Monday, January 14, 2008

Baptismal Liturgies

Prior to having baby Boniface baptized yesterday in the old rite, my parish priest asked me to prepare a little booklet with English translations of the Latin prayers to help facilitate a better understanding of what was going on in the sacrament, especially to those non-Catholic family members present. As I put together this little booklet, I was struck by some marked differences between the old baptismal liturgy and the post-Vatican II liturgy. Now, before I go any further, let me say what I am not going to assert: I am not in any way of the opinion that the new baptismal rite is invalid or insufficient, as some Trads have gone so far as to claim (like the anti-pope Pius XIII, a.k.a. Lucian Pulvermacher).

The old and new rite express the same reality in different ways. The new rite of baptism tends to explain the sacrament in terms of the postive: what the child is being brought into. The old rite tends to emphasize the negative: what the child is being delivered from. This is the most general difference between the two rites. In the old rite, one is being delivered from Satan, loosed from the bonds of sin and washed of the stain of Adam. These points are emphasized a little more than in the new rite (quite a bit more, actually). In the new rite, one is becoming a child of the light, being welcomed into the Christian community, being called to Christ's nuptials, etc. Again, there is some crossover between these two ideas in the respective rites, but this is the overall theme. Now let's look at some specifics.

First, the old rite underscores the role of the godparents to a much greater extent. In the old rite, the godparents answer every question posed by the priest, even the most fundamental ones. The parents do not say a single word. In addition, every question posed by the priest is addressed directly to the infant, not the parents. For example, in the new rite, we have the following:

Celebrant: What name do you give your child?
Parents: Name.
Celebrant: What do you ask of God's Church for N.?
Parents: Baptism.

Now, look at the difference in the old rite:

Priest: (Name of infant), what do you ask of the Church of God?
Godparent: Faith.
Priest: What does the faith offer you?
Godparents: Eternal life.

The role of the godparent is a legal role, not a sentimental one. In the old rite, the godparent even holds the child while the water is being poured on the infant. All of this involvement of the godparent underscores the fact that the godparent has a true responsibility to the formation of the child's faith. The godparent is a legal witness, much like the witnesses to a marriage. He promises, in the sight of God, to fulfill the duty of every Catholic to raise their child in the faith. But some may wonder: why does the godparent swear this? Isn't it the parent's responsibility? Aren't parents the primary educators of their children? Why then are they left out in the old rite?

I imagine it is because the parents already swore such an oath when they took their vows of Holy Matrimony. There, they vowed to see to the raising of their children in the faith of the Church. Therefore, at baptism, this is taken as a given, and the godparent is invoked as an additional witness to take the same vow in the event that the parents fail in their responsibility.

Looking at the exorcisms of the two rites, there are two points to be made. First, there are simply more exorcisms in the old rite. In fact, it is pretty much one long exorcism. There is an exorcism of the salt, a threefold exorcism of the infant, an exorcism of his senses. And let us not forget that bapstim itself is a kind of exorcism, where the child is delivered from a state of sin (bondage to the devil) and translated into the kingdom of the sons of God. The new rite has a single exorcism, and it is so frequently dispensed with (because it is optional) that it has really been effectively dropped from the rite de facto. Modern parents are uncomfortable with an exorcism being performed on their child. If they better understood the gift of God that was being given, many more I think would beg for more exorcisms prior to any sacramental reception.

Not only ther number but the nature of the exorcisms is different. In the old rite, the exorcisms follow the Scriptural/traditional form of abjuration of the devil by name. The devil is called out and named directly and ordered to flee. Look at these prayers:

First exorcism: Depart from him unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete.

Second exorcism: I exorcise you, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, that you go out and depart from this servant of God...therefore, accursed devil, acknowledge your sentence, and give honor to the living and true God.

Third exorcism: I exorcise you, every unclean spirit, in the name of God the Father Almighty...that you depart from this creature of God.

Ephpheta rite: Be thou, devil, begone; for the judgment of God shall draw near.

The priest speaks directly to the unclean spirits with the power and authority of Christ and commands them to leave, just as the disciples cast out spirits in the New Testament. But look at how the exorcism of the new form of the rite is worded:

Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for these children: set them free from original sin, make them temples of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell within them.

This is a very emasculated exorcism. The priest here does not take up the authority he does in the old rite. He does not command the unclean spirits, and, if you look carefuly, he doesn't even do an exorcism at all. He simply recalls the fact that Jesus came into the world to cast out the devil, and then he prays that the child be set free from original sin. But that is not an exorcism, that's just what happens ex opera operato in the sacrament. Of course you get set free from original sin when you get baptized! Gone is any calling out and abjuration of the devil from the infant. The priest doesn't command the unclean spirits to leave: he simply recalls that Satan was defeated by Christ and then asks for the graces proper to baptism.

Does the child really need the exorcism? The old rite seems to assert this. It actually takes it for granted that there are already unclean spirits hanging around the newborn. Otherwise, how can the first exorcism say, "Depart from him unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete"? In the new rite, every hint that the child might be oppressed by the devil is avoided.
But isn't that exactly what it means to be unregenerated? It means you are still in bondage to sin and in the dominion of the devil? Why then hide this fact from those bringing their child to the holy font?

Finally, the old rite mentions specifically in the second anointing that baptism saves: "May...our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has regenerated you by water and the Holy Ghost, and who has given you remission of all your sins, may He Himself anoint you with the Chrism of Salvation, in the same Christ Jesus our Lord, unto life eternal."

The prayer of the new form in the same spot says: "God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation." But the wording is a little bit more ambiguous. It says that Jesus "has freed you from sin." When did He free us? In this sacrament? Or is it referring to His death on the cross, of which the sacrament is merely a reminder? A Protestant would have no problem with this prayer, because linking baptism with being "freed from sin" is not specific enough. Protestants make the same claim when they baptize, but for them the baptism is a profession of faith that the sin has already been remitted by faith alone. In the old rite, the word "remission" of sin is used, and it is linked with the sacrament by the phrase "Who has regenerated you by water and the Holy Ghost." Thus, no Protestant/symbolic interpretation is possible in the old form. (There is a reference to water and the Holy Ghost in the new rite, but it comes much later, as a blessing attached to the end of the liturgy).

As with many other comparisons between older and newer forms in the Church, in this case as well it is the case that the prayers of the older form speak more explicitly and clearly about what is occuring in the sacrament and take a much more authorative tone in the way they abjure Satan. In the old form, we are casting down Satan and rescuing one for whom Christ died, admitting him into the glorious kingdom of our God by remission of sins. In the new rite, we are joyously welcoming him into the Christian community where he will be a child of the light. The older rite is so much more masculine and powerful in its form, while the new one uses emasculated language that is free from any reference to battle, warfare, and (ooh!) the possibility that the devil may be trying to claim your child.

There's much more that can be said, but that's enough for now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kinda like simple water, simply blest....


simple water, salt, etc "properly" blest.

Congratulations.... I am disappointed that I had to miss it.