The Celebration of Infant Baptism
The celebration of Baptism is a most joyful and proud moment in the life of the Church. For adults seeking membership in the community of believers, it is a time of conversion, faith and commitment expressed and ratified in the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist. For infants, it is no less a time of conversion, faith, and commitment but the reference point now is the parents of the one to be baptized and, by extension, the larger community of the church. We are extremely happy that you are considering the Church of the Immaculate Conception as the community where your child will be welcomed into the church and where her/his faith will be nurtured in the coming years. As you contemplate the baptism of your child, we are glad to share a few ideas and invite you into a process of thoughtful preparation.
Baptism introduces your child to the mystery of church. Through this sacrament your child first relates to the church, the mystical body of Christ, the local worshiping community. Too often, this sense of church as a major factor in baptism has been but a pale backdrop to what is perceived as primarily a private family event. At the Church of the Immaculate Conception, both our preparation for and actual celebration of baptism strive to develop and affirm this larger communal sense of the sacrament. It is for this reason that we expect those who present their children for baptism to be worshiping members of the parish. It is for this reason that our preparation program brings together a number of families in a setting to meet, discuss and pray with each other. For this same reason we often schedule baptism during mass on certain Sundays of the year, i.e. when the larger parish community can be present. In what follows we will lay out a typical scenario for infant baptism.
First Steps: Either during pregnancy or shortly after the birth of your child you should make contact with the parish to indicate your interest in having your child baptized at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Usually this is by way of a phone call but please feel free to talk with one of the staff right after weekend mass. Since all sacraments are actions of the church, those presenting their children for baptism are expected to be believers [at least one of the parents] and members of a particular church [parish]. If you are not registered in the parish we will spend some time talking with you when we meet with you in person [see below] about what parish membership means and ask you to formally register in the parish.
It often happens that the birth of a child is the first contact that a young couple have had with the church in a long time. If this is your case, be assured that we want to extend to you our congratulations on the birth of your child and our sincere welcome should you decide to join the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Joining a parish is more than filling out a form. Joining a parish means bonding with other believers especially through regular participation in Sunday worship, lifelong learning and ministry. Soon after you make contact with the parish you will be invited to meet with the pastor, pastoral associate or other staff person who will extend the parish's greetings and attempt to answer any questions you may have about the sacrament or the parish and how you can begin to feel more at home at Immaculate Conception. We prefer to meet with young parents in person, preferably after the mass you usually attend on the weekend, so that we can get to know you a little better.
Parents will be asked to attend a Baptism preparation class, usually held on a weekday evening. Godparents are invited to attend as well. At this session, the Baptismal team will explore with the participants the meaning of baptism, the ensuing roles for the parents and godparents in the religious development of the child, the role of the parish in the ongoing life of the family, etc. The session is intended to be informal, friendly and informative. In addition to attending this preparation session, you will at some point be asked to fill out a form listing some of the pertinent information the church will need to register your child's baptism. This includes the names of both the parents and godparents, the child's date of birth, etc. Since in the Catholic Church one's baptismal record is of lifelong significance [all future sacraments including marriage are recorded on your church of baptisms registry], this information is very important. Regarding godparents, at least one should be a baptized and confirmed Roman Catholic who is actively a member of the church. The second person, should you choose to have one, may be a Protestant Christian who, again, is actively involved in his/her church. Asking nonbelievers or inactive Christians to be godparents puts them in a compromised position of publicly having to affirm what they do not really believe or practice. It is important to view the godparent's role as far more than a social convention. The godparent is a witness to a life of Christian faith, prayer and service.
The Celebration: We regularly schedule baptisms about ten times a year during one of the Sunday masses or, if necessary, on a Sunday afternoon. On rare occasions [illness in the family, relatives travelling a long distance who are not able to be present on a regularly scheduled Sunday, etc.] we will try to celebrate baptism at a different time. Experience has shown, however, that baptism during mass with festive music, robust ritual and a supportive congregation is far more beautiful and engaging than a private family ceremony.
While many of the details regarding the actual celebration will be covered in the preparation session, we mention just a few salient features here. Family and friends of those to be baptized arrive early and are seated near the front of the church. All are asked to participate fully in the liturgy by attentively listening to the readings, fervently praying and joyfully singing the hymns and liturgical responses. The families are introduced at the beginning of the service to the congregation by the couple who have led the preparation session. Baptism is celebrated in two parts. The parents present the child for the Rite of Reception. Here the child is marked with the sign of the cross, receives the Oil of Catechumen, and the child's name is inscribed in the Book of the Elect. The second part of Baptism takes place after Mass. Water is poured and blessed for the baptism. The parents and godparents, along with the entire congregation, are invited to profess their faith by responding in song to the questions of the creed. The children are then bathed in the water [baptized] and rubbed with chrism oil [anointed] in front of all the church. At this point, in one of the most touching aspects of our baptismal ritual, the child is held aloft by the parents while the congregation sings the acclamation You are God's great work of art fashioned with great love. Children and parents thereupon proceed to the sacristy where the children are dressed in their baptismal garment. Upon reentering the main body of the church the families are given a baptismal candle to remind them that the light of faith is meant to be kept burning brightly for the rest of the child's life.
We hope that this thumbnail sketch of the preparation and celebration of baptism at the Church of the Immaculate Conception is a help to you as you contemplate the baptism of your child. As a parish we share your joy and gratitude for the gift of new life in our midst. As you baptize your child, we earnestly pray that we may be a worthy community of support, example and prayer for you and your family in the years ahead.