Adjuncts of Baptism

(1) Baptistery

According to the canons of the Church, baptism except in case of necessity is to be administered in churches (Conc. Prov. Balt., I, Decree 16). The Roman Ritual says: “Churches in which there is a baptismal font, or where there is a baptistery close to the church”. The term “baptistery” is commonly used for the space set aside for the conferring of baptism. In like manner the Greeks use photisterion for the same purpose—a word derived from St. Paul’s designation of baptism as an “illumination”.

The words of the Ritual just cited, however, mean by “baptistery”, a separate building constructed for the purpose of administering baptism. Such buildings have been erected both in the East and West, as at Tyre, Padua, Pisa, Florence, and other places. In such baptisteries, besides the font, altars were also built; and here the baptism was conferred. As a rule, however, the church itself contains a railed-off space containing the baptismal font. Anciently fonts were attached only to cathedral churches, but at the present day nearly every parish church has a font. This is the sense of the Baltimore decree above cited. The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore declared, however, that if missionaries judge that the great difficulty of bringing an infant to church is a sufficient reason for baptizing in a private house, then they are to administer the sacrament with all the prescribed rites.

The ordinary law of the Church is that when private baptism is conferred, the remaining ceremonies are to be supplied not in the house but in the church itself. The Ritual also directs that the font be of solid material, so that the baptismal water may be safely kept in it. A railing is to surround the font, and a representation of St. John baptizing Christ should adorn it. The cover of the font usually contains the holy oils used in baptism, and this cover must be under lock and key, according to the Ritual.

(2) Baptismal Water

In speaking of the matter of baptism, we stated that true, natural water is all that is required for its validity. In administering solemn baptism, however the Church prescribes that the water used should have been consecrated on Holy Saturday or on the eve of Pentecost. For the liceity (not validity) of the sacrament, therefore, the priest is obliged to use consecrated water. This custom is so ancient that we can not discover its origin. It is found in the most ancient liturgies of the Latin and Greek Churches and is mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions (VII, 43). The ceremony of its consecration is striking and symbolic. After signing the water with the cross, the priest divides it with his hand and casts it to the four corners of the earth. This signifies the baptizing of all the nations. Then he breathes upon the water and immerses the paschal candle in it.

Next he pours into the water, first the oil of catechumens and then the sacred chrism, and lastly both holy oils together, pronouncing appropriate prayers. But what if during the year, the supply of consecrated water should be insufficient? In that case, the Ritual declares that the priest may add common water to what remains, but only in less quantity. If the consecrated water appears putrid, the priest must examine whether or not it is really so, for the appearance may be caused only by the admixture of the sacred oils. If it has really become putrid, the font is to be renovated and fresh water to be blessed by a form given in the Ritual. In the United States, the Holy See has sanctioned a short formula for the consecration of baptismal water (Conc. Plen. Balt., II).

(3) Holy Oils

In baptism, the priest uses the oil of catechumens, which is olive oil, and chrism, the latter being a mixture of balsam and oil. The oils are consecrated by the bishop on Maundy Thursday. The anointing in baptism is recorded by St. Justin, St. John Chrysostom, and other ancient Fathers. Pope Innocent I declares that the chrism is to be applied to the crown of the head, not to the forehead, for the latter is reserved to bishops. The same may be found in the Sacramentaries of St. Gregory and St. Gelasius (Martene, I, i). In the Greek Rite the oil of catechumens is blessed by the priest during the baptismal ceremony.

(4) Sponsors

When infants are solemnly baptized, persons assist at the ceremony to make profession of the faith in the child’s name. This practice comes from antiquity and is witnessed to by Tertullian, St. Basil, St. Augustine, and others. Such persons are designated sponsores, offerentes, susceptores, fidejussores,and patrini. The English term is godfather and godmother.

These sponsors, in default of the child’s parents, are obliged to instruct it concerning faith and morals. One sponsor is sufficient and not more than two are allowed.

(5) Baptismal Name

From the earliest times names were given in baptism. The priest is directed to see that obscene, fabulous, and ridiculous names, or those of heathen gods or of infidel men be not imposed. On the contrary the priest is to recommend the names of saints. This rubric is not a rigorous precept, but it is an instruction to the priest to do what he can in the matter. If parents are unreasonably obstinate, the priest may add a saint’s name to the one insisted upon.

(6) Baptismal Robe

In the primitive Church, a white robe was worn by the newly baptized for a certain period after the ceremony (St. Ambrose, De Myst., c. vii). As solemn baptisms usually took place on the eves of Easter or Pentecost, the white garments became associated with those festivals. Thus, Sabbatum in Albis and Dominica in Albis received their names from the custom of putting off at that time the baptismal robe which had been worn since the previous vigil of Easter. It is thought that the English name for Pentecost—Whitsunday or Whitsuntide, also derived its appellation from the white garments of the newly baptized. In our present ritual, a white veil is placed momentarily on the head of the catechumen as a substitute for the baptismal robe.

Written by William H.W. Fanning. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

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