You might well imagine that, in the seminary, aspiring priests practice doing things like celebrating Mass and administering sacraments. And in fact, I engaged in such “practices” during my seminary years.
You might also imagine that we carry out these “practices” with great solemnity. My answer: Not always!
I remember a “practice” for infant baptism. It did not help that the baby doll looked somewhat silly. And it did not help that, lacking any women in our specific setting, we had one of our classmates play the role of the mother.
The classmate who played the deacon or priest got to the question: “What name have you given your child?” The “mother” replied, “Athanasius.”
Now, granted that St. Athanasius is a great doctor of the church, and that the name therefore is an entirely worthy name, we still considered the name quite surprising. I guess you could say that, by this time, we were in a “state.” I am not sure how we proceeded. I am not sure we ever got to the end of a practice baptism.
Over the past 35 years as a deacon and priest, I have found infant baptisms to be among the more rewarding and enjoyable things I do. Many people still look upon this sacrament as something done essentially in private, as if the child were being vaccinated. Over the years, I have done what I can to emphasize that infant baptism is a celebration to be enjoyed.
I feel particularly blessed on coming to my two new parishes. Already, at St. Jerome in Troy, we have celebrated two infant baptisms at a Sunday Mass. It happens that the two baby boys are cousins; their mothers are sisters.
Much of the “blessing” for me is in the fact that everyone involved in the baptisms was thoroughly prepared for what they were to do. Long before the baptisms, the families received a proper theological presentation on the sacrament, and were trained to carry out their roles. This preparation is the result of consistent practice over many years, and people in parish leadership who stress the importance of good celebration. St. Jerome has four living former pastors; you know who you are.
The boys came to church wearing anything but white; their vesture symbolized that in this sacrament they were to be utterly transformed as they entered the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. At some point during the Liturgy of the Word, their clothes were off and they were swaddled in towels. It was my job, at the end of the Liturgy of the Word, to take each child and place him in the warm water. One, or maybe both of the boys, became somewhat wide-eyed over the surprise of entering the water; in general, they took the experience very well.
I must stress as well that the congregation thoroughly enjoys witnessing infant baptisms.
Baptism is, of course, the new Christian’s entrance into the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our eternal life has begun, because in going under the water we have participated in Jesus’ death and burial; and, emerging from the water, we have participated in his resurrection.
We must live our eternal life, here and now, with the greatest confidence, for we know that we are joined to the mystery of Jesus and that we count on the power which flows from his becoming weak for us. This is no laughing matter.