This past Sunday saw the Baptism of our second child. Ever since participating at a baptismal rite according to the vetus ordo, the newer has always given me the impression of “lacking” something. Not that one has a sacramental effect and the other doesn’t, but rather the newer rite (or at least how it is celebrated in the majority of places I’ve been to) seems to be “superficial”; on the other hand, the vetus ordo´s catechumenal rite leading up to the baptism proper seem to introduce one ever more deeply into the Mystery. It’s not my intent here to give a description of the whole rite and its meaning, but rather to highlight some points which stuck out the most to me.
The rites began outside the church, reminding us that the child being presented, even though his parents may already be members of the Mystical Body, is not yet a member of the Church, and thus is still outside. The priest (in this case, Father Prior, D. Kirby OSB, of Silverstream Priory) was dressed in violet, reminding us that the current action was penitential in nature. After asking for the name, the child was asked what they desired from the Church, the answer to which is Faith: we are reminded that Faith is a gift from the Lord, which is mediated through the Church, and that it is that Faith in Christ Jesus which will bring us to life everlasting; we are told as well that this Faith is not some mere intellectual assent, but involves concrete actions, a conversion of life. Next followed a series of exorcisms by way of exsuflations, then laying on of hands, and signs of the Cross. The exorcisms serve to free one from whatever power the Evil One may have over us, so as to make room for the Holy Spirit:
Depart from him, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Does the presence of exorcisms mean that one is necessarily possessed? No; rather, since we inherit Original Sin we are subject to its effects – Sin was brought about by the Evil One’s deception, so being subject to sin and its effects we are, in a sense, subject to him.
As one source says about the sign of the Cross:
By the cross Christ takes possession of the mind and heart of the child, fitting him to become a temple of the Blessed Trinity, and imposing on him the obligation of belief and observance of the commandments. The sign of the cross used here and throughout the rite is indicative of the essential fact that the sacrament has its efficacy from the paschal sacrifice of Jesus.
We find among the first prayers the following:
Lord, if it please you, hear our prayer, and by your inexhaustible power protect your chosen one, N., now marked with the sign of our Savior’s holy cross. Let him treasure this first sharing of your sovereign glory, and by keeping your commandments deserve to attain the glory of heaven to which those born anew are destined; through Christ our Lord.
In this prayer we are reminded of the passage from Ezekiel, where those who have the mark on their forehead will be spared by the exterminating angel. The Fathers of the Church saw in this mark – the tau – a type of the Cross. This prayer also reminds us that while not yet baptized, the catechumen is already on the path to partaking in the Divine Life.
Salt was then exorcised. This exorcism reminds us that when Adam fell Creation fell with him and is subject to corruption. The salt is blessed so as to be made “holy” – set apart – for the service of the Lord. While the ritual and prayers refer to the salt being used for healing and as a sign of wisdom, cannot one see in it already a foretaste of the covenant that the catechumen will soon become part of, as salt was also a symbol of the covenant of God and Israel?
The majority of the prayers before entering the church speak of the Father’s steadfast love, of His mercy. For though still unbaptized, the Lord desires not the death of the wicked, but that they repent and live. The priest placed his stole on the child’s head and we processed into the church.
We were now in the narthex, that area of the church which is not completely within, but not without either. Stopping at the baptistery gates we followed an old Portuguese custom of reading the pericope from the Gospel of St. Matthew which speaks of Christ and the children. Afterwards, the Symbol of the Apostles and the Our Father was recited by all. Following this recitation there was a final exorcism, and then the Epheta, where the senses of the child were “opened” (or rather, cured) to the spiritual realities. This rite is reminiscent of our Lord’s healing of the deaf-mute man. At this point the choir sang the antiphon Lutum fecit ex sputo, also reminding us of how our Lord had used spittle to refashion eyes for the blind man. Then followed the threefold renunciation of Satan. Fr. Alexander Schmemann has a wonderful explanation/meditation on this in his book “Of Water and the Spirit“, a book I highly recommend on Baptism (if only there were a similar one for the traditional Roman rite). The child was then anointed with the Oil of the Catechumens.
Father prior then donned white vestments, the baptistery doors were thrown open, and we processed to the baptismal font. So much can be said about the font, the Church’s womb, but the ancient liturgy says it best during the Paschal Vigil, when the baptismal font is blessed to the preface tone:
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
V. Lift up thy hearts.
R. We have them lifted up to the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is meet and just.
It is meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, to give Thee thanks always and in all places, O holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, Who, by Thine ineffable power dost wonderfully produce the effect of Thy Sacraments: and though we are unworthy to perform such great mysteries: yet, as Thou dost not abandon the gifts of Thy grace, so Thou inclinest the ears of Thy goodness, even to our prayers. O God, Whose Spirit in the very beginning of the world moved over the waters, that even then the nature of water might receive the virtue of sanctification. O God, Who by water didst wash away the crimes of the guilty world, and by the pouring out of the deluge didst give a figure of regeneration, that one and the same element might in a mystery be the end of vice and the beginning of virtue. Look, O Lord, on the face of Thy Church, and multiply in her Thy regenerations, who by the streams of Thine abundant grace fillest Thy city with joy, and openest the font of Baptism all over the world for the renewal of the Gentiles: that by the command of Thy Majesty she may receive the grace of Thine only Son from the Holy Ghost.
May He by a secret mixture of His divine virtue render this water fruitful for the regeneration of men, to the end that a heavenly offspring, conceived by sanctification, may emerge from the immaculate womb of this divine font, reborn a new creature: and may all, however distinguished either by sex in body, or by age in time, be brought forth to the same infancy by grace, their mother. Therefore may all unclean spirits, by Thy command, O Lord, depart far from hence: may the whole malice of diabolical deceit be entirely banished: may no power of the enemy prevail here: let him not fly about to lay his snares; may he not creep in by stealth: may he not corrupt with his poison.
May this holy and innocent creature be free from all the assaults of the enemy, and purified by the destruction of all his wickedness. May it be a living fountain, a regenerating water, a purifying stream: that all those that are to be washed in this saving bath may obtain, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, the grace of a perfect cleansing.
Therefore, I bless thee, O creature of water, by the living ☩ God, by the true ☩ God, by the holy ☩God: by that God Who, in the beginning, separated thee by His Word from the dry land, Whose Spirit moved over thee.
Who made thee flow from the fountain of paradise and commanded thee to water the whole earth with thy four rivers. Who, changing thy bitterness in the desert into sweetness made thee fit to drink, and produced thee out of a rock to quench the thirsty people. I bless ☩ thee also by our Lord Jesus Christ, His only Son: Who in Cana of Galilee changed thee into wine by a wonderful miracle of His power. Who walked upon thee with dry foot, and was baptized in thee by John in the Jordan. Who made thee flow out of His side together with His Blood, and commanded His disciples that such as believed should be baptised in thee, saying: Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Do thou, almighty God, mercifully assist us who observe this commandment: do Thou graciously inspire us.
Do Thou with Thy mouth bless these clear waters: that besides their natural virtue of cleansing the body, they may also prove efficacious for the purifying of the soul.
May the virtue of the Holy Ghost descend into all the water of this font.
And make the whole substance of this water fruitful for regeneration.
Here may the stains of all sins be washed out; here may human nature, created in Thine image, and reformed to the honor of its Author, be cleansed from all the filth of the old man: that all who receive the Sacrament of regeneration, may be born again new children of true innocence.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son: Who shall come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire.
May this font be sanctified and made fruitful with the oil of salvation for all them who shall be born anew of its waters unto life everlasting.
May this pouring in the chrism of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the comforter, be made in the name of the Holy Trinity.
Let this mingling of the chrism of sanctification, with the oil of unction, and of the water of Baptism, be likewise made in the name of the Father ☩ and of the Son ☩ and of the Holy ☩ Ghost.
The child then professed his faith and was enquired if he wished to be baptized. Be Baptism administered by immersion, affusion, or aspersion, the result is always the same – the one being baptized dies in the waters with Christ to be raised up with Him in His glorious resurrection. Once our son came out of those waters, he was no longer the creature that had gone in: now he was a temple of the Holy Spirit in our midst, a tabernacle of flesh and blood. Suddenly his family was no longer that merely of flesh and blood, but all the sons of father Abraham. Though I am his father, and he is my son, through Baptism we have mystically become brothers in Christ.
He was then anointed with the holy oil of Chrism, a process which in the Roman tradition in not completed on the same day (as in other traditions), but later on in life. This Chrism, while not yet complete, is already a sealing in the Holy Spirit. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea escaping the bondage of Egypt and then received the Law on Mount Sinai: these things prefigured Baptism and Chrismation (one of the reasons for why Pentecost was traditionally a day of Confirmation in the Roman tradition). The white garment was then handed to the child, not only symbolizing the purity of his soul now that he was a neophyte, but also reminding us of the glory with which Adam was clothed before the Fall as well as the priestly character of our vocation as Christians. The baptismal candle was lit from the paschal candle, which is Christ. We then sang the Litany of the Saints in its glorious and ancient entirety, invoking our brothers and sisters in Heaven to protect this new son of God, and afterwards was the dismissal.
All throughout, at certain moments, the choir sang antiphons taken from the Lenten season as well as the Paschal liturgy. While they are not necessarily part of the rite, I believe they were conducive to a deeper understanding of what was happening that day. The traditional baptismal rite is also “ecumenical”, sharing many similarities with other apostolic rites. For those who are familiar with St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Mystagogical Catechesis, here we find all he has to say about “Illumination” condensed in one day; they aren’t just words written over a millennium and a half ago, but they are the reality unfolding right before our very eyes.
Straight after the Baptism, we had Holy Mass, which began with the rite of Asperges. It seemed to me to flow seamlessly from the great Mystery we had just participated in, what with the sprinkling of holy water from the baptismal font and the words “Thou wilt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed Thou wilt wash me, and I shall be washed whiter than snow. Pity me, O God, according to Thy great mercy”. Father prior gave a wonderful homily on Baptism and Holy Mass, and how the Liturgy speaks to us in our circumstances. Holy Mass ended with the Te Deum being sung as Father prior and the servers made their way back to the sacristy.