Sunday, August 25, 2013

Small change coming to a baptism near you...someday

A recently published newsletter from the Congregation for Divine Worship (the liturgy folks at the Holy See) included a decree that went relatively unnoticed at its release in February. From Catholic News Agency:
After having baptized a child, the minister will now receive him, saying, “The Church of God welcomes you with great joy,” according to a Feb. 22 decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship signed by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, prefect, and Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary.
Apparently it was approved by Pope Benedict in late January and the change took effect in the Latin typical edition on 31 March.

Those of us who are ministers of Baptism (even if we've only performed a few!) are familiar with the English words as they are today: "N., the Christian community welcomes you with great joy..." We say these words just before claiming the catechumen with the sign of the cross on their forehead.

So, two words...what's the big deal?

It makes explicit who is doing the welcoming. The words "Christian community" could mean a number of things but I think that in the context of a small group of people gathered in a cozy suburban parish church for an infant baptism, they give the impression that it is the parish that is doing the welcoming. In fact, as the CNA article points out, the Italian translation (unlike the English) inserts the word "our", making it "our Christian community"--the Italian translators certainly felt this 'local church emphasis' in the words.

Of course, the local church does welcome the catechumen. Yet in a Catholic baptism something far more profound than simply becoming a 'member' of a local church community is going on. As Catholics, our story is a universal story. As the readings for today (the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C) emphasize in both the first reading and the Gospel, God is calling people from the corners of the earth to become a new people.

It is that whole people, the entire Church of God, that is welcoming the catechumen into their midst. Baptism is, in this sense, the ultimate example of 'thinking globally and acting locally': while we, the local church, receive this new disciple, we recognize that he or she is not just a member of a local congregation but of a worldwide family--a family that is gathered by God himself and which participates in the graces of this particular celebration. In a mysterious way the graces poured out in some little suburban church in America flow all the way to persecuted Christians struggling for their lives in Egypt and to 'underground' congregations in China.

They share in one and the same story.

Unfortunately, it will likely be a while before we see the change in English. Our Rite of Baptism is one of the most outdated of all of the English liturgical texts. We are still waiting for the ICEL to incorporate a few decades of other updates to put the text in line with the current Roman Missal.


So while we will still say "Christian community" for the time being, it might behoove us to incorporate a little more catechesis on the Church of God in our preaching and teaching on baptism. People need to know that when even a tiny pebble of faith encounters those hallowed waters, the ripples extend further than we can imagine--even to the farthest shore.
I know their works and their thoughts,
and I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory.
I will set a sign among them;
from them I will send fugitives to the nations:
to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan,
to the distant coastlands
that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory;
and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.
They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
as an offering to the LORD,
on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries,
to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD,
just as the Israelites bring their offering
to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.
Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD.

Isaiah 66:18-21 (First reading for the 21t Sunday in O.T., Year C)

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