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baptism distracts from Easter?

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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11 thoughts on “baptism distracts from Easter?”

  1. If you were here in my apartment you would have heard an audible gasp when I read “baptism distracts from Easter?” Just the thought of baptism being a “distraction” is surprising to me, let alone the idea of baptism at the Easter vigil being a distraction. For me, an Easter vigil WITHOUT a baptism would be a distraction! As I heard one priest say, “We are a baptising people!”

    The Easter Vigil has been the traditional baptismal liturgy since early in the Church’s history. The link between baptism and Christ’s death and resurrection is so tight that to consider baptism a “distraction” from the Easter message means the person either misses the Easter message or misses what baptism does. Either case calls for serious catechesis!

  2. Ann McElligott

    I will never forget Louis Weil, professor of liturgics at several US seminaries, teaching about the catechmenal process. He said, “An Easter Vigil without baptisms in just an exercise in autoeroticism.” The US BCP places the baptism between the end of the Vigil readings and before the joyous proclamation of Easter. As soon as the newly baptized dies and rises in the waters, the priest proclaims “Christ is Risen.” The very image of Christ rising is there in the midst of the congregation. The Vigil without the baptism lacks the power of that enfleshment of the resurrection continuing in our lives now.

  3. The practice in the Church of Scotland is for the minister to dab water on the forehead of the infant. Very few christenings of children and even rarer adult christenings. Persons are expected to ‘join’ the church when adult and become communicant members. A christening at Easter would be good but a Christmas christening even better.

    1. Thanks for your contribution from your church’s experience, Fred. That’s helpful. Could you expand please, Fred, on why you would think baptism at Christmas better than at Easter. Christmas is a later development, fourth century – or at earliest, third century. There are plenty of New Testament and early connections between baptism and Easter, but none I can think of associating it with Christmas. Church liturgies connect baptism and Easter. Could you suggest any that connect baptism and Christmas?

  4. In new Roman Catholic Churches I have been noticing large baptismal fonts near the entrance of the church. It is the same pool that is used for baptisms, reaffirmation of baptism, and blessings upon leaving the church.

    That it is in the midst of the faithful makes it more accessible, real, and tactile. The bigness, abundance, sight and sound of it all help sacraments so their job – to declare God’s presence in this world.

  5. i love baptism at easter vigil.it is the time of year to celebrate entrance into gods kingdom.the kids are all dressed up for the ceremony and it is a special moment for them.the girls are all in their white dresses and bonnets and the boys in their suits and it is a very solemn time for them.

  6. We are catholic and our parish baptizes at Easter vigil also and like majorie’s parish,the boys all wear white suits and the girls all wear the traditional,white poofy dresses with a bonnet,lace socks and white shoes.to further symbolize their purity,they wear either a cloth or disposable diaper and plastic pants under their dresses with a white under shirt.when we baptized our daughter two years ago at age 15 at easter vigil,we dressed her in the outfit and she chose to wear the cloth diaper under her rubberpants as she felt it would be more infant like.she looked very pure and innocent in her outfit and knew god had accepted her into his kingdom.

    1. Our parish does baptism at Easter vigil also and the boys wear suits and ties and the girls up to 17 wear the traditional infant style baptism gown and matching bonnet with either the lace anklets or the white tights.Since most parents wore cloth diapers and rubberpants as babies,they have their daughters wear them under the baptism gowns also.I have seen teen girls in their outfits and they look much more infant like than the little and preteen girls in their outfits!

      1. Thanks, Clarice. I must say, I find the idea of baptismal candidates mimicking babies unanticipated. An alb is the same “baptism gown” – and there is not and need not be anything infant like in wearing it. Blessings.

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