Author Topic: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?  (Read 2539 times)

J. Thomas Shelley

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Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« on: July 31, 2020, 11:48:55 PM »
Antiochian House of Studies (A.D. 2015)
Liturgical Theology 1 Question 1

Is Baptism a “private” or an “ecclesial” event?  How is Baptism connected to the Eucharist?  Does the contemporary Orthodox practice to which you have been exposed make this clear?


   From the very beginnings of Christianity, Baptism was a public and ecclesial event.   Indeed, even before the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension Baptism was anything but private.   The Synoptic Gospels begin the public ministry of Jesus by placing him elbow to elbow and shoulder to shoulder with those who had sought out John the Forerunner for Baptism in the Jordan river.   While this baptism of resentence for the forgiveness of sins was clearly not the same as Christian Baptism, the Sacrament must be  considered in that context.

   Next, the Sacramental action must be examined.   In its most basic form--let us imagine an emergency Baptism being administered by a layman--the candidate receives water (ideally by immersion but not necessarily) with the words “the servant of God N___ is Baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.   Even in this simplest form there is a two-fold community:   The community of ecclesia as embodied by the layman Baptizing; and the community of the Holy Trinity.    When the newly Baptized is able to receive the Eucharist (upon recovery, in this extreme example) reception of the Body of Christ is again two fold:   In receiving the Mystery of Communion the fullness of the Divine being comes to dwell bodily within the recipient.  Christ, who imparts His Body and Blood imparts the fullness of His Body:   His universal Body of the living Church as well as all of every time and every place who have ever belonged to that Body.   The Communion is the community of the Saints, ecclesia in the largest and grandest and fullest possible measure.

   The connection between Baptism and Eucharist is evidenced in the very earliest post-Apostolic writings.   In his Apology, Justin Martyr makes clear that the Eucharist is the meal of the Baptized, and only for the Baptized:  “this food is called among us Eukaristia , of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.” (Apology, ¶ LVXI)  As a side note, it is astounding, indeed, almost incomprehensible that this standard for admission to the Eucharist from antiquity is now undergoing serious debate by The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as they consider redefining “Eucharistic hospitality” to mean the Communing of all people who present themselves at the Chalice, Baptized or not.

   Justin’s description of Baptism strongly implies that the Mystery was celebrated with the gathered community:  “As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them.  Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated.”  (Justin ¶LVI).   As with earlier text of the  Didache Baptism is preceded by a period of prayer and fasting.  “And before the baptism let the baptiser and him who is to be baptised fast, and any others who are able.”  (Didache  ¶7)  But for Justin this time of fasting is undertaken by the entire community, not merely the candidates.

   The connection between the assembly of the Catechumens and the assembly of the faithful becomes less certain in the Apostolic Consititutions attributed to Hippolytus. describe Baptism as occurring at a location outside of the church building;  “When  they come to the water, the water shall be pure and flowing, that is, the water of a spring or a flowing body of water”  (¶21:2).   The assembly is enumerated as consisting of the catechumens and the clergy (Bishop, elders, and Deacons), but no mention is made of the laity nor of sponsors.  Following Baptism by submersion and anointing Hippolytus describes the assembly processing to another venue: “Then, drying themselves, they shall dress and afterwards gather in the church” (¶20:21) for the oblation.  Following the prayer of Chrismation,  “From then on they will pray together will all the people.” (¶20.29).   The text then describes a Eucharistic assembly attended by all the faithful.

   Did the entire assembly of the faithful accompany the Catechumens to the place of Baptism and witness the Mystery?  Or did they remain in vigil and prayer in the church awaiting the arrival of the newly illumined?   If the latter, did clergy remain with them to lead and direct their prayer, or were they left to their own devices?   While Hippolytus does not explicitly mention either scenario, his description of order in the church makes it extremely unlikely that the faithful would have assembled without their clergy.

   The nearly contemporary Catechetical Lectures on the Christian Sacraments are silent regarding the ecclesial vs. private setting of Baptism.   The lectures are divided into sections pertaining to the pre-Baptism exorcism, the Baptism itself, and the Chrismation.   A new section then begins concerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, followed by a description of the Euchasistic anaphora.   The text does not indicate whether Baptism occurred during the same service nor even the same day as the Eucharist; only that Baptism occurred “in the evening”(I.1).  It would be an importation of modern Western liturgical practice to assume Cyril was referring to Baptism taking place on the eve of Pascha, even though his description of the Sacrament (“O strange and wondrous mystery, we did not really die”) is replete with Paschal imagery.

   But if we look beyond the plain word of the text and consider its context in the great tradition, it becomes apparent that Baptism was administered in the context of Pascha.  Preceded by lengthy (perhaps three years) of catechesis, the preparatory process was most certainly ecclesial as it involved the teachers or catechists who were held in high esteem.

   Moreover, Baptism at Pascha brings to the Mystery a dimension that surpasses being “merely” ecclesial.   Fr. Schmemann cautions that an ecclesial understanding of Baptism can lead to “ecclesiolotry”.    The Paschal vigil is a celebration of Resurrection and of restoration, most especially the restoration of creation through the Crucified and Risen Word-made-flesh.   The “stuff” of creation, the primal elements of fire, water, air, and earth become integral parts of the church’s proclamation as she gives and receives the light, returns to the lavra of regeneration, hears the words of the kerygma, and finally tastes and sees the goodness of the Lord through the bread of earth becoming True Bread come down from Heaven.  In the context of the Paschal vigil Baptism is truly cosmological.

   Would that modern Orthodox practice reflected the fullness of the Mystery!

   As a recently enrolled Catechumen in the Orthodox Church, regrettably, I have been exposed to few celebrations of the Mystery of Baptism.   Despite attending Greek and Antiochian Orthodox weekday liturgies for  three and five years respectively I have only witnessed three Baptism: Two on successive years on Holy Saturday morning; and one in the early afternoon of a Sunday following the Divine Liturgy and coffee hour.   All of these were in the Antiochian jurisdiction.   In all except the Sunday afternoon Baptism the general congregation was not informed in advance that the Mystery would be celebrated.

   This basic failure at a minimum, to inform, much less to invite and encourage the congregation’s attendance does little to foster an understanding of Baptism as incorporation into the Body of Christ, or, more precisely, into discerning this Body as being more than the simply the Sponsors and invited family and friends.     Were it not for the presence of an already assembled congregation for the Liturgy of St. Basil on Holy Saturday even those Baptisms would have borne the appearance of being essentially private events.

   The Baptisms I witnessed all had an unmistakable connection to the Eucharist.   In the case of the Holy Saturday Baptisms the newly Baptized received their first Holy Communion at the Communion of the Faithful during the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil.  The Sunday afternoon Baptism also included Communion, of course, but this was from the Reserved Sacrament and administered only to the newly Baptized.  This practice does little to show the intrinsic connection between the Mystery of Baptism and the Sunday assembly, and the holy meal by which that assembly is uniquely identified as Christian.  In this instance the Communion--which by institution as well as entomology is meant to be communal--was also privatized.

   Having spent twenty-five years in the ministry of the Lutheran church, formed and shaped by the liturgy of the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship and its ancillaries I count myself deeply blessed for having been able to celebrate the Mystery of Baptism in the manner for which Fr. Schmemann expresses deep yearning, yet simultaneously deeply saddened that such opportunities are rare (but not unheard of) within Orthodoxy.  Of the ninety-three Baptisms over which I presided,  twenty-one were during the Paschal Vigil. .All but five occurred within the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy..   Of the five anomalous celebrations three were in other church buildings so as to be able to use a font capable of Baptism by full submersion.  Only one was held in a private home (which, just a half century ago, was rather standard Lutheran practice) and  that was solely to allow the Baptism to be within earshot and view of the infant’s terminally ill grandfather.

   Placing Baptism within the Sunday liturgy undoubtabely helps to foster a deep respect and appreciation--indeed, an outright love--for this Mystery among the faithful.   The depth of this love was best articulated when a Seminarian assigned to the parish, as a part of a class project, asked many individuals “if the church were on fire, and you could remove just one item, what would that be?”   The overwhelming majority of those questioned replied, “the Font.”

   As a side note, the writing of this paper, occurring within a few weeks of my family’s pending Chrismation, has caused me to investigate the circumstances of the Baptism of each member.  Our only child was Baptized in a Eucharistic liturgy on a Sunday afternoon in an ecumenical setting adjacent to an international chaplaincy conference.  My wife my was Baptized on Easter Sunday in a gathered congregation.   As for me, I had known that I was Baptized on the 11th day of September--a date which has come to carry an overwhelming deluge of the sufferings of the Body of Christ--but I had been unsure as to whether this had been private or within such liturgy as the Methodist Episcopal Church followed in 1960.  It was an immense relief to discover a bulletin stating “Sunday morning”; not that Baptism outside of the liturgy would have been invalid, but that it would less than ecclesial.  The deficiency would not have been for me but for the community deprived of being able to witness the lavra of rebirth.

   Nearly one year ago I was delighted to learn that Metropolitan SAVAS has granted permission for the St. Matthew’s Greek Orthodox Mission in Blandon, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the Mystery of Baptism during the Sunday liturgy.   I have frequently observed how the York, Pennsylvania Greek community bears great similarity to how that same county’s Lutherans were almost precisely one hundred years ago.  In the early 20th century, Lutherans were struggling (and frequently dividing) over whether the liturgy and sermons should be in the ancestral tongue or in the language of their “new” homeland....even though in many cases the German Lutherans had been in America for 160 or more years.   I am now discovering that there are other parallels as well:   In those same pre WWI years Communion  was received infrequently (no more than four times per year), and Baptism was normally performed privately in the home.

   This small step--albeit in one specific mission parish--by the Greek Metropolis of Pittsburgh is nevertheless a positive sign that Baptism may yet be restored to its historic place in the fullness of the assembly of the faithful and thus better show forth that this Mystery incorporates--embodies--the candidate into the Body of Christ. 








« Last Edit: July 31, 2020, 11:54:32 PM by J. Thomas Shelley »
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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2020, 11:52:03 PM »
Caveat:  Written 5 1/2 years ago as an Orthodox Catechumen for the Antiochian House of Studies St. Stephen's Certificate program as it existed at that time.

Most is still relevant.

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Pastor Ken Kimball

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2020, 12:42:07 AM »
I was baptized March 6, 1960 (Ike was still president) at Trinity Lutheran, Blue Earth, Minnesota, at service that was not the public service of the congregation.  Present, in addition to my two and a half month old self were my parents, the pastor, and my two godparents (and, I think, their spouses).  There may have been a few other family present but I am agnostic as to whether that was the case or not.  In any event, I have regarded that baptism as valid (though my regard really does not contribute to either the validation or invalidation of that baptism).   It remains my only baptism and the one acknowledged at my confirmation 15 years, three months later.  It was certainly done under the authority of the Church by a Lutheran pastor called to a Lutheran congregation (the pastor and congregation had been ELC--I'm not sure of the timing by which they became part of The American Lutheran Church).  It was certainly done "IN the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  It is that moment, in which I had no choice nor made any decision, that Christ's decision for me on the cross and by His resurrection was extended specifically to me in time and space.  Though there was a time of agnostic rejection of Christ and His Church, it was that baptism to which Jesus  brought me back (kicking and screaming) in the autumn months of my freshman year (1978) at the University of Michigan.  As a pastor I understand and support baptisms during the regular public worship of a congregation, but knowing my own history, I am not doctrinaire nor ideological on that point.  Whether "public" or "private", the power of the promise is contained and extended in the command and Name given by our Lord under His authority.  Or else I am not His and not a Christian and damned instead of saved. 

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2020, 12:56:55 AM »
Amen!

Lutherans do not "reBaptize".

Orthodox do not "reBaptize" (provided that Baptism was administered in the Name and formula which Christ has given)l

Thanks be to God....and welcome to the Seventh Decade!
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Mike in Pennsylvania

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2020, 09:35:27 AM »
It never occurred to me before, but I just checked the date of my Baptism -- July 3, 1949 -- and it was a Sunday.  Though I suspect it was not during the regular morning service, but anyone I could ask has long since departed for the next life.
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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2020, 10:25:27 AM »
I already answered on the other thread, but will toss out my thoughts here too: there IS no private baptism. It does not exist. To equate it with the private mass is to say that the person being baptized baptizes himself. That’s not what happens. Rather, the liturgy calls for the baptizand, the officiant, the parents, and the sponsors (who may or may not be related) and often enough there are other guests. If this happens on the third Wednesday in June in the afternoon it is no less an ecclesial event than if it took place at the Great Vigil. We ought not try to outdo the Apostles. St. Paul baptized the Philippian jailor and his household (presumably having little ones) in the middle of the night in his home. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized by St. Phillip at the first sight of water. Baptism cannot be less than ecclesial, however it occurs, since “by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body.”  1 Cor. 12. It is not the SETTING that makes Baptism ecclesial but the action of God the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament itself.
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Weedon

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2020, 10:31:53 AM »
Further thought: also note the ecclesial dimension in the liturgy itself, even in the Great Flood Prayer which of course has as its central petition the prayer for the child to be graced with his or her own faith:

“You preserved believing Noah *and his family, eight souls in all*...You led *Your people Israel through the water on dry ground*...Grant that he/she be kept *secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church being separated from the multitude of unbelievers.*”
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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2020, 10:40:54 AM »
Baptism cannot be less than ecclesial, however it occurs, since “by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body.”  1 Cor. 12. It is not the SETTING that makes Baptism ecclesial but the action of God the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament itself.

Indeed. 

The minimalist setting of candidate and baptizer described in the beginning of my essay conveys no more and no less grace than a Baptism administered in a crowded cathedral on Holy Saturday.

But I keep reflecting on words from the final prayer of the Divine Liturgy "...preserve the fullness of Your Church..."   Certainly the church is present even in its most minimalist extreme (John Donne "when the Church Baptizes a child, that concerns me; for I am part of that child); yet is this truly the "fullness"?

Should me not desire fullness over minimalism?
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Weedon

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2020, 10:47:21 AM »
By all means, but the fullness we seek is not made present by a greater number of congregants. The fullness comes not from us but from the Holy Trinity. And thus the fullness, the pleroma, cannot be minished or increased by adding or subtracting people. Even the liturgical fullness (which is desirable above all for its beautiful confession of what God delivers in Baptism) is not the actual fullness. The actual fullness is the gift of the Holy Trinity in the water, conveying all His fullness to us in accord with His promise. The Philippian jailor (was the water bloodied from Paul’s back?) got exactly nothing less and expressed no less ecclesial fullness than the grandest Baptisms solemnly observed in groups upon the Vigil of the Resurrection. As Luther would say: “Baptism itself.” That is the fullness that prompts the liturgical confession (and since you can’t in a moment of time convey all that Baptism delivers, the ceremonies spread out across moments of time to make the confession of that fullness conveyed in that simple act with the words of our Lord delivering nothing less than what they promise).
« Last Edit: August 01, 2020, 10:50:04 AM by Weedon »
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Pr. Don Kirchner

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2020, 10:49:39 AM »
Exactly, Pastors Kimball and Weedon.

BTW, and I know others disagree, I find the various exorcisms somewhat cute but absolutely unnecessary. E.g., I find it somewhat absurd for me to be the Holy Spirit's forerunner and bodyguard in this rite and state, “Depart thou unclean spirit and give room to the Holy Spirit. " The Holy Spirit goes wherever He wills and takes whatever room He wishes. In my baptism, the Holy Spirit booted the unclean spirit right outa there. I have a certificate that says so. Bottom line, Baptism in The Name is THE exorcism, the only necessary one.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2020, 10:56:00 AM by Pr. Don Kirchner »
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Pastor Ken Kimball

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #10 on: August 01, 2020, 11:18:31 AM »
I already answered on the other thread, but will toss out my thoughts here too: there IS no private baptism. It does not exist. To equate it with the private mass is to say that the person being baptized baptizes himself. That’s not what happens. Rather, the liturgy calls for the baptizand, the officiant, the parents, and the sponsors (who may or may not be related) and often enough there are other guests. If this happens on the third Wednesday in June in the afternoon it is no less an ecclesial event than if it took place at the Great Vigil. We ought not try to outdo the Apostles. St. Paul baptized the Philippian jailor and his household (presumably having little ones) in the middle of the night in his home. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized by St. Phillip at the first sight of water. Baptism cannot be less than ecclesial, however it occurs, since “by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body.”  1 Cor. 12. It is not the SETTING that makes Baptism ecclesial but the action of God the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament itself.
Thanks Will for this (did see it on the other thread later).  Your point is well taken--and I agree fully.  There is no such thing as private Baptism (anymore than there is such a thing as private Holy Communion).  "Ecclesial" is a far better understanding than our subjective post-Enlightenment "private" or "public".   Ken

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #11 on: August 01, 2020, 01:54:44 PM »
Acknowledging both the fine theological points made about "fulness" meaning not just the full local assembly but the fulness of the Godhead, and simultaneously acknowledging that my own baptism, two weeks subsequent to my birth, was held in the home with my grandfather-pastor baptizing me, I am with Tom Shelley with regard to encouraging baptisms at Easter/Vigil, The Baptism of our Lord, and Pentecost, high Baptismal festivals.  If the font is placed at the entrance with water so that the faithful might enter dipping their hand into the water (this is pre-COVID) and then making the sign of the cross in remembrance of their baptism, would the faithful in their remembrance not also desire baptisms to be at those festival occasions with such profound baptismal connections?  In fact they do so desire and can be so encouraged.

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #12 on: August 01, 2020, 05:25:52 PM »
Acknowledging both the fine theological points made about "fulness" meaning not just the full local assembly but the fulness of the Godhead, and simultaneously acknowledging that my own baptism, two weeks subsequent to my birth, was held in the home with my grandfather-pastor baptizing me, I am with Tom Shelley with regard to encouraging baptisms at Easter/Vigil, The Baptism of our Lord, and Pentecost, high Baptismal festivals.  If the font is placed at the entrance with water so that the faithful might enter dipping their hand into the water (this is pre-COVID) and then making the sign of the cross in remembrance of their baptism, would the faithful in their remembrance not also desire baptisms to be at those festival occasions with such profound baptismal connections?  In fact they do so desire and can be so encouraged.

Dave Benke

So, if a father and mother called you and said that their baby had just been born and would like to have him/her baptized the following Sunday, would you suggest they wait for one of those "high Baptismal festivals"?  What if the nearest date on the calendar for one of them is a couple of months away?  What would be the advantage to that waiting?  Why not advocate for the child receiving the blessings of baptism as soon as possible?  "It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare" -- why would a pastor EVER advise delaying this gift?  I don't get what makes baptism on such a "high Baptismal festival" so wonderful, even preferable.  Does the baptized get a greater forgiveness of sins?  Is he somehow MORE delivered from death and the devil?  Does she receive a better salvation?  Is the Spirit given a greater measure?

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #13 on: August 01, 2020, 07:06:45 PM »
Acknowledging both the fine theological points made about "fulness" meaning not just the full local assembly but the fulness of the Godhead, and simultaneously acknowledging that my own baptism, two weeks subsequent to my birth, was held in the home with my grandfather-pastor baptizing me, I am with Tom Shelley with regard to encouraging baptisms at Easter/Vigil, The Baptism of our Lord, and Pentecost, high Baptismal festivals.  If the font is placed at the entrance with water so that the faithful might enter dipping their hand into the water (this is pre-COVID) and then making the sign of the cross in remembrance of their baptism, would the faithful in their remembrance not also desire baptisms to be at those festival occasions with such profound baptismal connections?  In fact they do so desire and can be so encouraged.

Dave Benke

So, if a father and mother called you and said that their baby had just been born and would like to have him/her baptized the following Sunday, would you suggest they wait for one of those "high Baptismal festivals"?  What if the nearest date on the calendar for one of them is a couple of months away?  What would be the advantage to that waiting?  Why not advocate for the child receiving the blessings of baptism as soon as possible?  "It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare" -- why would a pastor EVER advise delaying this gift?  I don't get what makes baptism on such a "high Baptismal festival" so wonderful, even preferable.  Does the baptized get a greater forgiveness of sins?  Is he somehow MORE delivered from death and the devil?  Does she receive a better salvation?  Is the Spirit given a greater measure?

Use of caps indicates stressed reaction, SW.  Let me help you to descend from the mountain of high dudgeon, to the best of my limited abilities. 
a) I'd ask dad and mom a few questions before setting the date.  Wouldn't you? 
b) If they were good to go, little baby Stephanie would be baptized yes, on the next Sunday. 
c) You raise a hypothetical case which is seldom, in babies who are healthy, raised - in full caps WE WANT STEPHANIE BAPTIZED NEXT SUNDAY!! 
d) In many cases - maybe this is just me - the family asks me, the priest, the pastor, what dates work best, and include their own life schedule and the church schedule.  Then we talk about optimum opportunities such as Easter.  Maybe it's February, with Lent coming in - we go for Easter.  Do you do a lot of baptisms during Lent?  I've done a few, but not many.


e) You fail to ask an actually pertinent question - what do you do in cases where the baby is in physical danger?  Here's the answer:  baptize the baby.  Always.

If I may illustrate, twins are born to a parish family.  1 and 1/2 lb. each.  Each no bigger than your hand.  After receiving a phone call, I jump in the car, head to the hospital, up to Child ICU, and there's the head Preemie Nurse (premature nursery), right in front of the incubators.  I say, "I'm here to baptize these two girls."  She says, "Wonderful.  Place your hand on top of the incubator and give them your blessing."  Now we go into a fifteen minute catechetical exercise, all of which has to do with water and its necessity in baptism.  None of which gets through until finally she relents and says I may glove up, place one drop of sterilized water on my right index finger, insert the finger into the incubator, touch the water to the child's body, and that's all she can do for me.  And I say, "Thank you.  That will be fine."  So each child was baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit with one sterilized drop of water from my index finger, which pretty much covered the girls' entire chests.  If we can ever have a relatively full-scale worship service, the girls will soon receive their first holy communion. 

Dave Benke

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Re: Baptism: Ecclesial or "private" ?
« Reply #14 on: August 01, 2020, 08:00:35 PM »
Thank you, Dr. Benke.  Your (b) above answers my basic question -- apparently you would NOT necessarily advise them to wait for one of those "high Baptismal festivals".  I still am not sure what the advantage of those "high Baptismal festivals" are, and what makes a baptism then different/better/more special than at some other time.