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committed to excellense

Revising Baptism

committed to excellense

Another confused bill was passed at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2014 (GSTHW14). This one was attempting to see to it that, in the Eucharist, baptism and confirmation can no longer be placed between the New Testament Lesson and The Gospel.

Contrary to the church’s reporting, this Bill has not now “passed into law“, but needs to go for debate and voting at all diocesan synods and hui amorangi, then return to the next meeting of GSTHW, and if it passes all those stages, there is another year for someone to object.

Currently on page 383 of A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa it says about Baptism and/or Confirmation

The liturgy takes place when the Church meets for the Eucharist or another service of worship. It follows the New Testament Lesson or The Gospel or The Sermon. In special circumstances the bishop or priest shall provide a suitable introduction to this liturgy.

If the three-year long process of this Bill succeeds, these words will become

The liturgy takes place when the Church meets for the Eucharist or another service of worship. Baptism and/or Confirmation follows the proclamation of the Word, and in the context of a celebration of the Holy Eucharist is prior to The Peace,

While the intention of this Bill may be laudable, four issues immediately spring to my mind:

1) I do not think that “the proclamation of the Word” is a specified liturgical category. In our formularies for the Eucharist we have the category “The Proclamation” (eg starting page 409), but this includes The Readings, The Sermon, and The Affirmation of Faith (Apostles Creed, A Liturgical Affirmation, or Nicene Creed). So, following this revised rubric, whereas previously it was 100% clear that The Affirmation of Faith (creed) was not used prior to Baptism and/or Confirmation (with the Apostles’ Creed as integral to that) now one can envisage a service with readings from the Bible followed, for example, by the Nicene Creed, followed by Baptism and/or Confirmation which includes the Apostles’ Creed.

Now one might well respond that this is not the intention of the Bill, and is so unusual that it would not happen. But, remember, this Bill is in response to people regularly placing Baptism and/or Confirmation between the New Testament Lesson and The Gospel. That could just as easily have been said to “not have been the intention of the current rubric, and is so unusual that it would not happen.” But it did! It is for that very reason that all this energy is being expended. So this new rubric merely replaces one possible unusual, unintended service structure with possibly a worse one.

If you are going to clarify a rubric which can be misinterpreted, and do this via the complex twice-round GSTHW, diocesan synods, etc, system – make sure that the wording of what you are replacing it with cannot be misinterpreted.

2) When it comes to “another service of worship” (other than the Eucharist) the new rubric is at least just as confusing as with the Eucharist. Again, there is no category, “the proclamation of the Word”. One may find a category “The Ministry of the Word”, but that refers to everything between the Preparation and the Dismissal, including, once again, the use of a creed. So in this context we may again encounter the creed twice (actually thrice – the NZ Baptism/Confirmation rite has candidates recite a mini creed {page 388} as well as the Apostles’ Creed {and excludes the unbaptised from reciting the Creed – but that is another story}).

Furthermore, for most non-eucharistic services the whole service can be understood as “the proclamation of the Word”…

3) In one of the Eucharistic rites (page 456) there is the option of having the Peace straight after the opening greeting and The Sentence of the Day from the Bible. I can just see clergy arguing that Baptism is the entrance rite to the church and appropriately comes at the start of the service… after the proclamation of the Word in The Sentence of the Day and prior to The Peace…

The reason I can visualise this is because clergy have in the past, all the way to cathedrals, placed Baptism as part of the entrance rite…

4) Nothing has been done about the confusion in the “Arrangement of services” (pages 396-397). There, Option A bizarrely omits The Presentation for Baptism (in which the candidate is presented, seeks baptism, renounces evil, and turns to Christ). And Option D not only omits The Presentation for Baptism, and the questions and exhortations to parents, godparents, child and congregation, but it adds Commitment to Christian Service from the Confirmation rite!

I have previously contacted those responsible for our liturgical rites, spoken about this at our diocesan synod, and also written about this. Again, if you are going to clarify parts of a rite which can be misinterpreted, and do this via the complex twice-round GSTHW, diocesan synods, etc, system – can we not fix a number of such confusions at the same time?

The church reporting claims there was “detailed consideration” of this Bill at GSTHW.

Had this Bill been available, online for example, prior to the meeting of GSTHW14, some of these issues could have been pointed out, and things could have been tidied up in the committee stage of the Bill.

This is my fourth post reflecting on General Synod Te Hinota Whanui 2014:

Today is the Thirty-eighth day of Easter.

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10 thoughts on “Revising Baptism”

  1. Padre, are there folks in the ACANZ&P who think that you rock the boat a lot? Why aren’t you and your expertise on the liturgical committee that considers these issues? How did your provinces’s liturgy get so messed up?

    1. Thanks, Br David.

      My thesis shows and explains the trajectory from one of the most liturgically conservative provinces to becoming one of the most diverse. That trajectory has continued.

      As to boats – surely the hope is that if there are leaks that people will point to them, and help to plug them.

      Christ is Risen!

  2. Brian Poidevin

    As i said quite some time ago on this site I prefer ordered ritual and, to a degree, tradition. In large part we have to admit that it has kept Christianity going and with it some understanding of Jesus of Nazareth. I also admitted that my feeling for ordered and traditional ritual is to a significant degree driven by aesthetics. But as i grow older, considerably older, I wonder if we are over- ritualised.
    On this site we often read questioning of liturgical changes particularly in NZ. As many of the changes as described seem muddled and driven by by a wish to seem with it, “modern”, perhaps “post-modern” I sympathize with the questioning of them. But still?!
    Does it really matter where baptism comes in?
    i grant that having both baptism and a creed is ridiculous.
    i came across the following on an American Baptist site. i grant it is in many ways extreme but the undelying questioning needs thinking on. Well the prophets put it very bluntly.

    1. Concerning their religious externalism, the Scofield Study Bible says, “The whole matter, like much in modern pseudo-Christianity, was extra-Biblical, formal, and futile” (p. 971).

    2. Ritualism is gaining ground today with many of the new-evangelicals and charismatics, who are attracted to the candles, incense, fancy, colorful robes, getting up and sitting down, etc.

    3. Ritualism appeals to the flesh and helps people feel “religious.” It is always a sign of spiritual decline.

    1. “Does it really matter where baptism comes in?”

      This argument often comes up in committee meetings. I have a standard reply: “Fine. If it doesn’t matter, let’s do it my way.”

      You know, it often turns out that the person decides it matters after all. Funny thing, that. 😉

  3. Bosco, the mind just boggles. Lazy, ambiguous rubrics and canons work very well when there is a common, settled approach to what is done, learned from a continuity of practice over generations. But when there has been such dramatic discontinuity, and people are studying the liturgical cookbook for guidance, we really do have to be careful.

    I’ve been working on a conference paper lately about “liturgical reform” in the central Middle Ages, and part of my preparatory reading has been around 10th- and 11th-century monastic customaries. Somewhat surprisingly, the first customaries weren’t written to prescribe, in a legal or normative way, what would be done in a monastery. Rather, they were often commissioned by someone outside the monastery so that monks in *other* monasteries could learn about the customs of a monastery they admired — without necessarily aspiring to imitate them. The historian Isabelle Cochelin has called these “inspirational customaries”.

    Within the monastery whose customs were described, the governing rule continued to be the local unwritten tradition, which was passed on by example and oral instruction. If you wanted your own monastery to follow another monastery’s customs, the thing to do was to invite some monks from there to come and stay with you for a few years and teach you. But this could be dangerous: if you invited monks from Cluny, for instance, you might lose your independence in the process!

    Sometimes, however, dissent could arise within a monastery about what its unwritten tradition actually required. For example, if you had a very long-lived abbot, when he finally died there might be very few monks who could remember the customary procedure for how to elect a new one! In such situations, it could be advantageous to have a reference copy of your customs to settle the dispute. A book of that kind could also be very useful for teaching novices, especially during times of exceptional growth (Cluny eventually prepared a customary of its own for this purpose).

    My point in all this is simply that rubrics, canons, and customaries work very well when, and only when, there is a stable, well-known tradition behind them. By contrast, casting legislation, however carefully crafted, into the swirling chaos of contemporary liturgical practice is probably futile.

    A way forward could be for the Church to identify, and cultivate, a few “centres of liturgical excellence” and commend them for imitation. This would not require uniformity of style or churchmanship: a small evangelical-style parish might be as worthy of imitation as a large catholic-style cathedral. Learned persons (I’m looking at you, Bosco) could publish descriptive “inspirational customaries” of the practices in these centres.

    I know, Bosco, that you’ve often quoted Colin Buchanan’s cooking analogy: BCP = Meals on Wheels; modern liturgy = frozen peas. You’ve also contributed a very sound cookbook yourself. I guess what I’m suggesting is that what’s missing is some time in Grandma’s kitchen to learn how it all actually works.

    1. Thanks, Jesse, for your once-again thoughtful expansion. You are right to point out the disjuncture in this period of reform and renewal. From time to time I point out that Lex orandi, lex credendi, prayer shaping believing, is turned around – so that liturgical practice has more emphasis on prescriptive than usual – when rubrics can be seen as mostly descriptive. Another issue (one I focus on in today’s post) is that study is often not enough. Old habits die hard. And there needs to be good formation – “time spent in Grandma’s kitchen”. Christ is Risen!

  4. Hey Jesse–that sounds like a great paper! I’m working through the Regularis Concordia and Ælfric’s LME again myself. If you’d like a friendly pair of eyes on your work at any stage feel free to drop me a line (haligweorc at hotmail)… 🙂

    I do think that Baptism works perfectly well as part of the Entrance Rite as well as in the creedal location. Is there something in particular you don’t like about that, Bosco?

    1. Thanks, Derek.

      I think that those who have placed the Baptism rite between the New Testament lesson and the Gospel reading at the Eucharist would also say it “works perfectly well” there. That’s why they chose that particular point. Similarly, those who put it as part of the Entrance Rite. My point was that this is not the intention of the drafters of the Bill, and that if you are putting all this energy into altering a regulation that is unclear, the alteration should be more, not less, clear.

      Just as most sentences are subject-verb-object, my primary liturgical grammar is gather-listen-respond. I see the Baptism rite as naturally being a response after gathering and listening. I think there are significant issues with absolving one to be baptised that happens in some (many) Gathering rites; these issues are not normally discussed. Furthermore, our NZ baptism rite, as many of our rites, is very verbose – incorporating its own “proclamation of the Word” within it! Complete with a Bible reading from Acts. So that there is a gather-listen start to the NZ Baptism rite which supports your point. The verbosity of this and other rites is another discussion.

      My primary point remains – if we are going to put significant energy into correcting errors in our liturgical regulations, let’s get them to be better, not worse.

      Christ is Risen!

    2. You’re very kind, Derek. It’s nice to be in touch with a fellow-traveller. I’m a pretty last-minute paper writer, so if I send you a text it will likely be after the fact! In the comment above, I was mostly cribbing from Isabelle Cochelin, “Customaries as Inspirational Sources”, in Carolyn Marino Malone and Clark Maines (eds.), Constitutiones et Regulae: Sources for Monastic Life in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, Disciplina Monastica 10 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), pp. 27-72

      Bosco, if I may be permitted a historicist expansion of your “Gather-Listen-Respond” grammar, my own sense has been that that Baptism is most fittingly placed after the Gospel (and Homily) because in this way the candidate is admitted to the sacramental fellowship of the Church precisely at the dividing point between (to use an old fashioned terminology) the “Mass of the Catechumens” and the “Mass of the Faithful”: anyone may take part in the former, only the baptized in the latter. Am I right in thinking that the same pattern is followed in all the renewed liturgies for the Easter Vigil? (It’s certainly the pattern in the so-called “Apostolic Tradition”, where Baptism is followed immediately by the Prayers of the Faithful and the Eucharist proper.)

      I am not able to conceive of comparable significance for placing Baptism anywhere else in the Eucharistic liturgy: to have it as part of the Entrance Rite divorces it from any connection with a change in the candidate’s status. Or have I missed something? (It occurs to me that persons agitating for communion of the unbaptized might take exception, as might also those with misgivings about admitting children to communion before the age of discretion. Both of these groups would have misgivings about the sequence Baptism-followed-immediately-by-Eucharist.)

      From a practical point of view, as you have already hinted, Derek, this “hinge” placement also allows for the affirmation of faith in the Baptismal Creed to take place where the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed would otherwise be said. (Likewise for renunciation of sin.)

      Of course, I am the last to insist that other edifying customs have not existed. Young fogeys like me who love the old Prayer Book will note that in the BCP tradition baptism is to be administered after the second lesson (i.e. the *single* New Testament lesson) at Morning or Evening Prayer. This was fitting for several reasons:

      1) Baptism was to take place at a service attended by the greatest number of people (which in those days was emphatically not Holy Communion) — a very “liturgical renewal” instinct!

      2) The baptism rite would be followed immediately by a Gospel canticle linked with the naming/presentation of infants (Benedictus = naming of John the Baptist; Nunc Dimittis = presentation of Christ in the Temple).

      3) The canticle having served as a “musical bridge” from font back to quire (an eastward journey through the whole nave), the next item in the service would be the congregational recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, which, as the twice-daily commemoration of the Church’s baptismal faith, is the hinge point of each of the daily offices. (This position for the Creed is first seen in 1552; in 1549 it was part of the intercessions. It was evidently a deliberately considered alteration on Cranmer’s part.)

      Is it possible that rubrics allowing for Baptism after the “New Testament lesson” were originally drafted with the old Prayer Book system in mind?

      This all goes to show that I am incapable of submitting short, pithy comments.

      1. I’m sure, Jesse, that in the rubric as it currently stands (as I indicated, the process still has a long way to go before there is a change) the “after the New Testament lesson” was thought to refer to the Office rather than the Eucharist. I also think you are correct about the Easter Vigil shape, and thank you for pointing to that as the Baptism rite from which all others flow (and I also then note in passing that there is no absolution prior to baptism there…) Christ is Risen!

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