Saturday, November 13, 2010

Baptism during Mass

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!


Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Fr. Fox, thank you for posting this information. For those of us who do not have regular access to these liturgical books -- and I don't know which are freely available online -- it is helpful to have someone like yourself share tidbits like this.

(The one other place I know to look, Catholic Sensibility, treated this nearly three years ago, and you commented then about the impracticality of baptisms being celebrated regularly during Mass, in a rather graceful way, I think.)

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I live in the Oakland Diocese where some priests will only perform a Baptism during Sunday Mass. -gravey

Jackie said...

Thanks, Father!

While my 'baby' is 22, I too have been told that the 'best, recommended, Church-preferred' method for Baptism was in context of the Mass.

In addition to what the Church actually says (almost like She's done this a long time and knows all the pluses and minuses!) and the issues you present particularly for priests, there is also the problem for us parents.

My parish when my son was growing up had PILES of kids - LOTS of babies - a great blessing but if all the children had been baptized at a Sunday Mass - it is possible that the vast majority of Masses my son would have attended would not have the Creed, would have the other parts of the Baptismal rite through out. He would have grown up - for years - not attending a 'normal Mass' - not learning the Creed, hearing a typical homily, etc.

Additionally, when he was younger - 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade - Baptisms - which we had periodically - were a distraction. He wanted to see, the priest held the baby up for an introduction and the congregation was invited to clap (he was an enthusiastic clapper), we turned around and faced the door of the church - he wanted to see and jockeyed for position. All understandable behavior for this aged child and I'm glad he wanted to see and participate - but is wasn't always easy to teach/expect a quiet and recollected behavior. This was fine once a quarter (which is what we had) but I can't imagine every week.

Lastly, we knelt to pray after Mass was complete. It was already difficult given how loud people were after Mass - then add a large family, up front, chatting and getting pictures - well you get the point.

So - again - thanks for the actual teaching of the Church and for the 'priest side' of Baptisms at Mass.

Anonymous said...

Father, I have attended Mass at St. Mary Church for 35 years.During these years I have 2 children who have grown up attending Mass there and going through Piqua Catholic and Lehman schools.I do believe children have to be taken to church to be taught how to behave appropriately. After making this point I will refer back to an earlier poster who was upset by the rowdy children.There are situations at Mass where children are taken out to the restroom sometimes 3 times during mass;yes the same child can be taken out that many times.In my experience yes after a child has drank 8 ounces from a sippy cup there probably will be the need for 1 trip.Instead of carrying these children they are allowed to run,jump,and talk out loud while making a trip from the front of church down the side aisle,around the back, up the other side aisle to reach the restrooms so as you can see everyone in church usually has their attention taken from the Homily.Other times the children have struck at their parents when they are told to settle down.I have seen times when the Priest would have to stop and gather his thoughts due to these antics.Either the parents have no manners or are using the children as attention getters.I am not an old crabby person and as I have stated I do believe children belong in church but parents should use common sense in deciding if their children can handle the situation without distracting others.At one time St. Mary did not have restrooms in the church.

Anonymous said...

I personally love Baptisms during mass, but at every parish I have attended they have been unusual events. Now I understand why.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox:

Thank you for posting this.

I think this is a classic example of the so-called "spirit of the rites" contradicting what the rites actually say.

The problem is that, in many parishes, DREs or others in positions to make decisions advance these peculiar ideas about baptism (strongly preferred in Mass, can't do it during Lent, strongly preferred by immersion, etc.) with no basis in the rubrics of the rite or in the tradition of the Church, and people don't think to challenge their claims.

I know of several parishes that have switched from *mandating* baptisms during Mass to making it an option. In nearly all cases, the families prefer to do it outside of Mass.

As a pastor, my philosophy is to give parishioners a choice of sacramental form, whenever it is in accord with the rites and reasonably easy to execute.

-Cincinnati Priest

Fr Martin Fox said...

Cincinnati Priest:


That has been my policy as well: if there are legitimate options, I think folks are entitled to them.

Katie said...

Fr. Fox,
Thank you for performing the Baptism for our family! Everyone who was present with us enjoyed witnessing the sacrament during Mass! I do apologize for any confusion and having to cut your timing close for 10:30 Mass. Honestly, I have never seen a Baptism during Mass! When I called to request that particular weekend, the option was offered so I said, why not? We have family who would attend from out of town..the earlier time worked much better for us anyway!
I appreciate everything you did to accommodate us! If I had any idea about the impracticality, I would have just looked at other dates! haha However, it was such a beautiful Mass that Joe and I will hold near and dear forever!
Thank you :)

Fr Martin Fox said...


It was great!

I don't mind doing a baptism during Mass, but it can be tricky, and I thought readers of the blog might find it interesting.

Baptizing Elijah Joseph was a privilege!