Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 67

Vatican website translation:

67. The rite for the baptism of infants is to be revised, and it should be adapted to the circumstance that those to be baptized are, in fact, infants. The roles of parents and godparents, and also their duties, should be brought out more clearly in the rite itself.

Latin text:

67. Ritus baptizandi parvulos recognoscatur et verae infantium condicioni accommodetur; partes etiam parentum et patrinorum eorumque officia, in ipso ritu, magis pateant.

Slavishly literal translation:

67. The rite of baptizing children is to be reformed and adapted to the true condition of the infants; the roles of the parents and godparents as well as their duties are to be more accessible in the rite itself.

The rite for the baptism of infants in use at the time of the Second Vatican Council treated infants as though they were capable of answering for themselves (e.g., “What do you ask of the Church?” “Is it your will that you should be baptized?”). Since the infant candidates were incapable of speech, their godparents had to answer for them. In accord with the principle of the “truth” of the rite that we have seen earlier, the Council Fathers decree that the actual capabilities of the infants being baptized are to be reflected in the texts and ceremonies used. Not only are the parents and godparents given new roles in the ceremony (e.g., renouncing Satan and professing faith on their own behalf) but they are also given explicit instructions about their duties both in the introductory rites and in the rites immediately preceding the baptism proper.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss how well the Rite of Baptism of Infants has enshrined these conciliar directives. (One wonders, for example, how a text addressed to the newly baptized infant: “See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity….” accords with the “truth” of the infant’s condition [i.e., unable to understand language].)

19 comments

  1. Although the rite is replete with sign and symbol, there also seems to be a bit of a didactic layer to it, e.g. “Parents and godparents … you must make it your constant care to bring [this child] up in the practice of the faith”. And, “Renew now the vows of your own baptism … This is the faith of the Church. This is the faith in which these children are about to be baptized.” No need for catechetical preaching.

  2. Fr. Joncas – to build on what JP has just contributed; found that the rite needed to be better organized and made more concise – multiple signs (each with an instruction that today needs lots of explanation – salt, light/candle, godparents, garment, water, oil, pouring water or complete immersion, etc. )

    Parish had some ways to make the sacrament more *family/domestic church*; for example, baptized during week-end masses and tried to bring out the fullness of each sign:
    – used the parish baptistry (which is in the sanctuary)
    – used immersion
    – used a family baptismal gown (rather than some type of cheaply ordered tiny covering)
    – used parish oils/salt in beautiful transparent vessels
    – used the Easter Candle with family made candles for the godparents/family
    – usually had the parents hold the infant
    – incorporated credal questions with total community responses that emphasized what JP stated above (and yes, using this format the welcoming into an actual faith community happens without much explanation)

    Still find the rite’s focus to be a *jumble* – are we baptizing into a faith community and recognizing that this child is a gift from God or do we basically use the images/languages that baptism removes the stain of sin?

  3. A missing piece of customary background: the mother of the infant was typically not present for the baptism, remember?

  4. Though I admit that it seems a bit odd to address an infant, I actually kind of like that oddity. I am totally in favor of having the parents and godparent profess their faith, rather than pretending to be the infant professing his/her faith. But I do like the words for the chrism and the white garment being addressed to the infant. To my mind, it takes the child seriously as one who is now a member of the Church.

    Also, if we were to be completely consistent in not addressing the child, we would have to adopt the Orthodox baptismal formula: “The servant of God [Name] is baptized in the name of the Father. Amen. And of the Son. Amen. And of the Holy Spirit. Amen”

    On the whole, I really like the reformed rite of infant baptism. It doesn’t strike me as being any more complex than the liturgy of the Mass. Of course, most people experience it far less frequently than they experience Mass, so perhaps its unfamiliarity contributes to a sense of complexity. I, of course, only do baptisms outside of the context of Mass, which allows me to use the time of the homily to do some catechesis on the rite itself, trying to bring out the significance of some of the rituals (e.g. the oils, the candle, the white garment). I hope I am able to do this without making the rite overly didactic.

  5. It is very important that the essential connection between baptism and Eucharist is clear to all, but in my view this doesn’t require baptizing during Mass. We celebrate them following the Mass in which the parents customarily participate. The family and child are introduced and prayed for and people, especially those with young children, are invited to stay for the baptism.
    Also relating to baptizing infants, I have never adopted the practice of laying a symbolic piece of white cloth on top of the infant. The child is wearing the white garment referred to in the rite so a second is superfluous and, frankly, a little silly. Scheduling them after Mass provides our deacons with an opportunity to preside.

  6. Usually the white garment brings forth an “aaaw” moment as the infant reaches out for it. Here to be added that the baptisms are routinely celebrated in the context of the parish Mass.

    I also spread the rite out through the Mass and I shift the questions to the parents and Godparents and the anointing with the oil of Catechumens to before the proclamation of the Word and associate the litany of saints with the blessing of or thanksgiving over the font and profession of faith.

    The children are brought to church in ordinary clothes, usually immersed (depending on age, size and parental sensibility) and then handed their whole robe after the chrismation. The parents then go to the sacristy to complete the robing of the children, who are brought in around the time of preparation of the gifts, to applause.

    The candle and rite of ephphata is placed before the post communion prayer.

    And most importantly, and immersion heater in the 30litre font for an hour before Mass makes the water comfortable enough at the baptism for the children to remain serene, for the most part.

    Baptisms are also routinely scheduled for the Sunday of the month which has special emphasis on children, children present assist in holding the book, vessels of oil, carrying the garments and so forth. The children also gather around the font to get a front row view of the proceedings at the font. A little chaotic, yes, and also much appreciated by the people because the congregation experiences being family of God in a profound way.

    Each of the adaptations have grown organically from the practice of baptisms during the Sunday Mass.

  7. Two aspects of the newer infant baptismal rite that I do not understand are the deletion of many exorcisms and the deletion of the administration of the blessed salt. Were the deletions of exorcisms made in the name of noble simplicity, or out of a faltering belief in the efficacy of exorcism? Or, were these actions removed so that deacons could baptize?

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #8:
      Jordan, people who experienced many baptisms that included the administration of salt have told me that they don’t miss that rite. They said that it could make the most placid candidate start to beller.

  8. Jordan, I think the issue is more basic than a question of efficacy, or of enabling deacons to baptise. At one point, at least, laypeople could exorcise if authorised to do so, so there is no inherent reason why deacons could not.

    What’s missing is something Bill pointed to above, a better theology of evil and of the daemonic. Do we believe that infants are, from conception, infested by or subject to spirits of unimaginable intellect and power? Or that the baptismal exorcism is a sort of prefiguring of freedom in Christ?

    All this needs a lot of unpacking and re-interpreting. Fritz, do ever you discuss exorcism, salt, etc., in your catecheses?

    And yes, before anyone chimes in, let me note that Pope Francis sometimes mentions the devil in his teaching. Got it.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #9:
      Well, the salt is gone as part of the official rite — though a friend of mine from the Netherlands tells me that it was always included in her experience there.

      I always do the rather subdued exorcism of the reformed rite, and usually explain it in connection with the anointing with the oil of catechumens, saying that just as ancient soldiers and gladiators anointed their bodies so that they could slip out of the grip of their opponents, so too we anoint the body of the child so that he or she can be freed from the grip of evil. I don’t do any involved demonology; I just let that be implicit in the notion of evil having a kind of independent agency in our lives.

      I know some folks omit the exorcism, but if one reads early Christian theologies of baptism the “exorcistic” associations of the rite are simply too many and too deep to ignore: receiving the Spirit of God means that another spirit must first be vanquished. We might try to demythologize this, but demythologized ritual is, frankly, pretty ineffectual (as well as boring).

  9. Thanks Fritz! Very helpful. I am not looking to demythologise, more for some form of Ricoeur’s “second naïveté” in this regard.

    Demythologised ritual is boring, I agree. Ritual taken literally is, for many, incomprehensible or irrelevant.

  10. I agree with Fritz that the structure of the reformed rite is admirable (if the blessings over the water are kept concise). However, it was one of the first efforts by the reformers, who hadn’t quite yet found their footing, I think. I would be much happier with our baptisms if the following horrors were revised:
    1. “Baptism!” as an answer to “What do you ask of God’s church for your child?” The older rite’s answer (“Faith!”), still allowed but not encouraged, has much more spiritual depth, and not such a crude air of “Give my kid the water!”
    2. “Do you clearly understand what you are doing?”—or, perhaps, “Do you have even an inkling of what you are getting into?” When I participated as a parent, I had to resist the temptation to retort, “It’s a mystery, for crying out loud! Didn’t they teach you that in the seminary? Of course I don’t ‘clearly understand’ what I’m doing, but I rely on God’s help in bringing up this child as one of his own.”
    3. “This is our faith; this is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord” (“Haec est fides nostra. Haec est fides Ecclesiae, quam gloriamur, in Christo Iesu Domino nostro”). There must be some way to purge the ghastly implication that our faith is our achievement. I can hardly imagine the author of “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” saying these English words. They even subvert the theology of infant baptism. If the faith just professed by the grown-ups is also, through God’s grace, the faith of this infant, how is he or she supposed to be proud to profess it? The candidate is too young to be proud of anything. My suggestion: “We rejoice to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    1. @Paul R. Schwankl – comment #12:

      “What do you ask of God’s church for your child?” “Baptism” or “Faith”

      As part of planning for faith formation in a large parish I interviewed about 20 people who had served as facilitators for the parish RENEWAL program.

      The first question I asked was What does faith formation mean to you?

      I got a lot of hesitant and quite varied answers. It was clear that this meant many different things to different people, and that people varied greatly in their ability to talk about “faith formation” in a conceptual fashion. Most people were really not very articulate about what faith formation meant even after serving for almost three years in a faith formation program.

      My second question was What have been some of the most important faith formation experiences of your life?

      Without hesitation people would give me a long list, often adding additional ones as we talked. People might have had a difficult time articulating what faith formation is, but they sure knew it when they had experienced it.

      And their answers were not simply a list of Catholic education, sacramental preparation, and parish renewal programs, although there was plenty of that in everyone’s list. Half of the people had answers that involved personal relationships: spouses, being married, raising children, grandparents, and many friends. These were often elaborately articulated as we might expect from people who had just spent almost three years in small faith sharing groups.

      People don’t experience “faith” as something abstract out there or a set of beliefs, or a set of emotions. Rather they concretely experience it as a life- long series of encounters with Christ not only in the sacraments, educational and renewal programs but also in their fellow Christians such as family members, and friends. (There are plenty of unofficial godparents throughout life).

      “Baptism” has a very rich biblical background with many concrete images (of fire, and anointing as well as water) that can articulate the life- long encounter with Christ..

      Baptism is the first and archetype of our life long concrete encounter with Christ. It is far preferable to the nebulous almost gnostic “faith.”

      1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #16:
        Well, to me, those responses you got from the renewal program leaders indicate that “Faith”—or, even better, “The gift of faith”—is a better choice of answer for the parents than “Baptism.” If saying “Faith” during the baptismal rite indicates something nebulous or remote, something the parents are hard put to find examples of, then it is, indeed, not a good choice. If, on the other hand, the answer “Faith” embraces the experiences your group so enthusiastically detailed, I think it has it all over “Baptism.”
        The “faith” offered by the Church in baptism is not only the invisible immediate action of the Holy Spirit but also the opening of the door to experiences like those your group described. I think the answer to the ritual question “What do you ask” should express that. To me, “Faith” or “The gift of faith” does, and “Baptism” doesn’t.

  11. I think, in addition to the reformed Rite for baptism of infants, a recognition of the “true condition of the infants” would allow an option for infants to be enrolled in the catechumenate. The true condition of infants includes multiple dimensions. Infant baptism upholds an emphasis on the grace of God before conscious faith. Yet, another aspect of that “true condition” is that baptism does not have to be rushed when the catechumenate is an option due to other reforms.

    I have seen an infant enrolled in the catechumenate (but baptized the same day), however I would be interested to know if there are any parishes where parents are given the option to enroll infants in the catechumenate with the idea of receiving baptism in the “adult” model. Having both options would seem to enshrine the “true condition” in a fuller way.

  12. To both Dale Rodrigue and Paul Inwood–
    I grew up thinking that “bellering” was done by babes in arms and that “bellowing” was done by large hoofed animals or by our uncouth neighbors. I was nonplussed to open my desk dictionary and not find “beller” there. I guess you learn something new every day, or ought to.
    Father Anthony, what did “beller” mean in your part of Minnesota? I grew up in the (Twin) Cities, simultaneously with Michael Joncas.

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