29 August 2011

Baptism without Desire

Today is the feast day of that great man of whom Christ said that there had been no greater born of woman-- St. John the Baptist.  More particularly we commemorate his beheading, thus showing the price the follower of Christ pays for speaking his mind. 

Not comparing myself to St. John the Baptist in any other way, I am about to speak my mind.  I don't expect it to go over well, but then the modern Church's punch bowl is already fairly filled with Clark Bars.

I recently attended an infant baptism celebrated according to the modern rite at a representative local parish in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  I belonged to novus ordo parishes for 37 years, so it isn't like I didn't know what to expect, being already familiar with the rite and the decades-long debasement of the way it has been celebrated.

Even so, this one was soul-numbingly bad.  The only positive thing I can say is that the baptismal formula (what some who don't really care about the way sacraments are celebrated or whether they are valid call the "magic words") was correctly pronounced, with the requisite pouring of water over skin that the sacrament requires.  Everything else, from ceremony to theology, was the kind of dumbed-down pablum that passes for pastoral care these days.

Baptism was supposed to begin immediately following the last Sunday Mass.  This meant in reality that it began about 25 minutes after Mass, as the cacophony inside the Church after the conclusion of Mass made conducting the rite impossible.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, at a Church with lots of outside space and a parish hall of good size, yet a third of the congregation remained inside the Church itself and, as far as I could understand, screamed in each others' faces at the top of their lungs for twenty minutes.  Perhaps this is the local tradition of fellowship, I don't know.  People sure seemed to enjoy it.  I checked the sanctuary, and yes, the red lamp was lit, so presumably the Blessed Sacrament was present.

After the din died mostly down, the deacon called everyone around the Olympic-sized pool that was to serve as the site of the baptism.  He looked like the Platonic Form of permanent deacon-- you can picture him in your mind already-- late fifties, polyester alb and stole, with clip-on microphone.  The attendees were dressed a shade better than the attendees of the Mass, as there were far fewer with shorts and flip flops in the crowd that succeeded to the space.

The deacon began by saying "First of all, I want to welcome everyone...", which he did for about fifteen minutes.  He then explained to the parents how he was going to call them by name and ask them what the name of their child was, and what exactly they wanted from the Church, and finally that they were to say, "Baptism".  So, that is what he did.  Then he explained how we were all going to make the Sign of the Cross together, because that's what we do, we Catholics, we make the Sign of the Cross.  So that is what we did.  Then he explained how he was going to read the Gospel, and that this Gospel was one of his favorites, and that he loved talking about this Gospel, and how he thought this Gospel was just nails when it came to Baptism, and how he was just about ready to go ahead and do it, and then he in fact, with much fanfare, did it.  Just like he said.

Now, the reason I wrote all that is to give you just an idea-- just a taste-- of how this all went down.  I won't belabor it anymore, but let me assure you that everything that happened, everything that he said, he explained at length, with anecdotes and his own humorous take, in order to make sure that we all really got it.  Imagine at least three minutes of explanation for every one minute of "action", whether the action consisted of the prayers from the book or actions in the rite.

I don't understand this need to explain everything.  I mean, the language of the modern rite of Baptism in this country is English.  English:  the language we all understand.  We use English so we all understand everything that is going on, right?  Because no one understands the language of the Church.  Because Heaven forfend that there be any mystery in a religious ceremony, rite or sacrament.  And whatever small amount of mystery is left in the vernacularized modern rite of Baptism, he took great pains to kill.  And I have no doubt that it was all done in good faith, with the best of intentions.

Following the Gospel and his threat to give a homily, the deacon gave a homily.  He began by again saying, "First of all, I want to welcome everyone..."  He gave a talk about his grandchildren, faith journeys, joining the club, being a people of the word, etc., and other niceties about Baptism.  The only thing he didn't mention was Original Sin, the necessity of Baptism as the ordinary means of salvation, the Fall of Man, salvation history, Christ's sacrifice to save us or other such things that folks might find uncomfortable these days.

After the homily, he invited everyone to gather more closely around the Olympic-sized swimming pool and listen to him bless the water, paying particular attention to how many times water was referred to in the blessing itself.  Then he did it.

After the renewal of baptismal promises was explained and done, he then did actual baptism, which was the only thing he did without any explanation at all.  Like I said, that went off without a hitch.

Before he anointed with chrism, the deacon explained that he was going to anoint with oil, and then launched into a mini-homily about oil, what it was, its uses in everyday life, and its use in the rite of Baptism.  Not what chrism was, not what the oil of catechumens was-- but what oil was.  A lubricant-- it makes things "go smoother"!  We use it, he reminded us, to make flapjacks!  (Baptismal flapjacks?)

(An aside:  At this point, I performed a physical feat that scientists have hitherto thought impossible.  Despite my efforts throughout the show to maintain a calm and respectful disposition, when he said the thing about the flapjacks my eyeballs rolled up so violently that they actually rolled up all the way around inside my head and came back up the bottom way to resume their normal place in my sockets.  True story.  OK, a tiny exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

The remaining parts of the ceremony happened in line with the above.  Intro, explanation, act or prayer.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

This Rite of Baptism for infants, not counting the time waiting for it to begin, took nearly ninety minutes.

Forget the stark and denuded nature of the rite itself, when compared to the traditional expression.  I'm not even focusing on a comparison of old and new forms.  Just focusing on the new rite itself, I can only ask, "Why not just do what it says and have done?"  And yet this kind of showmanship is rampant in the typical parish.  The priest "performs" at Mass.  Just saying the Mass isn't good enough.  The Deacon "performs" there, too, and more so at his own show, Baptism.  The lectors and cantors "perform".  The music ministry "performs".  The "actors" in the pews "perform" (raise those hands at the Our Father higher!).

For whom are we performing?  For God?  Or for ourselves?

How much worse can it get?


Father of Twins said...

I noticed the part where the ceremony took 90 minutes. Admittidly, if the ceremony took that long for infants under one month of age, that would be pretty tough! I appreciate the EO form of the ceremony and am happy that the rite is emphasized.

JBQ said...

I happened to attend such a baptism within the last year. After the pouring of water, the pastor asked for solidarity from those present. They all raised their hands and pointed toward the child. I immediately thought that I was at a Nazi war rally.

Anonymous said...

What you describe is appalling. As a priest and pastor, I can only say that if any of my deacons even attempted to do the things you mention, they wouldn't be baptizing here any more!

I've always thought of the Archdiocese of St. Louis as a beacon of orthodoxy in a very mixed-bag Midwest ... but the things I've been hearing, the accounts of Sunday Masses I've been reading and the photos of quite a few really ugly churches in the County ... make me wonder if the Faith has been preserved in StL or not.

A baptism that mentions flapjacks but not Original Sin!

Christophe said...

Timman - if you haven't already, you need to read Thomas Day's book Why Catholics Can't Sing, wherein he describes the Solemn High Explanation Mass presided over by Mr. Nice Guy priest. Sounds like a mirror of the baptism you suffered through.

- Christophe

thetimman said...

Father. I have a new comments rule that you must leave some name or alias. So for the remainder of this thread you will be Fr. X unless you pick something else. Thanks.

Badger Catholic said...

I feel your pain.

Rachel said...

Wow. Flapjacks. That's sad. I've seen some of that, the need for priests to perform, and to me it feels like a lack of faith-- faith in the Holy Spirit to work an awesome miracle in the sacrament, and faith that He will attract people to the truth without a show.

But I also know a number of Novus Ordo parishes here in Los Angeles where the priests and people really have that faith. I went to a baptism where the priest talked simply, briefly and sincerely, about original sin and how baptism would make the baby a little saint and the parents would have to teach him the Faith to help him stay that way-- it was great.

Peggy R said...

The part of the story about the flapjacks brings to mind the headline at the BND this weekend quoting a prof of religion who says that the shortage of priests, making the eucharist less available, is like Nike not being able to make shoes. Huh?

Also, the language issue. I have been given materials to teach the new translations at PSR. So many things were condescending in the OSV booklet. One horrid para went on about how Americans are really fearful of foreign languages, we have English only policies, whereas citizens of the rest of the world know multiple languages. How condescending and insulting! Do I have to explain why many Europeans know several languages or point out that a peasant in South Am or Africa probably only knows his tribal language and/or the primary language of the nation he lives in? So, we American Catholics are afraid of the Latin (never mind that 21C Catholics are the most educated & literate Catholics ever). Never fear, the English is here to stay, OSV assures.

Baptism lover said...

I agree with you 100%. In sharp contrast is the absolutely beautiful baptism in the old form - Latin. I loved every baptism that I ever attended at St. Francis de Sales and when we had our child baptized there it brought me such joy that I still think of it as if remembering something not of this world, but of heaven.

StGuyFawkes said...


Is it possible for a baptism under these conditions to be invalid?

I know that one of the formal tests for valid Consecration is whether the priest intends what the Church intends by the use of the words and actions contained in "Hoc Est Corpus Meum."

Does a similar test apply to Baptism?

Just wondering whether someone doesn't need to sneak a dixie cup of water into this kid's crib tonight.

St. Guy

Anonymous said...

St. Guy, just a quick reminder that to those outside our faith, the Eucharistic phrase you just mentioned, "Hoc Est Corpus Meum," was mocked, ridiculed and eventually morphed into "Hocus Pocus."

The irony of it all is that I've heard that phrase used by priests to riducule something magical that is supposed to happen that they don't understand.

Maybe a better discussion would be to focus more on a modern version of Aristotle's hylomorphic theory.

Sometimes, there is mystery in this world, but ripping and analyzing things to shreds because they don't fit into our individual constructs seems counter-productive to our true Christian heritage.

Fr. K

Methodist Jim said...

As you know, Timman, you have no bigger supporter of your right to practice your faith in your way than me. And I've always supported your positions that those claiming to be Catholic should actually be Catholic. (I say this not for your benefit - hopefully you don't need the explanation - but for some of your readers who may not know me.) But, unless Guy is right - that this baptism was not valid - I have a question about both this post and others through the years:

Is this simply a matter of taste? And, if so, why the vehemence of the criticism? Cannot one, validly, prefer the N.O. or even a silly baptism ceremony (if valid) or the Beatles, more than the E.F. or the Cranberries? As an outsider, that is what this seems to be ... an argument over style instead of substance.

I suspect that I'm missing the point (at least one) so if this is more than a matter of taste, I would be happy to read or hear why, either in a comment box or in a separate piece or in person.

Forgive my ignorance. I hope that curiosity makes up for it.

thetimman said...

Thanks for the comment, Jim. I'll start with the philosophical/theological, and then try to get specific to this case.

There are many people who do not believe in the authority of the Catholic Church as the one Church Christ founded, yet have some type of faith in Christ. They are Protestants. Or Orthodox. Or some type of start-up Evangelical. Or in some sense, loosely, Mormons. And so on. In other words, as we have discussed often, it all comes down to the authority question.

If Christ was the Son of God, He could lay down rules for how He wishes to be worshiped, obeyed, loved, etc. He could found a Church, to which He could decide that a person who wishes to be saved must belong. He could guarantee that Church to be protected from teaching error. He could leave a person (and then his successors) in charge of that Church, with the authority to teach and who was protected from teaching error in faith or morals. He could do this, because He is God. So far, I think we agree.

So, the only question is, did He or did He not do this?

If not, you can disregard every complaint I might have about liturgical abuses in the Catholic Church, because then it is merely a question of taste, though, I suppose, internal discipline of the organization is also implicated. However, that internal discipline is not very important if the Church is not the Church Christ founded. I mean, if not, who really cares?

If He did found the Catholic Church as the one I describe, then the rules she lays down for liturgy, the sacraments, etc., are vitally important, and disregarding or disobeying them is in and of itself an offense against God. Religion is part of the virtue of Justice. God has the absolute right to decide how He wishes to be worshiped. If the Catholic Church is what she claims, her rules come down with God's own authority. It's that simple.

So, a deacon who ignores the rubrics of the baptismal ceremony--if done knowingly, with full consent of the will (which I could easily believe he does not)-- sins, and possibly gravely so. A priest who defies the rubrics of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (again, if knowingly with full consent of the will) sins gravely. He tells Christ that he will not obey Him. He mocks Christ again.

The business of heaven and hell is serious business. And souls are at stake.

Mere validity is not the end of the inquiry, it is the beginning. Yes, validity is good, and thank God that the children baptized at this service were actually baptized. But that isn't good enough for the Church, for God's own worship. Even a satanic mass is valid, if by that you mean that Christ is present in the sacred species. But you can't call that the proper worship of God.

And then, perhaps beyond the scope of your question or my answer, is the oft-seen correlation between those who are cavalier with the rubrics and their rejection of the teachings of the same Church who issued the rubrics.

Methodist Jim said...

So, I take it, rules were violated by the baptism that you witnessed - rules that your Catholic readers would recognize without having to be told what they were. I'll bow out now and leave the thread to those with the baseline of knowledge to follow it.

JER said...

My husband and I have been running into these same "incidents" it seems every time we attend a novus ordo mass. Whether it be the priest wearing a baseball cap during a homily, or the singing of "God Bless America" to conclude a mass (Play Ball!).

As you said, I'm sure it was all done in good faith and with the best of intentions, but "hell is full of good wishes and desires." This is where I'm torn. I find myself saying "they mean well..." after one of these incidents, and I feel as though I'm being too judgmental of others.

But maybe that's what we need. A small amount of criticism might be a good thing. Everyone is so worried nowadays about hurting feelings that we now just accept when things are wrong or even, dare I say, offensive. Who wants to make waves?

I think we as a society, not only Catholics, need to learn a better balance between constructive criticism and kindness. This bland vanilla world we're forcing ourselves into doesn't allow us to experience ALL of life (good, bad, and ugly), and leaves us with lackluster faith. Vanilla isn't inspiring. We need to stand for what we believe in, even if it does hurt a few feelings.


JER said...

In response to Jim-

I understand your basic concept of style to substance, but I feel like they are one in the same. We aren't afforded the choice of how things are done. If you want choice then you can choose another religion. It should be that one religion is the same throughout, and not have the lines blurred. Otherwise, what is the point? I think Timman covered this, so I'll step off of my soapbox now...


doughboy said...

you should have been at my parish this last sunday where our new pastor (after talking loudly in the back of the church to our guest for the day, giving him instructions) stood at the front, at the ambor, right at 7am when Mass was to commence and instead asked everyone to give their attention to the man at the front with the projector who was going to play a trailer for an upcoming movie for us to excite the men in the congregation to join the latest men's movement. this post-poned Mass for almost 10 minutes and it was so blaringly loud that i barely understood a word. and nevermind that the screen our visitor was using totally blocked the only statues of the Holy Family we have in our Church.

welcome to the ongoing seasons of my discontent. (can't be said it's just for winter anymore).

StGuyFawkes said...

Dear Fr. K,

Thanks for your pastoral advice.

Indeed! The Aristotelian theory of compound substance whereby “hyle”(wood/matter) and “morphe” (shape/form) reveal the structure of composite being, that theory, is indeed outdated.

No question! The hylemorphic theory of sacraments fails to sufficiently open us up to the mystery of the sacraments. It especially fails to open up the mystery of the Eucharistic presence. However, the modern philosophies of “presence” which are derived mostly from Heidegger, and phenomenology, are equally problematic. . The “being-present-here” that Heidegger calls “da-sein” is probably not God or a god. Where to go?

I certainly wouldn’t want to reduce the Eucharistic substance to a Wittgensteinian language game. I’m also loathe to “deconstruct” it with Derrida. Perhaps there is no philosophical explanation of this ultimate mystery. Indeed, the truth is that any philosophical approach to the Eucharist pales before its mystery.

And so, in the meantime, the old hylomorphic approach borrowed from Books ZETA and ETA of “Toon Meta Ta Physica Aristotelou” will continue until some new Aquinas appears on the scene.

In the meantime, I still think my question about baptismal validity is a decent one. And I don’t think my raising it means that I lack appreciation for life’s mysteries. I’ve birthed one child, adopted two and buried two others -- putting them in a common casket so they could be with each other. I’ve had a wife survive cancer and a daughter lose half her liver at five years. I am raising an autistic child. So, altogether, I think I know enough about the buds that pierce the bark each Spring and the leaves that fall -- like so many souls -- each October. I’m a human being, I’m alive and I know of life’s mysteries.

However, I happen to think that the mystery of a rabbi bleeding white on a gibbet 2011 years ago is a mystery of an entirely different, that is, supernatural, order. THAT mystery surpasses anything to which my poor sufferings and joys could add or subtract. And where THAT mystery is concerned, and it’s promise of salvation, I’d appreciate your priestly counsel.

I repeat my question. If a deacon is so vulgarly casual in his attitude towards a supernatural fact, I mean a sacrament, and if his explanation of that supernatural sacrament makes one suspect he thinks of it as an artifact of pop culture, does a lay person not, in this case, have good cause to fear that the sacrament may be invalid?

Or do I shred the mystery to bits by asking? Or is the supernatural power of the Christ's church such that his love and grace can surpass the triflings of his creatures?

You are better educated than I. And so we depend on men like you to aim us straight.

I ask your priestly blessing.

St. Guy

KP said...

The last OF Baptism I went to was years ago in California. It was also a deacon who did the baptism. He required that the parents of the baby we were there for take off her baptismal gown as they were not to wear it until AFTER they were baptized, saying they were not to wear the white garment until after receiving the Sacrament. During most of the show my husband and I tried to sit aside a little and say our rosary (rather than pay attention and get annoyed at all the ridiculousness) but were glad to see the actual baptism done validly. However, after each child was baptized, the deacon lifted him up and said, "Welcome our new Catholic!" It was straight out of the Lion King. All he needed was a Pride Rock. Boy, do I appreciate every traditional baptism I attend!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful, heartfelt response. You've chosen to walk with Christ in your life's difficult journey. I am humbled by your faith in the midst of it, knowing you had many other options to console you, as so many do in our materialistic culture. Deeply humbled.

In response to your questions, a moral dilemma is when two very good values clash. In this case, we have justice on the one hand; on the other mercy. This blogsite tends to attract those who favor the justice side - the right v wrong, good v bad, black v white thinking. There definitely is space in our lives and our church for that.

I am a product of an era in seminary training that favored the mercy side of God, where God is forgiving, kind and, of course, merciful. My slant on this is that some focus too much on rubrics, and not enough on God's presence in our lives, whether our lives are shallow or deep, our minds are simple or complex, our hearts are light or heavy, our intentions are absolutely pure or conflicted. [E.g. the kid I came to know who came to church in college only because he wanted to get to know a woman he admired from afar, but came to realize he was really trying to fill that God-shaped hole in his heart ... and is a wonderful priest today.]

God can work with us where we are. Despite all the education in the world, I tend to err on the side of presuming that God does indeed work in our lives and touch us in mysterious ways [even if/when we are not open to the mystery of His presence.]

An old teacher said that priests, if doing their best, will still only connect with 80% of the congregation. The wheat doesn't always grow where it is planted. Today, we can travel to the churches that feed us best.

Attending daily Mass for 12 years in the seminary with a litany of different priests and an incredible variety of styles, habits and actions, it would have been easy to have acted the part of a theater critic. Some classmates did that - interestingly, none of them made it to Sacred Orders. None.

While concelebrating the Eucharist, I sometimes am driven to prayer in different ways than expected, i.e. "Dear Jesus, please help this priest start making sense in his homilies, and quickly!!!" Then my prayer goes deeper, e.g. "Lord, keep me humble. Help me bring the fire of your life into those I meet today. Help those here to somehow, miraculously come to know you more through this Sacred Sacrament."

At it's worst, I can imagine almost 2,000 years of Eucharistic celebrations that have taken on every form and shape humanly possible, from the catacombs smelling of human remains to small, windowless chapels filled with the stench of farmers just in from the fields. From the stunning gothic cathedrals void of pews or kneelers, to the thatched roof huts during monsoon season. And from the ashes of Auschwitz to the ruins of Haiti - the mystery of God's presence in the lives of us mere mortals remains one of life's best mysteries. 2,000 years, with possibly every 'mistake' conceivable made during the Eucharist, and yet ... our Catholic faith is touching the lives of over one billion people today. The church isn't the work of man - it is God's work. And despite 2,000 years of inept priests, the church remains as strong as ever. Apparently, God hasn't abandoned us because individual priests haven't followed the correct rubric of the day. God remains present in our sacraments, in our faith communities, in our church, and most importantly, in our souls that long for Him.

Please, St Guy, I ask YOUR blessings and prayers. With your life's journey, your prayers will have far more efficacy than mine!

Fr. K

StGuyFawkes said...

Dear Fr. K,

You have touched on many areas but the golden thread which runs through your post is the bond between mercy and justice as they reside in God’s presence.

Indeed, God’s indefectible, un-eradicatable presence in our lives should give us the hearty buoyancy not to worry overmuch about the validity of sacraments which have
been bungled by “2000 years of inept priests.” God’s mercy shines on all of us. It even shines on the priest at Our Lady of the Pillar who last year spilled a chalice of consecrated hosts on the ground. He swept them up with his hands as if they were leaves and with the help of unconsecrated laypersons he scattered them on the altar after which he pushed them together like dealt cards and inserted them back into chalice.

God’s mercy also shines on the spontaneous gesture of St. Cronan’s parishioners who knowing Sr. Lears was under interdict took communion to her until she held the hosts in her hand as if they were a sentimental bouquet.

However, the problem with emphasizing mercy over justice is that in our Faith there is no difference. Mercy is Justice. Justice is Mercy. When you separate them into antinomies you destroy the dialectical relation which makes them one whole in the graceof God.

For example.

On that famous day, mentioned above, was it just for the parishioners at St. Cronan’s to mask with their warmth, and deep affection, the cold truth that Sr. Lear’s soul is in peril?

She committed a crime against the unity of the Church and against Christ’s body when she assisted at that blasphemous fake ordination at the abortion-activist’s temple. The Bishop’s interdict was cold, but it was just and merciful because it intended her to remember the state of her soul if she leaves the Catholic Church.

Mercy and justice cannot be separated. When you feel the piercing shaft of God’s mercy in the face of your sins the only response is to worship and repent in a way that honors and befits a God who loves you. When you feel the just penalty for your misdeeds the only response is to see that this penalty has been allotted because of God’s love: it is merciful.

What I am saying is that our attention to rubrics, which is just a way of honoring God, and our attention to the Church’s authority is not a trifle. Because when one decides to emphasize “mercy” over “justice” one opens up a dark abyss whereby anything can be justified and will be because it is called “conscience.” Moreover, when one decides to emphasize “mercy” over “justice” one opens up a chasm whereby any bestiality will be called “Catholic” because the sinner feels guiltless in their peculiar conscience formed by their community of warm, sentimental, dear friends who are committing the same sin.

Because God has mercy on his creatures was it right for Marek Bozek to leave his Archbishop who brought him all the way from Poland, and then pledge his fealty to a ring of car thieves and tax cheats? In his sense of mercy and to the applause of the aggrieved white ethnics he serves he was right in conscience. Except it was wrong.

Somewhere, measure, law, rules, rubrics and justice must be observed. Otherwise the universal church dissolves into scattered tribes of “small faith communities” dedicated to – as one of our frequent posters would have it -- “peace and wahoo.”

Thank You for your time and consideration.

Your Cyber-Parishioner,

St. Guy

Anonymous said...

Now wait a minute. Were rubrics violated or not? This blog post certainly reads more like a matter of the Timman's taste (without comment as to how refined that taste may or may not be, his affinity for Chartreues aside) than than any real allegation that the deacon violated any rubrics.

I won't argue the tastefulness or the approriateness of the deacon's attempts to catechize those attending the baptism, but even assuming that they were in poor taste or poorly conceived or misguided, they should not be conflated with an abuse of the rubrics as some here appear to be doing, and as Methodist Jim so insightfully pointed out.

Although, Methodist Jim, preferring the Cranberries over the Beatles is a sin that is at least venial, and perhaps grave. (I keed, I keed.)