of salvation history in fact assists our faith and demonstrates it to be altogether relevant in these modern times.

  3. I believe that God calls us first and foremost to participation in the sacraments, since it is through our sacramental participation that we become enjoined in the Trinity’s salvific love and receive the grace-filled capacity to live the Good News. If spoken language somehow fails widely to engender active sacramental participation, then I believe it’s time to consider a potential revision or modification. This is what the Church of England appears to be doing.

    The question of whether the Church of England has provided accessible language for Holy Baptism that is theologically and/or liturgically suitable is a question that will only be answered subjectively based on individual sensibilities concerning liturgy, soteriology, literary narrative, literary style, etc.

    1. I start to get nervous when the CofE, hardly known for child-like or dumbed down English, begins to think the baptismal service should now be brought to a level similar to some of the options found in the book of “Common Worship”. I think it is the most widely used service book in the CofE.

      1. The options in Common Worship itself aren’t all that bad — and its companion volume of initiation services gives more than enough varied options that a variety of choices already exists.

        In 2001, the General Synod approved a set of collects that (unfortunately no longer on line) were intended to do the same thing — put the liturgy into accessible language. What they ended up with was material that looks frighteningly like the lame-duck 1970s translation of the Roman Missal. Rather disappointing, in my humble opinion.

      2. Maybe they can hire the Catholic translators who preferred dynamic equivalence to rewrite many of CofE’s service books.

  4. “Not, of course, in a phoney Latinised English but in our English language ”

    Now, Mr. Wilson, that’s the problem… what is “our” English: American English or England’s English or Australia’s English..etc?
    If it’s American, is it the English of the well educated or the so called sixth grade English that newspapers use? Is it northern American English or southern American English? My point is this: why does making language accessible mean bringing it down to a lower common denominator instead of helping everyone to understand on a higher level. As a children’s librarian, part of my job is to read to children. I have colleagues who will change words in a story or will choose not to read a particular story because of words the children may not understand. I read them, explain the words to the children and then ever after they know these new words.

    1. Meggan

      “Our” English is just that. We cannot have a one-size fits all in the vernacular. The reform of the liturgy allows this. That’s why there’s no universal Portuguese version or Spanish version. Even in our present English translations there is space for Masses for Children, so why not regional English translations tailored for Australia, the Pacific NW of the USA, the Caribbean, Southern Africa, Scotland etc. Nothing wrong with that. The glue that would unify them would be the underlying Roman Rite, but expressed in the formal English dialect of the region.

      1. My understanding is that there will be universal versions in the various languages, just as we will have in English. Back in the “60s and early 70’s there was a serious attempt to have one English language version which is one reason why the existing canon was finally adopted in the British Isles in 1975.

  5. The stories of salvation are what I like most in the baptismal rite. When we’re washed in the waters of Baptism, we’re incorporated into the larger narrative of salvation. If people don’t know those stories, then the question becomes how to tell those stories in a way that will engage people, not to strip them out. To the priest who complains that people don’t know them, I want to ask, “Father/Mother, what then, pray tell, are you doing in the sermons, reading the phone book?”

  6. I am all for accessible language, but not for relegating the stories of salvation to scholars. I ran a baptismal catechesis last night for parents. One of the things I do is point out the scripture references they will be hearing and going over — albeit very quickly — the Bible stories they come from. At least they hear from me, “Listen for this, and here’s why we use it in our prayer.” Connecting the little-baby presents of Noah and the Ark with what they saw on TV during Hurricane Katrina with the prayers that talk about water, life and death are not beyond anyone’s capacity.

  7. What you need to realize is that in most non-Catholic circles in England “christening” has nothing to do with Christ or the Church. It is a purely social occasion evaluated by the amount of money lavished upon it. It is not uncommon for the parents to be unmarried and the so-called godparents to be avowed atheists. The dear old CofE is simply doing what it does best these days; conforming to secular mores in a vain attempt to prevent itself being pushed yet further to the margins.

    I am more concerned with the current dumbed-down Roman rite of baptism. The removal of most of the exorcisms can only benefit the one to whom they were addressed. It’s not the only problem with the revised Roman Ritual, and more and more priests are expressing concern. Fortunately they can freely avail themselves of the older Rituale.

    1. John,

      Do you realize that those exorcisms were mostly part of the catechumenate for adults, spread out over a long period of time in the months before adult baptism, and gradually got telescoped into a long all-in-one rite for babies? There’s a reason why the Second Vatican Council called for a restoration of the catechumenate and a revision of rites such as infant baptism.

      You’re left defending the odd result of unfortunate historical developments.


      1. Or a rationalization that those developments were necessarily Providential as opposed to postconciliar developments.

  8. Fr Ruff,

    Every liturgical change since the Council, however novel or arbitrary, was always described as a ‘restoration’. We were even told that Mass versus populum was a return to the practice of the early church, which is simply not true.

    Still, each to his own; we can compare the older rites with the newer, and if we conclude that as a result of historical development the former are richer and possibly more effective, we at least have a choice.

    1. JN, How does any of this relate to what I wrote? Are you implying that my brief history of exorcisms and infant baptism is bogus, like the faux history of versus populum? Or what is your point?

  9. Fr Ruff, my point is that everything, including liturgy, is a product of historical development and whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate depends on one’s point of view. Father (later Cardinal) Ferdinando Antonelli was involved in liturgical reform at the highest level from 1948 to 1970 and served on the Consilium which revised the liturgy after Vatican II. He was not a conservative, but expressed concern over the competence of some of the Consilium members as well as the haste with which its proceedings were conducted, and the way in which agreement was reached. Consider the following, written at the time and without the benefit of hindsight:

    “Many of those who have influenced the reform … have no love and no veneration of what has been handed down to us. They begin by despising what is already there. This negative mentality is unjust and pernicious … they have all the best intentions but with this mentality they have only been able to demolish and not to restore.”

    1. JN wrote, “everything, including liturgy, is a product of historical development and whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate depends on one’s point of view.”

      Or the point of view of the Second Vatican Council, which stated that at least some historical developments were unfortunate and should be corrected. I’m not sure you would grant that.

      Antonelli is a good guy, but not a real heavy weight. His book isn’t the “smoking gun” some are making it out to be. He is one member among many. He agreed with many of the decisions, and disagreed with some. So, probably, did every member, albeit in differing proportions. Big deal.

      “No love…of what has been handed down to us…despising what is already there…”. I don’t share this judgment. Nor did most members of Consilium, nor did Paul VI. Antonelli has a right to his opinion, but it’s a rather unbalanced opinion in my view.


  10. Fr Ruff,

    Aside from the fact that he was actually there, Antonelli’s observations have the ring of truth because we know from history that small groups of men working to a reform agenda almost invariably embrace a similar dynamic to the one he describes. For example, the decade which preceded the French Revolution was one of rapid progress and modernization, yet the revolutionaries would not give any credit to the old regime: “On va changer tout cela”. The febrile atmosphere of the second half of the 1960s is difficult to describe to someone who didn’t live through it – I was only a teenager then, but I certainly felt it.

    Apart from the question as to whether the fathers of the Council mandated or even envisaged such far-reaching reform of the Roman rites we need to consider some further issues. Did the reformers simply remove some dubious historical accretions so as to make the real meaning of the rites more manifest? Did any of the deletions have the effect of impoverishing those rites? To what extent did any deletions, additions or alterations imply a shift not just in pastoral emphasis but in actual doctrine?

    For example, I have heard the funeral rites described as “the Church’s ministry to mourners” and have actually attended Catholic funeral Masses whose stated purpose was “to celebrate the life of …” This is a clear shift in doctrine, from Catholic to Protestant in fact. The rites currently in use can presumably permit such a distortion. The older rites emphatically cannot.

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