January 15, 2013

Days for Baptisms

Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany). It is recommended that, as far as possible, Baptisms be reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present.
— BCP, p. 312

This past Sunday was the First Sunday after the Epiphany, and my church did indeed perform a baptism at the service I attended. Baptisms show up on our worship schedule unpredictably, however. The rector of St. Paul’s does not feel especially constrained by the paragraph above, which begins the Additional Directions that follow the Holy Baptism liturgy in the Episcopal Church prayer book. I have complained about our failure to restrict the times we celebrate Holy Baptism, but I haven’t been given much of a hearing.

The most common reason for holding baptisms at times other than those suggested in the prayer book is the convenience of the family. In this busy age, it may indeed be difficult to assemble all the friends and family who want to be present for a baptism, especially if some are coming from out of town. My rector is hardly the only priest to succumb to the entreaties of the candidate or the candidate’s relatives. On the other hand, I have always suspected that my rector does not take “as far as possible” very seriously and is more interested in receiving another soul into the household of God than in applying at least a little pressure to schedule a baptism on one of the “especially appropriate” occasions.
Baptismal font
I confess that my argument for following the Additional Directions more conscientiously has been primarily as a prayer book wonk. We should be honoring our tradition, even if that tradition may not technically qualify as ancient. I have avoided the argument that going to church and finding Holy Baptism substituted for The Holy Eucharist Rite Two makes me feel like a victim of a bait-and-switch ploy

At Sunday’s service, another reason for restricting the times when our church celebrates baptism occurred to me. Additional Directions suggests that a candle may be given “to the newly baptized or to a godparent.” My church does this, and I do think the candle well serves as a reminder of an important spiritual event. My rector sometimes suggests, when presenting the candle, that it might be lit on the anniversary of one’s baptism. He has suggested that the anniversary be honored on the same date every year, say, on February 3. However, with so many dates to remember—birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and the like—a personal baptism date is likely to be forgotten.

My epiphany was that, although one might not easily remember having been baptized on February 3 in some year in the distant past, it would be easier to remember having been baptized on, say, the Day of Pentecost. If the baptized person regularly attends a liturgical church and is aware of the church calendar, remembering one’s baptismal day becomes significantly more probable, perhaps even an anniversary that will be anticipated in the days leading up to Pentecost or one of the other feasts of the church. One might even be inclined to rummage around in some little used drawer to find that baptismal candle.

This is another, and perhaps better, reason to take the prayer book direction seriously. I might even try out the argument on my rector.


  1. There are of course simply some places where pastoral realities trump the ideals of the liturgical experts. At St. Andrew's probably about 2/3rd's of our 9-12 baptisms each year will take place at one of our two Sunday morning services, but there are always a few that will fall, for diverse reasons, on Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons. Almost always in the Church, but on rare occasions, in private homes or another location. Massey Shepherd told us that in the course of the preparation of the '79 BCP there was a good deal of discussion about a rubric suggesting that "as far as possible" Holy Matrimony be scheduled within the principal Sunday Eucharist also. In the end, the very few members of the SCLCM who had spent 15 minutes or more in parish ministry prevailed, and that suggestion fell by the wayside.

    1. Bruce,

      Thanks for the background. It would be interesting to know how other Pittsburgh clergy deal with the scheduling of baptisms.


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