easter vigil 4Whenever I am part of the Easter Vigil I am always delighted if there are baptisms. Recently I was part of conversations where some people were seeing “baptism at the Easter Vigil as distracting from Easter” and, also, seeing immersion as “un-Anglican”.

1) Behind the “baptism at the Easter Vigil is distracting from Easter” idea, I wonder if there is the understanding of liturgy as primarily “re-enacting” the Jesus story, acting it out – often this idea comes complete with donkey on Palm Sunday and Passover meal on Maundy Thursday, etc. There is an element of this, of course. But the person who dies and rises this coming Holy Week is not primarily Jesus – liturgy is about my dying and rising, your dying and rising, our dying and rising. Baptism at the Easter Vigil, far from distracting from the Easter liturgy, best expresses it as the persons being baptised are immersed in Christ’s death and resurrection. The community gathers around the ones being baptised as we remember, celebrate, and renew our own baptism, our own dying and rising, and hope that our baptism, our dying and rising, our sharing in Christ’s dying and rising, becomes a deeper, richer reality in our lives.

Every rite of the Easter Vigil I know of includes baptism, and if there are no persons to be baptised, a renewal of baptism. Far from being a “distraction”, omitting baptism or its renewal means the Vigil loses a central, essential component.

2) “Pouring” is normally well-understood. “Immersion” means being in water. “Submersion” (sometimes called “full immersion”) means being under water. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) quaintly has:

Then the Priest shall take the Child into his hands, and shall say to the Godfathers and Godmothers, Name this Child. And then naming it after them (if they shall certify him that the Child may well endure it) he shall dip it in the Water discreetly and warily, saying,

I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

But if they certify that the Child is weak, it shall suffice to pour Water upon it, saying the foresaid words,

I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

baptism“Dipping” is the first and preferred option. In NZPB, the rubric is, “The bishop or priest baptises each candidate for baptism, either by immersion in the water, or by pouring water on the candidate”. TEC’s BCP and The Anglican Church of Canada’s BAS both have, “Each candidate is presented by name to the Celebrant, or to an assisting priest or deacon, who then immerses, or pours water upon, the candidate”. CofE’s Common Worship has, “The president or another minister dips each candidate in water, or pours water on them”.

It is fair to say Anglicanism is not concerned about the age of the candidate, nor about the amount of water used. “Sprinkling” is never given as an option, and one might wonder about the loss of symbolism when a little water is used and immediately wiped off (not suggesting this affects “validity”). The impact, the efficacy of the symbol in our lives is stronger IMO when water is used abundantly. The formularies are clear: immersion is not un-Anglican, in fact it appears to be the first option presented in Anglican liturgies.

Now how we can represent this architecturally, so that the font is clearly womb, tomb, and bath – well, that might be worth another blog-post. Please let us have some of your experiences in the comments, both of baptism, including at the Easter Vigil, and also of renewed or new fonts…

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