This Lent is particularly difficult. I have envisaged this portion of this blog as reflection on the gospel passages with a focus towards leading catechumenate meetings. Today I find the focus on myself. Some would argue that that is the best way to prepare for such meetings. Perhaps.
The context: we have celebrated baptisms during the first two Sundays of Lent. Such celebrations are allowed in the Episcopal church. There is a provision in the BCP for this (page 299) but it certainly isn’t the customary practice of the Church from the time Lent first began in the Church through now. In fact, with the reformation of the sacraments, such Lenten celebrations have been increasingly discouraged. I don’t know what the circumstances are around today’s celebrations. One of those baptized was an adult.
I did not have a voice in these decisions to baptize. This is part of my frustration and anger. This is where I hear the voice to deny myself and follow Christ. I am asking myself whether or not my disappointment with our liturgical practice so far this Lent is pharisaical? Am I too concerned with the “Law” rather than with the Dean’s expression of faith that “many were brought to the Lord.”
Today’s passage from Romans (4:13-25) causes me to pause. As does the Gospel verse “the Son of Man…[will] be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes…” What many of us (including me) want to cling to as “Law” is the practice of no baptism during Lent. Does it make a difference?
Perhaps the clinging to a practice doesn’t make a difference but the intent of the practice does. What is the intent of a longer formation process leading to baptism? Formation into discipleship. So the way a Christian community celebrates baptism does make a difference in several ways:
- Discernment–both the individual and the minister need to go through a process of discernment as to the readiness of the candidate (or of the parents & godparents) to live Christian lives. The discernment process in and of itself takes more than a one-hour meeting (a common practice both here and elsewhere);
- Celebration of the sacraments within the context of the Church year, which is intimately connected to those celebrations;
- What we say (pastoral leadership and the entire community) as to what we believe baptism to be about. If it is about new life in Christ and we are so close to celebrating that at Easter, then why not wait until then? If baptism is about celebrating the sacrament when family members can make it, has the candidate or the community really reflected upon the Gospel that tells us and shows us that following Christ often means leaving one’s current community, including family? “Those who want to save their life will lose it.”
(There are numerous other differences that I may add in the future. These are ones that come to mind immediately.)
So my struggle: I was a small voice who questioned the practice of us celebrating baptisms during Lent. I thought I had at least that much of a responsibility as a leader in the catechumenate. But I was not consulted about the practice. All were done for “pastoral reasons.” And, in order to get beyond both disappointment and anger, I must lose that part of myself that is pharisaical about such practices.
But this raises another question: Are there standards for celebrations of the sacraments? If so, what are they? If one minimizes discernment regarding baptismal formation, then what about discernment and formation associated with marriage and/or ordination? These are the other sacraments associated with vocation. Trinity has a very good Commission on Ministry. The members take their responsibility to discern readiness to pursue licensed and ordained ministries seriously. But why, if we aren’t exercising the same seriousness regarding the initiation sacraments?
This includes Eucharist (also a sacrament of vocation): Trinity does not “fence the table” (limit communion to the baptized). We open communion to all present in the name of hospitality. One indication I have of the readiness of a candidate for baptism is if/when that person tells me that they want to fast from communion until their baptism. That’s when I know they are “getting” what the sacraments are about.
This Lent the Worship team decided that we would use communion wafers rather than baked bread for Sunday Eucharist in order “to simplify life during this season of Lent.” If we’re going to be radically for Lent or against it, I suggest one or the other:
- change from Eucharist to Morning Prayer during Lent to simplify life even more and to fast from the Eucharist
- continue to celebrate baptisms during Lent and add the “Alleluia’s” back into the Sunday celebrations.
The current combination of practices is confusing, perhaps even scandalous to some.