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Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 37

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 20

 

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The minister: bishops, priests, deacons and lay-people

If baptism is given in an emergency by a lay person, he should inform the local Catholic priest as soon as possible, describing what he did, so that the priest can be sure the baptism was carried out properly. The newly baptised person, even if he has only a short time left on earth, is now a member of the Church and part of the parish priest’s flock. The local parish will want to be sure he receives all the prayer and support he needs, both before and after his death. When he dies, the parish will pray for him as if he had been a long-time member of the parish community.

The person baptising does not have to be a good Catholic; in fact, he does not even have to be a believer. The minimum that is required is that in good faith he intends to do what the Church intends (even if he is hazy about what this actually is). The reason for this is that it is Christ who is acting, through a baptiser. As St Augustine wrote:

 

Peter may baptise, but still it is Christ who baptises;

Judas may baptise, but it is still Christ who baptises.

If a person has been baptised in a non-Catholic church and now wishes to become a Catholic, he would not be re-baptised unless there was some doubt about whether the baptism had been carried out properly. In this case he would receive ‘conditional baptism’. Before Vatican II it was common to administer conditional baptism to converts; it has now been recognised, however, that the mainstream Protestant churches all use a baptismal ritual and form of words which fulfils the basic minimum requirement for valid baptism, and therefore conditional baptism is administered rarely. This is not a matter of ecumenical politeness, like supporting each other’s church fête. It is part of the Catholic doctrine of the efficacy of sacraments ex opere operato. Over a thousand years before the Protestant Reformation the Catholic Church had already faced this question with converts who had been baptised and brought up in the Donatist or Arian churches. Non-Catholic Christians were not re-baptised, because, as one of Augustine’s fellow African bishops, Optatus of Milevis, wrote, “All who baptise are labourers not lords, and the sacraments are holy through themselves, not through men.”

 

The Christian community

On the day of the first Christian Pentecost, “Those who received Peter’s word were baptised…and they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (Ac 2:41-42). No one becomes a Christian on his own; no one lives as a Christian on his own – even hermit are linked with the rest of the Church by the bond of prayer and their obedience to the local bishop. Being baptised is not a private matter. It is conceivable that a dying person who wants to be baptised may have no one else there but the priest, but for everyone else the presence of other Christians is immensely important. Those present at a baptism will include some or all of the local Christian community and most importantly the candidate’s family and friends, and his sponsors or Godparents.

 

 

 

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Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 36

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 19

 

 

  1. THE PARTICIPANTS IN BAPTISM:

THE MINISTER AND THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY


The minister: bishops, priests, deacons and lay-people
 

Most people are baptised by the parish priest, or by another priest or deacon, but it is particularly fitting when the baptism is carried out by the bishop of the diocese. It is easy to view the Church as an international organisation with its headquarters in Rome and local branches in other places, but it fact each diocese is the ‘Church’ in that place, in all its fullness, with the faithful gathered around their bishop, successor to the apostles. Guarantee of purity of doctrine is signified by the fact that the bishop of the diocese is in communion with the Bishop of Rome and all other Churches which are in communion with him. In the same baptismal homily already cited, Theodore of Mopsuestia explained:

When you have pronounced these vows and this covenant, the bishop comes over to you. Instead of his usual clothes, he is wearing a delicate, shining vestment. He is wearing new garments which denote the new world you are entering; their dazzling appearance signifies that you will shine in the next life; its light texture symbolises the delicacy and grace of that world.

The bishop could not possibly preside at all baptism in his diocese, but it is right to see the parish priest or deacon as the bishop’s representative. The chrism (perfumed oil) with which a baby is anointed after baptism comes from the supply which has been consecrated by the bishop at the ‘Chrism Mass’ at the cathedral during Holy Week, when the priests and representatives of all the parishes in the diocese gather and the bishop and priests renew their ordination promises. Most dioceses hold a single celebration of the Rite of Election at the cathedral, presided over by the bishop, which is attended by all the adult candidates of the diocese, even though they will be baptised in their local parishes.

In the absence of a priest or deacon, anyone can administer baptism. In countries where there are few priests it is often a lay-catechist who baptises, but in any country if someone is in danger of death and wishes to be baptised, or if a baby is in danger of death and the parents wish him to be baptised, a lay person can and should perform the baptism. There is a special rite for the emergency baptism of an adult, with prayers for the sick person and an opportunity for him to make his profession of faith and promise to undergo proper instruction if he recovers. There is a similar rite for the emergency baptism of a baby, with the parents making the profession of faith; if the baby recovers, there is a special service when he is brought to Church and welcomed into the Christian community, during which the parents promise to bring him up in the faith. If, however, there is no time to find the book containing the rite of emergency baptism, all that is necessary is that someone pours water over the candidate, in this manner:

John (or whatever the name is), I baptise you in the name of the Father,

He pours water over the person.

and of the Son,

He pours water over the person a second time.

and of the Holy Spirit.

He pours water over the person a third time.

 

 

To continue…

 

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 35

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 18

 

 

Difficult issues: babies who die before baptism

If a baby has been baptised and then dies, his parents can be absolutely confident that their little one is enjoying the fullness of union with God and even interceding for them, and will one day join God in welcoming them into heaven. The fate of babies who die unbaptised, however, together with that of babies who are miscarried and those killed by abortion, often causes anguish to their parents and others concerned for them. There is no straightforward answer in Scripture or the Church’s tradition. The simple theory goes like this: baptism is necessary for salvation; it may be possible for an unbaptised adult who dies to have baptism of desire; this cannot be assumed of those below the age of reason; therefore unbaptised babies cannot go to heaven. St Augustine assumed, reluctantly, that unbaptised babies went to hell, though not such a severe hell as that reserved for hardened sinners since the babies were ‘guilty’ of original sin only. Some have posited that there was a special place for unbaptised babies called Limbo where the babies would enjoy natural happiness but not the supernatural happiness of the vision of God. Limbo is a theory; it is not the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Even Limbo is of little comfort to grieving parents who would like to think that one day they shall be reunited with these little ones whom they had for so short a time. We should recall that in the Old Testament it is the image of the constant love of a mother who can never forget the child of her womb which Isaiah uses to express God’s faithful love for sinful Israel (cf Is 49:15); and it was of unbaptised Jewish children that Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father” (Mt 18:10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

 

The great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children…allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for the children who die with baptism (§ 1261).

Those who mourn the death of an unbaptised child, especially a miscarried or aborted child, may wish to meditate on the Scripture readings proposed for the funeral of unbaptised children (Is 25:6a, 7-8a; Lm 3:17-26; Mk 15:33-46), and ask God to renew their faith in his infinite mercy and Power.

Difficult issues: baptising a baby in secret

“My daughter-in-law hasn’t had the grandchildren baptised. Why don’t I do it secretly next time I am baby-sitting?” Although this course of action may seem attractive to an anxious Catholic grandparent, it is not approved of by the Church. Baptism is offered to the children of believing parents (or at least one believing parent), where there are good indications that the seed of faith which baptism implants in the child will be brought to full maturity as the child grows up.

“to fulfil the true meaning of the sacrament, children must later be formed in the faith in which they have been baptised”

The Church would not seek to baptise the children of non-believers, even if they were admirable people in other ways. By analogy, the Church is convinced of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, irrespective of the faith or lack of it of the recipient; yet the Church does not give Holy Communion to those who have no faith or who have not been properly instructed; similarly, the Church does not doubt God’s power working in the sacrament of baptism; but, as the introduction to the rite of baptism states, “to fulfil the true meaning of the sacrament, children must later be formed in the faith in which they have been baptised.” In the past, when the extended family were expected to play a greater role in the care of children, and moreover when Christian values could be taken for granted in society, the personal commitment of the baby’s parents seemed perhaps less important. Today, however, it is essential that at least one of the parents should himself seek the baptism of the child and be ready to promise to train him in the practice of the faith. Furthermore, the refusal to have children baptised may be in fact a cloak for some other subconscious agenda, such as wanting to show independence of the family’s opinions. Catholic grandparents would be wise to avoid letting baptism become a bone of contention. They should aim rather to show the beauty of the faith by their kindness and goodness. They should always be ready to give a thoughtful, reasoned account of the faith if asked, but otherwise should support the potential faith of the grandchildren and their parents chiefly by prayer and example.

 

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 34

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 17

 

The Church is the body of Christ in the world

“My Catholic in-laws drive me mad but I still want to have my baby baptised.” To ask to have one’s baby baptised is in itself an acknowledgement that the Church is greater than one’s present experience of it. The bond of baptism unites the child with Christians everywhere in the world and indeed with all the saints and heroes of the faith down the ages; more importantly even than this, the newly baptised

 “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:20).

baby is, unawares, part of the group of whom Jesus spoke at the Last Supper: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:20). St Paul told the Corinthians who were tempted to boast of their spiritual riches that God chose what is foolish, weak, low, despised in the eye of the world (cf 1 Co 1:26-29). To be an authentic sign, a sign which actually wrought the redemption of the human race, a sacrament of God’s love, Jesus let himself be arrested, falsely condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified. A helpless baby, who could not appear to be bringing some great qualities into the Church as a talented adult convert might, is thus one reminder of this aspect of the body of Christ of which baptism makes him a member.

Baptism of Desire

“What about my baby who died before he was baptised? And my friend who has never been baptised?” Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). Nevertheless, the Church says of the unbaptised:

Those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – these too may attain eternal salvation (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: 16).

This does not deny the words of Jesus on the necessity of baptism or indeed the necessity of faith in him but simply acknowledges God’s freedom to draw men to himself by whatever means he chooses to use. In the early Church when martyrdom was a real possibility, the Church always held that someone martyred for faith in Christ before he had had a chance to be baptised had received ‘baptism by blood’ and would undoubtedly receive all the benefits of water baptism. The logical extension of this view is that a catechumen who died before he had been baptised had received ‘baptism of desire’ and he too could be considered a baptised person. Then there are the ‘good pagans’ who if they had heard the Gospel would undoubtedly have accepted it; and to them must be added the non-believers who have heard about the Gospel but have not had it presented to them in a convincing or compelling way. When they come before God for judgement, and all is made plain to them that before was obscure, they will surely want everything that, for believers, baptism represents; and God who is rich in mercy and desires the salvation of all is surely free to grant what they desire. Christians are certainly obligated in charity to seek to share the joys of the life of faith in Christ, but at the same time they can look on their non-believing friends as having baptism of desire, even if the friends would themselves not recognise the term (See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1257-1261). We know who are visibly members of the Church, and as to the rest we are simply unable to tell, for they lie outside the sacramental sphere and it is only the sacraments which make the Spirit visible to us.

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 33

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 16

 

God always takes the first initiative

“Let him discover Christ for himself and choose to be baptised if he wants.” The problem with this approach is that it implies that man makes the first move. The Christian belief is “God created the heavens and the earth…God so loved the world…Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Gn 1:1; Jn 3:16; Jr 1:5; Rm 5:8). Always God acts first and man responds. This is in contrast with all the pagan religions which were such a snare for the people of Israel in the Old Testament, where the attitude was that if you made the requisite sacrifices the god would automatically be on your side. The God of Israel says:

When Israel was a child, I love him,

and out of Egypt I called my son (Ho 11:1).

This is God the loving Father of whom Jesus says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8), who Paul says created all nations, “that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him” (Ac 17:27). The baptism of babies is an affirmation that of ourselves we are helpless, that God’s loving-kindness goes before us and even our turning towards him is at his prompting. A person who was baptised as a baby should not waste energy feeling regretful that he has not had the experience of adult baptism. Rather, he should make his own

Moses’ words to the Israelites as they approached the Promised Land: “You have seen how the Lord your God bore you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went, until you came to this place” (Dt 1:31).

God offers a share in his life to all

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son (Ho 11:1).

The sacraments are not magical spells but God’s way of communicating his life to human beings, through human words and gestures. This gift is not dependent on the holiness or maturity or any other quality of the human recipient (the person being baptised) or indeed of the human agent (the person doing the baptism). As long as the person being baptised does not deny the faith professed in the baptismal ceremony, God’s life is indeed communicated.

As St Augustine writes in his commentary on John’s Gospel:

 

This word of faith has so much power in the Church of God that, through the very one who believes, offers, blesses, immerses, it cleanses even the tiny infant, not yet having the capacity with its heart to believe to justice and with its mouth to make a profession of faith to salvation. All this is done through the word, of which the Lord says, “Now you are clean by reason of the word that I have spoken to you” (Jn 15:3).

The theological term for this feature of sacraments is ex opere operato which means literally ‘by the work worked’, that is, its efficacy depends on God’s power working through the action itself, not the people involved. A sacrament thus differs from another pious activity such as making the sign of the cross, which is said to be ex opere operantis, ‘by the work of the person working’: it may help someone grow in holiness but its ability to do this depends on the devotion with which the person does it. A baby, who obviously is not actively denying the faith, therefore receives in baptism all the grace which an adult candidate does. As the baby grows up he will develop his free will and power of judgement. The Church hopes and prays he will use these to make a conscientious choice in favour of Jesus Christ. If he does not do so, nothing can force him. He is like a prodigal son who left home so young that he cannot remember it: if he does discover the way back, all his rights of inheritance will be there waiting for him and his family the Church will receive him with joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 32

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 14

 

The baptism of babies (infant baptism)

Where one or both parents is a believer, the Church gladly baptises babies. There is a special rite for them called the Rite of Baptism for Children – that is, for children not old enough to speak for themselves. The rite confirms that the fullness of baptismal grace is given to the baby, and yet also recognises that it will be years before he can respond fully to this grace and make the same profession of faith which an adult convert makes. Ideally, a loving upbringing in a home where Christ is known, loved and worshiped, together with suitable instruction in the Catholic faith, will correspond to the catechumenate which an adult converts undergoes.

“A baptised baby is like the infant heir to an enormous fortune: the wealth truly belongs to him, but he needs education and maturity to be able to enjoy it and use it well.”

Throughout the centuries there have been people inside and outside the Church who have said that babies should not be baptised. These assertions usually arise from disagreement about the nature of baptism itself. If baptism were merely a ceremony marking the baptised person’s own public profession of faith, there would be no point in baptising babies who could not be claimed to have this faith.

The baptism of the babies of Christian families, however, is the result of certain doctrines:

  • that there is an inherent flaw in human nature which separates us from God;
  • that the initiative in the whole history of salvation, from creation onwards, is always God’s;
  • that God offers a share in his life to all men but forces no one to accept it;
  • that the Church is not just a group of like-minded people, a sort of Jesus Christ Appreciation Society, but the body of Christ in the world;

The flaw which separates us from God

“ Before  I formed  you in the womb I knew you”

Some ask whether it is fair to baptise a baby, rather than to let him make up his own mind later on. This question implies that the unbaptised baby is in a neutral state, and to baptise him is like enrolling him for a career as a paratrooper regardless of whether he may grow up to be a sensitive type who really wants to be an artist. The Catholic response is that the baby is not in a neutral state: he has been born into a world which God made and loves but which does not know God, a world which does not recognise Jesus Christ when he came to it.

Above and beyond defects of upbringing and environment there is skewedness in man which prompts him to selfishness and greed. The baby had no personal choice about being born into this world, born with this condition. Baptism is the first step in curing this skewed condition, in settling the baby free from this world of unbelief. The baby is then in the position of an adult baptised in an emergency before he has been properly instructed in the faith. The grace of baptism is there; it will be for the baby, as he grows to adulthood, to lay hold of this grace and let his life be utterly different from what it would have been if he had not been baptised. If fairness is the issue, it could equally be asked if it is fair not to baptise the baby, and thus to deprive him of the grace of baptism.

 

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 31

 

Baptism

New Life in Christ

by Sr Eustochium Lee OSB

No. 14

 

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Adult candidates for baptism

Most adults are baptised after a period of instruction, given either privately or in a parish’s group of ‘enquirers’. This period, known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), climaxes in the baptism of the adult converts but before that there is a long journey of discovery about the faith and gradual initiation into the Christian community, each stage of which is marked by a special service. The stages are:

Precatechumenate, when a person is simply enquiring and receiving basic instruction in the faith;

Catechumenate, when a person has expressed a serious intention to be baptised; it begins with the Rite of Becoming Catechumens (“catechumen” means “one who is being taught”) and is followed by more intensive prayer and instruction, which may last months or even years;

Rite of Election, which usually takes place at the beginning of Lent; at this rite the catechumens is formally enrolled for baptism at Easter;

The Scrutinies, special prayers for the candidates for baptism, said at Mass on the Sundays of Lent;

The Presentations, at which the candidates are formally presented with the Profession of Faith (commonly called “the Creed”, a statement of basic beliefs which all Catholics know by heart) and the prayer taught by Jesus, the “Our Father”;

The Preparatory Rites, usually on Holy Saturday morning, when the candidates publicly recite the Creed, choose a Christian name, are anointed with the “oil of catechumens” and receive final exhortations and blessings;

The Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation, usually during the Easter Vigil; the candidates are baptised and confirmed, and receive Holy Communion for the first time.

Postbaptismal Catechesis, or Mystagogia, during which the newly baptised are helped to settle into their new life, both by the prayer and fraternal welcome of the Christian community and by any further instruction which they need.

 

 A person who was seriously ill and in danger of death, if he expressed a sincere desire for baptism, could of course be baptised without delay. He would be asked to promise, if he recovered, to undergo the usual instruction in the faith and receive Confirmation and Holy Communion in due course.

The season of Lent probably developed from the final period of instruction for catechumens who were to be baptised at Easter; it is an opportunity for baptised Christians to relive the catechumenate prior to their renewal of baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil.

 

Child candidates for baptism

If the candidate for baptism is a child who has reached the age of reason (usually seven years or more) there is a special version of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults called the Rite of Initiation for Children of Catechetical Age. The child would receive instruction adapted to his needs, and be admitted to this Rite only when he showed sufficient faith and understanding, albeit not of an adult nature.

The wording of the various rites is simpler and more flexible, so that the child can give his own conscientious response of faith. This case usually arises when a child’s parents are converted to the faith, or return to the Church after years away during which they did not have their children baptised. If the child of non-Catholic parents asked to be baptised, he would have to have his parent’s consent, and the Church would want to be sure that he would have sufficient support from Godparents and others so that he could be expected to become fully mature Christian as he grew up.