The Gift of New Life – Part II
Dear Friends in Christ:
Last week, I wrote concerning the baptism and reception into the Church by adults. However, the most common way people become Catholic is still by baptism as infants. For children over the age of 7, the initiation rites for adults are adapted and the children go through a formation process of the catechumenate. For infants and children under age 7, the Church has a special Rite of Baptism which still retains some of the liturgical rites for adults, but very much abbreviated to a single liturgical ceremony. Today, there is confusion among some Catholics concerning the appropriate time to baptize. The answer is simple – As soon as possible! Baptism should not be delayed. In the past, infants were baptized within days of birth due to fear of infant mortality. Today, thankfully, we have less to fear in that regard, but baptism should still be given as soon as possible and not needlessly delayed. I become frustrated when I hear of families delaying the baptism of their child until it is convenient for the party! Ugh! Forget the party – get the baby baptized! Have the party whenever you like, but let the baby have the grace of the sacrament without delay. Baptism should be done in the first weeks or months after birth. As practical matter, I would suggest not longer than three months after birth. In the case of an emergency or danger of death baptism should always take place immediately!
Another common concern that arises with baptism are the godparents. Godparents are important, but not the most important part of baptism. The role of a godparent is to assist the parents in raising the child in the Catholic Faith and to be a model of living the Catholic Faith. The qualifications for godparents are quite simple. Godparents must be 1) baptized, 2) confirmed, 3) practicing Catholics and 4) if married, married in the Catholic Church. “Practicing” means that they really live the Catholic faith. This does not mean “Christmas and Easter” Catholics. Being asked to be a godparent is an honor, but it is not merely “honorary”. It is a solemn promise before God to assist in raising the child in the Catholic Faith. To fulfill this promise, godparents must be practicing and living their Catholic faith. Godparents must be male and female (no same sex godparents). While both godparents should be practicing Catholics, a non-Catholic Christian may serve as a “Christian witness” along with a fully initiated and practicing Catholic. Godparents do not have to be married to each other, nor do they have to be relatives. Parents, on the other hand, only have to promise that they will raise their children Catholic. They should truly strive to be good and practicing Catholics and be married in the Church. For children whose parents are not married or fully living a Catholic life, the Church does not want children to be denied the grace of baptism. Ideally and hopefully, the birth of a child will help bring the parents closer to God and the Church so that they too can have the graces that God wishes to bless them with.
At baptism, children should be given a baptismal name. They should have a patron saint’s name or a name denoting their new life in Christ. It is a most laudable practice to name girls in honor of our Blessed Mother (Mary, Marie, Maria, Miriam, Lourdes, Guadalupe, Carmen). Boys too can be honored with the Blessed Mother’s name as is our patron Jean-Marie Vianney and our current pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. A baptismal name connects the newly baptized to the patron saint in a wonderful way throughout his/her life. It is important to have a baptismal name especially if the given name is of pagan origin or meaning. In some families, devotions to the saints are carried from one generation of family to the next in the baptismal names (Joseph, Anthony, Francis, Patrick, Anne, Theresa, Clare, Elizabeth).
Baptism is the beginning of our journey with Jesus. When we are baptized, we receive an ‘indelible mark’ on our soul and are configured to Christ. But the gift of baptism does not give us the gift of infused, perfect or complete knowledge. We still have to learn and be formed in the faith. That means children are to be brought by their parents to Mass every week. They should be taught the faith at home as well as at church. The gift of faith is best when it is lived enthusiastically in the home and family. When lived, the Catholic Faith becomes appreciated as that pearl of great price which shapes our lives and gives our whole lives meaning, identity and direction.
Jesus says “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” (Jn 3.3) and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28.19)
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately