I was born on June 9 and was baptized two days later. My baptism took place in the chapel of the Catholic hospital where I was born. The pictures my baptism are quite telling as my father, grandparents, aunts and uncles are present. The one obvious person missing was my mother. She was still recovering. Fearing that I would be condemned to Limbo should I die before baptism I was baptized “quam primum” or “with haste.” It would not have occurred to my family to postpone the baptism till my mom could be present or to celebrate my baptism in our parish church during Sunday Eucharist.
In 2007, Limbo was rather unceremoniously relegated to our theological archives as the late Pope Benedict XVI declared it a mere theological hypothesis rather than an official church doctrine. Children who die before baptism are entrusted to the mercy and universal salvific will of God.
Today, mostly freed from the fear of Limbo, the date of baptism is no longer set “quam primuum” or “with hast.” Rather, the date is selected based first on the welfare of the child. Second, the health of the mother must be considered so she may be present at the baptism. Third, adequate time should be given to ensure proper preparation of the parents. Fourth, the celebration of baptism is prefered during Sunday Eucharist so as to emphasize the Paschal character of Baptism and so “that the whole community may be able to take part in the rite.”
In the early 1990s baptisms at The Basilica were administered on Sunday afternoon, one after the other during a short ceremony outside of Mass. Not only did we not celebrate these baptisms in the midst of the community, I also suspect that many of the people present at our baptisms skipped Mass all together that Sunday.
Around the year 2000 we introduced an additional monthly Sunday Mass during which we baptized 15 to 20 babies. This allowed people to attend both the baptism of their children and participate in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. Still, the sense of community was quite limited as only family members and close friends attended while most of our parishioners were ignorant of the baptisms taking place.
In his book Christening: The Making of Christians, the late Mark Searle posits that one of the most vital things we do as a Christian community is to “make new Christians” through the celebration of Baptism. The communal celebration of this sacrament is as important for the one being baptized as for the community into which the person is being baptized. After all, by virtue of Baptism a child becomes a member of the Body of Christ which is celebrated best when the Body of Christ is gathered.
Earlier this year we decided to forgo the separate “Baptism Mass” in favor of integrating up to five infant baptisms in our regularly scheduled Sunday celebrations of the Eucharist on the second weekend of the month, during the 5:00pm Mass on Saturday and the 11:30am and 5:00pm Masses on Sunday. This allows the families of our children to participate in our Sunday Eucharist, while equally important it allows for our community to participate in our baptisms and to welcome the new members of our community.
This does add some extra time to our Sunday celebrations but given the importance of the “making of new Christians,” this should hopefully be embraced as a gift rather than be experienced as an inconvenience. And please be patient with us as we are finetuning the details of these celebrations.
Johan van Parys
Managing Director of Ministries/ Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts