Won’t they make Mass too long?
Q: We were recently assigned a new pastor at my parish and he seems to be making lots of changes! One of them is a practice that I am not familiar with: baptizing children during Sunday Mass. Is this something that the church permits? Won’t celebrating baptisms during Mass discourage people from coming because of the additional time that they take?
A: Thank you for your excellent question! The celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is the center of our lives as Catholics. When changes are brought into the Mass by a new pastor or visiting priest, even if warranted by liturgical law, they can be difficult or even upsetting for us. Celebrating the rite of baptism during Mass, although something new to your community, shouldn’t be seen as something upsetting, but rather as something joyful and a wonderful addition to the Sunday liturgy.
Let’s begin with the question: Can your new pastor celebrate baptisms during Mass on Sunday? The answer is yes. The introduction to the Rite of Baptism for Children says, “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.” So baptisms may be celebrated during Mass (as long as it is not every weekend) or in a separate baptismal service.
So, should your new pastor baptize during Mass? Again, I would have to say yes, as there can be some profound spiritual and pastoral benefits for the entire worshiping community. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that baptism, in addition to removing original sin and bringing us into a new life in Christ, “makes us members of the Body of Christ. … Baptism incorporates us into the Church.” (CCC 1267)
St. Paul says much the same: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:13) When someone is baptized, they are baptized into a new life with God and become a newly born child of God. They are also baptized into a family of faith, the church. For me, it’s important that as many members as possible of the family are present in order to welcome its newest member, the person being baptized! Baptisms celebrated outside of Mass in a separate baptismal ceremony, while perfectly valid, don’t always communicate this central dimension of baptism as well as baptizing within Mass. At times, however, a separate ceremony is the only choice a pastor can make — for instance, if there is a large number of children and infants to baptize, if the parish Sunday Mass schedule is too tight, or if other pastoral reasons suggest this approach.
Another benefit of baptizing within Mass is that it gives us all an opportunity to renew our own baptismal promises and to be reminded of our sacred duty and mission to live faithfully as disciples of Jesus Christ. After the actual baptism takes place, the priest or deacon anoints the newly baptized with the sacred chrism oil and says these words: “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.” All of the baptized have been anointed to be prophets, kings (servants) and priests (priesthood of the faithful), and celebrating baptisms within Mass reminds us of this central dimension of our Christian lives.
Do baptisms make Mass too long? Not if the directives are followed properly. When a baptism is celebrated, the rite of receiving replaces the penitential rite and the Gloria. Also, the Creed is not said, since the profession of faith by the entire community before baptism takes place. By omitting these parts of the Mass, adding a baptism does not really extend the length of the celebration that much.
Baptisms are joyful events; I would encourage you to welcome this change and draw deeply from the spiritual fruit that it can offer both you and your entire parish community.
May Christ’s peace be with you today and always.
Northwest Catholic - March 2015