27/6/10 – The Whole Body of Christ Celebrates the Liturgy, Part II

Over the coming weeks, we will continue to explore the liturgical principles which underpin our work in the Church Renewal Process.  A fortnight ago, we began to look at the first principle, namely:

The whole Body of Christ celebrates the liturgy

We discussed previously how the liturgy is an action of Christ and the Church.  All the people who gather together to celebrate form the Body of Christ and are called to participate fully, consciously and actively in the celebration.

We might understand this, and even believe that this sense of all the Church celebrating the liturgy is achieved at Sunday Mass.  There are other times, however, when this seems to be a greater challenge.

BaptismJust like the Eucharist, all the other sacraments and rites are celebrations of Christ and the Church.  Yet, when these celebrations occur at times when most of the parish isn’t present (Sunday afternoon, or a weekday morning, for example), there can be a perception that it is a “private” celebration.  This is especially the case at celebrations such as weddings, where many of the liturgical preparations are made by the families involved, and invitations and guest lists are prepared.

Wedding ringsThe Second Vatican Council was very clear in stating that none of the Church’s liturgical celebrations are ever private.  The challenge for us as a community then, is twofold.  Firstly, we need to be confident as a parish in fulfilling our responsibilities in these liturgical celebrations.  Are our parish liturgical ministers involved in areas such as music and art and environment, for example?  Secondly, we need to support those families directly involved in weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations and the like; inviting them into our community and assuring them that their “special day” is not only an occasion of great joy for them, but one of great joy for us all.

1/2/08 – St. Paul Writes on Baptism

Baptismal font at the entrance of St. Patricks Cathedral, Parramatta; leading to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and cathedral
Baptismal font at the entrance of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta; leading to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and cathedral

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)

In this Year of St. Paul, we remember that one of Paul’s great gifts to the Church were the letters he wrote for the early Christian communities.  They are rich with inspiration and theology, as this small excerpt from his letter to the Romans shows.

This quote is part of the epistle reading read at the Easter Vigil Mass each year.  This night is the night when we celebrate Christ’s passing from death to new life, and thus this reading’s relevance to that Mass is obvious.  The reading, therefore, also shows us how the rites of baptism and Christian Initiation are integral to the Easter Vigil.

This reading from Romans (6:3-11) encapsulates the Church’s baptismal teaching.  Given this, it is no surprise that the baptismal font in a church is described as being both a “tomb” and a “womb”; a place where we both die and live; a place where one’s former life ends, and where their life in Christ begins.

Church artists and craftspeople over the centuries have made places of baptism that are truly beautiful and speak of the value we place on Christian Initiation.  St. Paul led the cause for baptism to be the rite of initiation into the Church, mirroring the practice of John the Baptist and Jesus himself.  Many have risked death, both in years past and even today, so that they may pass through the font.  Given all this, it is not surprising that the Church says the following of the baptistery:

The baptistery or the area where the baptismal font is located should be reserved for the sacrament of baptism and should be worthy to serve as the place where Christians are reborn in water and the Holy Spirit. The baptistery may be situated in a chapel either inside or outside the church or in some other part of the church easily seen by the faithful; it should be large enough to accommodate a good number of people. After the Easter season, the Easter candle should be kept reverently in the baptistery, in such a way that it can be lighted for the celebration of baptism and so that from it the candles for the newly baptised can easily be lighted. (Christian Initation: General Introduction, no. 25)

26/8/07 – Initiation into a Community

A fortnight ago, when writing about supporting the sacramental initiation processes for adults and children, I made the point “that supporting and participating in the sacramental initiation processes for adults and children is every parishioner’s responsibility.

This is not something I simply made up. The Church’s General Introduction on Christian Initiation lists the people of God as the first ministers in Christian initiation:

The preparation for baptism and Christian instruction are both of vital importance to God’s people, the Church, which hands on and nourishes the faith received from the apostles…Therefore it is most important that catechists and other laypersons should work with priests and deacons in the preparation for baptism. In the actual celebration, the people of God (represented not only by the parents, godparents, and relatives, but also, as far as possible, by friends, neighbours, and some members of the local Church) should take an active part. (article 7)

There is a very simple way that we can “take an active part” and assume our responsibility as God’s people for the initiation of all. This opportunity presents itself when children are named and anointed with the oil of catechumens at Mass prior to the celebration of their baptism. The priest claims the child for Christ by the sign of the cross, and invites parents and godparents to do the same.

You may notice that sometimes the priest (particularly Fr. Denis), will suggest that members of the assembly may come forward and also mark the child with the sign of the cross. This very simple action makes it even clearer to everyone present that this child is becoming part of a parish community, and that the community supports the child, their parents and godparents in this faith journey.

So next time this part of the Rite of Baptism is celebrated at your Mass, consider coming forward at that point and join the priest, parents and godparents in making the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. Anybody who is baptised can do it. There is no rule on how many people can or can’t do it. It is a simple way of the community showing its love and concern for a child and a family starting out on a journey we still travel today by virtue of God’s love and the support of each other.