Ceremonies of Baptism

(Extraordinary Form)

The rites that accompany the baptismal ablution are as ancient as they are beautiful. The writings of the early Fathers and the antique liturgies show that most of them are derived from Apostolic times.

The infant is brought to the door of the church by the sponsors, where it is met by the priest. After the godparents have asked faith from the Church of God in the child’s name, the priest breathes upon its face and exorcises the evil spirit. St. Augustine (Ep. cxciv, Ad Sixtum) makes use of this Apostolic practice of exorcising to prove the existence of original sin. Then the infant’s forehead and breast are signed with the cross, the symbol of redemption.

Next follows the imposition of hands, a custom certainly as old as the Apostles. Some blessed salt is now placed in the mouth of the child. “When salt”, says the Catechism of the Council of Trent “is put into the mouth of person to be baptized, it evidently imports that, by the doctrine of faith and the gift of grace, he should be delivered from the corruption of sin, experience a relish for good works, and be delighted with the food of divine wisdom.”

Placing his stole over the child the priest introduces it into the church, and on the way to the font the sponsors make a profession of faith for the infant. The priest now touches the ears and nostrils of the child with spittle. The symbolic meaning is thus explained (Cat. C. Trid.) “His nostrils and ears are next touched with spittle and he is immediately sent to the baptismal font, that, as sight was restored to the blind man mentioned in the Gospel, whom the Lord, after having spread clay over his eyes, commanded to wash them in the waters of Siloe; so also he may understand that the efficacy of the sacred ablution is such as to bring light to the mind to discern heavenly truth.”

The catechumen now makes the triple renunciation of Satan, his works and his pomps, and he is anointed with the oil of catechumens on the breast and between the shoulders: “On the breast, that by the gift of the Holy Ghost, he may cast off error and ignorance and may receive the true faith, ‘for the just man liveth by faith’ (Galatians 3:11); on the shoulders, that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, he may shake off negligence and torpor and engage in the performance of good works; ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26)”, says the Catechism.

The infant now, through its sponsors, makes a declaration of faith and asks for baptism. The priest, having meantime changed his violet stole for a white one, then administers the threefold ablution, making the sign of the cross three times with the stream of water he pours on the head of the child, saying at the same time: “N___, I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” The sponsors during the ablution either hold the child or at least touch it. If the baptism be given by immersion, the priest dips the back part of the head three times into the water in the form of a cross, pronouncing the sacramental words. The crown of the child’s head is now anointed with chrism, “to give him to understand that from that day he is united as a member to Christ, his head, and engrafted on His body; and therefore he is called a Christian from Christ, but Christ from chrism” (Catech.). A white veil is now put on the infant’s head with the words: “Receive this white garment, which mayest thou carry without stain before the judgment seat of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have eternal life. Amen.” Then a lighted candle is placed in the catechumen’s hand, the priest saying: “Receive this burning light, and keep thy baptism so as to be without blame. Observe the commandments of God; that, when Our Lord shall come to His nuptials, thou mayest meet Him together with all the Saints and mayest have life everlasting, and live for ever and ever. Amen.” The new Christian is then bidden to go in peace.

In the baptism of adults, all the essential ceremonies are the same as for infants. There are, however, some impressive additions. The priest wears the cope over his other vestments, and he should be attended by a number of clerics or at least by two. While the catechumen waits outside the church door, the priest recites some prayers at the altar. Then he proceeds to the place where the candidate is, and asks him the questions and performs the exorcisms almost as prescribed in the ritual for infants. Before administering the blessed salt, however, he requires the catechumen to make an explicit renunciation of the form of error to which he had formerly adhered, and he is then signed with the cross on the brow, ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, breast, and between the shoulders. Afterwards, the candidate, on bended knees, recites three several times the Lord’s Prayer, and a cross is made on his forehead, first by the godfather and then by the priest. After this, taking him by the hand, the priest leads him into the church, where he adores prostrate and then rising he recites the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The other ceremonies are practically the same as for infants. It is to be noted that owing to the difficulty of carrying out with proper splendor theritual for baptizing adults, the bishops of the United States obtained permission from the Holy See to make use of the ceremonial of infant baptism instead. This general dispensation lasted until 1857, when the ordinary law of the Church went into force. (See COUNCILS OF BALTIMORE.) Some American dioceses, however, obtained individual permissions to continue the use of the ritual for infants when administering adult baptism.

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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