Tomorrow I have a baptism during Sunday Mass.
This doesn't happen often, so I am reviewing how to do it. It's a little tricky, because the ritual of baptism is, as it were, broken up and distributed at two or three points during the Mass; and elements of the Mass are changed: the penitential rite and Creed are omitted (because the ritual of baptism talks about cleansing from sin, and the Apostles Creed, in question form, is part of the ritual of baptism). I will need to check with the reader, musician and servers so they are prepped.
I'm always thrilled to confer the sacrament of baptism, but I honestly don't encourage doing it during Mass--but I don't refuse if that is what the family requests. As it happens, recently a parishioner asked me why not. In addition to the issues I just addressed are other concerns:
> It will make Mass longer and the homily is a bit of a challenge;
> You may say, so what if Mass is longer, folks should just go with it. Well, perhaps folks should, but they don't always. Besides, I happen to have 10:30 Mass at the other parish and it's not easy moving from the 9 am Mass to the 10:30 am Mass even in normal situations.
> The family doesn't necessarily enjoy having a baptism during Mass. Children don't always manage the hour or so of Mass and the family is usually a bit nervous about what to do, when to come forward, etc. Also they have to get the godparents and other family members there. On the other hand, when the family has a baptism after Mass, it's a lot less stressful. I always wait till everyone is ready ("Is there anyone you're still waiting for? We can wait")--but I can't hold up Sunday Mass for a late-arriving family member. If, at a Sunday afternoon baptism, one of the children has a meltdown, it's no problem just hitting the pause button--an uncle can take the child to the back of church or outside, or if its the candidate for baptism him- or herself, then we just wait a moment. Most families find it pretty awkward to have that happen in front of 200 folks, but they don't seem to mind it with 10 or 20 family members after Mass.
So why is this baptism happening during Mass? Well, the family requested me to celebrate it, which is an honor, but because of another commitment, I couldn't do it after the Noon Mass; so the only way I could do it this weekend was as part of 9 am Mass.
After that, it became necessary for me to take the 10:30 am Mass (where a couple asked me to be present, as they are celebrating 68 years of marriage).
Now, one reason I'm posting this is so that folks can see the side of priestly ministry that's not always apparent. But I have another reason.
Many folks have been told that baptisms are "supposed" to be done during Sunday Mass, or that it's somehow "better" to do it that way. The parishioner who asked me about it had, I gathered, been told that. And in answering her question--mentioning much of what I just wrote--I said I simply didn't agree with that.
Today, in preparing for this, I re-read the instructions of the Church on this subject; I thought you might be interested in what the Church actually says about this--as opposed to what some folks' preferences might be, no matter how frequently expressed:
To bring out the paschal character of baptism, it is recommended that the sacrament be celebrated during the Easter Vigil or on Sunday, when the Church commemorates the Lord's resurrection. On Sunday, baptism may be celebrated even during Mass, so that the entire community may be present and the relationship between baptism and eucharist may be clearly seen; but this should not be done too often. (Rite of Baptism for Children, paragraph 9)
Now, please take note of what that paragraph does--and does not--say:
> It is "recommended" during only one specific Mass: the Easter Vigil;
> "Or on Sunday"--i.e., on the day, nothing about being recommended during Sunday Mass;
> It is not required to take place on these occasions--i.e., it need not occur on Sunday (elsewhere the instruction does spell out that baptism is normally supposed to take place in a church or chapel, and that an ordained minister normally celebrates it--but of course in danger of death, it can be done anywhere by anyone);
> It may be celebrated "even during Mass"--i.e., it's allowed, and it does have some advantage: "so that the entire community may be present and the relationship between baptism and eucharist may be clearly seen";
> But totally absent is any language of "should," "preferred" or "recommended"; on the contrary, the one specific recommendation in this regard is, "this should not be done too often"!
If you read this paragraph differently, please let me know what you see in this that says baptisms are "supposed" to be at Mass; I'm not seeing it.
Here again is an example of where some well intentioned folks have taken an idea about the liturgy and run way beyond what the Church actually says. Another example would be those who insist you can't have baptisms, weddings or first communion during Lent (our parishes are having first communion during Lent--why? Because Easter is late and it's the least-bad option; but there's nothing that says we cannot have first communion during Lent). Or that we should take holy water away during Lent, or that sacraments should always be administered during Mass (again, the Church never says that, but many people have been told this), or else you get to any number of things that were done in the name of Vatican II, yet were never taught by Vatican II.
I am very happy to have the baptism for this family and I am honored they asked for me. It's good for me to do this once in a while and it will all work out. And I do hope all those present will realize what a wonderful thing baptism is, and what a privilege to be part of it!