When to baptize?

The above question can be answered in numerous ways. All involve praxis because of the very nature of sacrament as visible action celebrating grace.

Most recently my experience is one in which there is a presumption that grace is alive and well in a person if/when they step forward and express an interest in celebrating a sacrament.  No further preparation or formation is deemed necessary.  The presumption is that celebration precedes growth in grace; that there is no need for the Christian community to voice expectations that the seeker act in ways that show sincerity of purpose and/or an understanding of what we are celebrating.

This model allows for baptism almost immediately upon request with 60 – 90 minute “instruction” being adequate for the formation process.  It allows for designated length “classes” for those who say they want to be confirmed (with suspicions that it is the parents who are acting upon parental wants for their children).  It allows for an open table where all are invited to communion when no attempt has previously been made to incorporate the new communicant into the community.

There may be a consistency in this model when we address other sacraments of vocation, i.e. marriage and orders.  The development I see is a lessening of the importance of seminary training and discernment by the local community that the person is indeed called and meets some set of criteria prior to ordination.  And that set is named.  We witness the current dissolution of marriage when this model is applied to that sacrament.  We witnessed the degradation of vocations during the middle ages with ordained clergy who were ignorant of theology and not infused with a prayer life and again recently in denominations where the emphasis was on getting ordained personnel “out into the field” rather than grace filled leaders of prayer.

The presumption is that there is a grace bestowed at baptism, at confirmation, in Eucharist through which the newly baptized, the confirmandi, the new communicant will continue to grow.  This may be the case.  However it is not the theology of the Church except in very recent times.

The theology of the early church and of the church reforming since Vatican II is that there is a need to recognize stages of initial growth in Christ through the rites of Christian initiation, including Eucharist.

During these last few weeks I thought that the praxis of “quick” baptism and confirmation, and of invitations to the table to those with little if no understanding of what they are celebrating,  might be part of emergent church theology.  I thought it might be seen as a response to the recognition that fewer and fewer people see Christianity as as a viable response to their quest for the Good or that any such quest is happening at all.  But, as I read material on the sacraments in our postmodern age, I see that a different praxis is encouraged.

This alternative emphasizse the need to discern where an inquirer is at, to hear their story, to guide them along a path that includes.  The recent work of Keenan Osborne, OFM (Christian Sacraments in a Postmodern Worl:…), Samuel Torvend (Flowing Water; Uncommon Birth) and others advocate for catechumenates that model that which Jesus exercised with his disciples.  Such a catechumenate is open-ended and usually takes a year or more to complete.  Celebration is at Easter.  Such a catechumenate extends to confirmation and celebration of Eucharist as part of initiation, not before it.  Both of these authors and others seek an answer in the postmodern world that is also named as the sacramental theology response as part of emergent church theology.

About Jerry

Catechumenate ministry is my passion. I have been involved in the catechumenate since 1980 in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal branches of the Church. I am a "progressive," ecumenical Christian who is realistic enough to know that the Church has never been "One"; is often not "Holy"; strives to be "Catholic" and is "Apostolic" only when members respect the Tradition rather than the latest customs. I have been fortunate to be able to focus on various elements of philosophy, theology and Christian history during my studies. I am able to bring them all to bear in catechumenate ministry.
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