A Mystagogical Reflection on the Updated Order of Baptism of Children
Mar 13, 2020

A Mystagogical Reflection on the Updated Order of Baptism of Children

One of the most noticeable objects in the celebration of Baptism is the font, in which the child is immersed or from which water is poured over the head of the child. And yet, at the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers also used the font in teaching about the relationship between the liturgy and grace: “From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God…is achieved.”[1] In speaking about the liturgy, and especially the Eucharist, the Council seems to allude to the first sacrament, baptism, from which all other sacraments flow.

As the Church in the United States is given a new Order of Baptism of Children, which will be required for use starting on Easter Sunday 2020, there is a new opportunity to understand the spiritual realities communicated through physical signs. Indeed, God desires to pour grace upon us, and the source of this divine life is baptism. It is in the interests of pastors, parents, and the entire Church to understand and celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism in such a way that this first sacrament is a true font of divine life. In the end, this is precisely the goal of this revised edition of the Order of Baptism of Children.

God desires to pour grace upon us, and the source of this divine life is baptism. It is in the interests of pastors, parents, and the entire Church to understand and celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism in such a way that this first sacrament is a true font of divine life. In the end, this is precisely the goal of the revised edition of the Order of Baptism of Children recently released for use this upcoming Easter.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Let’s begin our examination of baptism at the end of the ritual book. Among the most noticeable additions in the new Order of Baptism of Children are those found toward the end of the book outlining the celebration of infant baptism within Sunday Mass: “To illustrate the paschal character of Baptism, it is recommended that the Sacrament be celebrated at the Easter Vigil or on a Sunday, when the Church commemorates the Resurrection of the Lord. Furthermore, on a Sunday, Baptism may be celebrated also within Mass, so that the whole community may be able to take part in the rite and so that the connection between Baptism and the Most Holy Eucharist may stand out more clearly.”[2] Thus, the connection between the two fonts (baptism and the Eucharist) is made clear: the two sacraments are two opportunities for the outpouring of grace, the sanctification of men in Christ, and the glorification of God. (Although baptism often takes place outside of Mass, the present article imagines the baptism of one child during Sunday Mass.)

This threefold effect of outpouring, sanctification, and glorification is accomplished through the rituals, the words—and the days—which communicate the spiritual realities. Baptism makes the child a sharer in the Paschal Mystery—the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus—and so, the day when, from apostolic times, the Church assembles to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, Sunday, is most fitting for this first sacrament to be celebrated. Sunday is also the first day of the week, the day of creation, and the Church gives thanks for the new creation that this child is, as well as the new spiritual creation that the child will be in Christ through baptism.

Sacramental Door

The revised Order also points out that Mass itself doesn’t look the same when baptism is involved. Rather than the usual procession with the ministers to the sanctuary, the priest celebrant and ministers begin Mass during which a baptism occurs at the doors of the church, or from the place where the parents and godparents are gathered, and then begin Mass in the usual way with the Sign of the Cross.[3] Often people take the church’s doors for granted because their practical purpose—their function—often eclipses their form. Indeed, the doors are literally entryways through which people enter into ordered creation, be it a business, a house, or a church. But in a church, a doorway is not simply re-ordered creation, but also a symbol—a sensible sign which signifies and causes the reality to which it points—of the heavenly Jerusalem. And so Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7). Jesus is the one, the only one, through whom people are saved (Acts 4:12); consequently, any gathering at the doors within the liturgy is not merely a convergence of souls at an architectural part of a building, but a gathering that manifests the reality of Jesus’ flock, those who profess belief in Christ, entering through him, the “Sheepgate,” into the heavenly reality of the liturgy itself.

In the revised Order of Baptism of Children, too, the priest omits the Greeting and Penitential Act of the Mass. Instead, at the door he greets those present, especially the parents and godparents. To this end, the revised Order provides a text to help the celebrant express the joy that the Church has at the imminent baptism of the child. At the same time, the text begins to prepare those present for the unfolding of the mysteries in the Mass: “Dear parents and godparents: Your family has experienced great joy at the birth of your child, and the Church shares your happiness. Today this joy has brought you to the Church to give thanks to God for the gift of your child and to celebrate a new birth in the waters of Baptism. This community rejoices with you, for today the number of those baptized in Christ will be increased, and we offer you our support in raising your child in the practice of the faith. Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us now prepare ourselves to participate in this celebration, listening to God’s Word, praying for this child and his (her) family, and renewing our commitment to the Lord and to his people.”[4] In this greeting, the faithful come to understand that, besides enjoying a connection to the Eucharist, the celebration of baptism within Mass also visibly demonstrates that the child is becoming a member of the Church, the communion of all the baptized with each other in Christ.

Who Are You?

As with the previous versions of the rite, the new Order then continues with the naming of the child. In an age of screen names and twitter handles, the culture has lost some of the weight of what’s in a name. Names are important, not because they are unknown to God, but because they reveal to the Church the identity of the person with that name. The Book of Revelation speaks about those whose names are written in the book of life (and of those whose names are not). This speaking of a name points to the hope that the child, once baptized, will continue along the path of a disciple of Jesus, and that his or her name will be written in the book of life. For this reason, the 1983 Code of Canon Law legislates that the name is not “foreign to Christian sentiment.”[5] This hope will be manifest a number of times in the person’s life after baptism: at confirmation (perhaps taking a patron saint’s name); at marriage, or at the numerous rites that prepare for and occur during the celebration of ordination; and finally, at the funeral, where the person is prayed for by name in the hope of inheriting the pledge of resurrection to new life first promised in baptism.

Now that the Church knows the new member’s name, there remains the final part of the Rite of Receiving the Child: the signing of the cross on the forehead. In this way, in anticipation of the later rites in the Order of Baptism, the child is claimed for Jesus by the sign of his Cross. It is by the Cross that Jesus conquered sin and death, and so, by that same Cross, sin and death will be conquered in the child. It is also no accident that the priest and the parents (and, optionally, the godparents), as those who will have authority from God to protect the child and help lead him or her along the path of discipleship, all sign the child with the Cross.

With these important preliminaries completed, the revised Order then notes that the family and ministers proceed towards the sanctuary. This procession draws one’s mind to a shepherd leading the sheep. The priest leads them to the two places where they will be fed during Mass: the ambo, where they will be nourished by the Word of God, and the altar, from which the newly-baptized will later in life receive the Bread of Angels for the necessary strength to live the baptismal call to holiness. The Order also states that the procession should be accompanied with singing, encouraging the use of Psalm 85,[6] as the older ritual also noted. It is at this point that “the Priest venerates the altar with a kiss, and, if appropriate, incenses the cross and the altar,”[7] and then proceeds to the chair. In the previous ritual book, there was no expressed rubric on processing back to the sanctuary. Bracketed rubrics merely indicated, “If baptism is to be celebrated at Sunday or weekday Mass, the Order of Mass begins here with ‘Lord, have mercy.’”[8] The current Order also notes that, when prescribed in the Missal, the Gloria is then sung or said, followed by the Collect, which is provided in the Order.[9]

A Word about New Life

The next part of the ritual is the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, generally before he would perform a miracle, he proclaimed the Word of God (at least in seminal form). One need only think of the Samaritan woman at the well whom Jesus draws into conversion through the revelation of who he is. Thus, it is by the Word of God that conversion takes place among those who encounter Christ. Similarly, for parents and the family members and friends who are present, the Word of God gives them the opportunity to encounter Jesus and convert their lives more deeply to him. At this point, the rubrics in the revised Order clearly state that when Baptism may be celebrated during the Sunday Mass, the readings for that day’s Mass may be used,[10] whereas the previous Rite of Baptism for Children was silent. Even when the ritual Mass “For the Conferral of Baptism” is not allowed, such as on Solemnities and Sundays of Advent, Lent, or Easter,[11] one of the readings can be taken from the Order of Baptism of Children, with the celebrant exercising due prudence in his choice of texts.[12] But, no matter which readings are proclaimed, the Order directs the celebrant to preach the homily “based on the sacred text, but [taking] into consideration the Baptism being celebrated.”[13] In other words, the pastor ought to focus his homily on the importance of baptism so that all present may clearly understand what is occurring.

According to the revised Order, the proclamation of the Word of God and homily then lead to the Universal Prayer (Prayer of the Faithful). This sequence is not accidental, however. For, when the Word of God is preached, it ought naturally lead to prayer. This is not only true in this celebration, but is a hallmark of the Christian life. When a person encounters the Lord in the Scriptures during Mass, prayer naturally grows from that encounter. In the case of baptism, that prayer seeks to strengthen the child about to be baptized so that he or she can truly be a follower of Jesus. But the prayer also moves toward the invocation of the saints, asking them to assist this child to be a disciple of Jesus and follow their example in achieving that discipleship. In particular, the revised Order notes that the celebrant is invited to mention the patron saint of the child to be baptized.[14] The new Order also includes an extended Litany of Saints, rather than simply the shorter form, as in the former edition.[15]

After the saints are invoked, the celebrant prays a Prayer of Exorcism, the child is sealed on the breast with oil, and God is invoked to drive out anything contrary to his will, to bring the child into the light, and make him or her a temple of the Holy Spirit.[16] The exorcism text reminds the people present that at birth humans are not the friends of God, but need to be claimed by God for that purpose. Next, the child is anointed with the Oil of Catechumens (Oleum Sanctum), unless it is to be omitted “for serious reasons.”[17] At the beginning of the celebration, the child was claimed by the sign of the cross. Now, by the anointing with oil blessed by the diocesan bishop, the priest again claims the child for Christ. St. Paul states it this way: “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”[18] So the child is claimed for God once more, but in a more powerful way, to prepare the child to receive the Spirit of Christ. Thus, the child is strengthened by oil for the upcoming battle by which Christ will bind up the strong man (the devil) and take what formerly was under his dominion and transfer the newly baptized for citizenship in the Kingdom of God.[19]

A child at baptism fulfills what the children of God foreshadowed at the first exodus, as depicted here in The Crossing of the Red Sea (1634), by Nicolas Poussin: he leaves a land of sin, slavery, and death; drowns his deadly pursuer in the waters; and emerges victorious on the far shore.

A Time to Die, A Time to Be Born

After the child is anointed, the revised Order notes, the celebrant and the family and godparents process to the font, if possible, singing a “suitable liturgical song” such as, most suitably, Psalm 23.[20] This continues in microcosm the macrocosm of the Christian life: the movement from the doors to the nave, from the nave to the font, and from the font to the altar represents the pilgrimage of the People of God, which itself fulfills the exodus from Egypt through the Red Sea to the Promised Land.

The celebrant now blesses the water which will be used. As the main symbol in the celebration of baptism, water is polyvalent in its symbolism with seemingly contradictory meanings and foreshadowings. Water is necessary to cultivate and sustain life, but too much of it can also lead to death. Fittingly, the blessing of water incorporates many of these same meanings, as they emerge throughout salvation history, by speaking about both the life-giving and lethal properties of water. For example, the Order recalls, “God, whose Spirit in the first moments of the world’s creation hovered over the waters….”[21] And yet, the water and the land had to be separated. Next the Order remembers the flood, which “foreshadowed regeneration, so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue.”[22] In a similar way, through water, God allowed the Chosen People to “pass dry-shod through the Red Sea, so that the chosen people, set free from slavery to Pharaoh, would prefigure the people of the baptized.”[23]

So, too, for baptism, water offers the child both death and life. St. Paul asks: “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). The water puts to death in the baptized all that is fallen, washing away original sin. But it also gives life as the baptized receives the pledge of eternal life from Christ and Christ gives the grace to live a life free from grave sin. The end of the blessing of the water echoes St. Paul’s words: “May the power of the Holy Spirit, O Lord, we pray, come down through your Son into the fullness of this font, so that all who have been buried with Christ by Baptism into death may rise again to life with him. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.”[24]

The next part of the celebration is the Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith, in which all the baptized present are to participate. After each article of the renunciation of Satan and the Profession of Faith in the Triune God, all present give their assent with the words, “I do.” After this profession, the threefold immersion or pouring of water with the invocation of the Blessed Trinity occurs.

After emerging from the font, an acclamation is sung or said that expresses the joy of those present for the new life given to the child in baptism. Unlike the previous ritual, the revised Order suggests one acclamation in the order itself: “Blessed be God, who chose you in Christ,” though other options are found in the appendix.[25]

Completing the Baptism

Next follows what the Order calls Explanatory Rites. The introduction describes these rites as the completion of baptism, and the enrollment of the child in the assembly of the People of God.[26] The first of these rites is the anointing with the Sacred Chrism. Consecrated by the diocesan bishop, the Sacred Chrism is the material which reminds the faithful that the baptized are priests, prophets, and kings. The anointing takes place on the crown of the child’s head, symbolizing the whole body, and the priest prays, “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has freed you from sin, given you new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and joined you to his people. He now anoints you with the Chrism of salvation, so that you may remain as a member of Christ, Priest, Prophet and King, unto eternal life.”[27]

These three offices—the priestly, the prophetic, and the kingly—all find their most potent source within the Mass even as the intimate connection between baptism and the Eucharist are reaffirmed through the revised Order. For example, the priesthood of the baptized offers to God daily prayer and the regular joys and sufferings of life. This same priesthood finds its crown in the weekly offering that the child gives throughout his or her life in the prayers of the Mass, united to the bread and wine and offered by the priest to God.

Likewise, the baptized exercise their prophetic ministry by speaking for God. The ability to tell the Good News flows from baptism, and is strengthened by it. Such a witnessing is not to be sanctimonious or judgmental, but seeks to apply the wisdom of God’s Word, through Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, especially as received in the Mass, to everyday situations. Jesus, the Word of God, calls himself the Light of the World (John 8:12). Without the proclamation of the Word of God (that is, Jesus, who is light), the world remains in darkness. The vocation to be a prophet is the vocation to be a bearer of Christ and a bearer of light.

Nourished by the priestly sacrifice of the altar and by the prophetic word of the ambo, the baptized are enabled to exercise their kingly ministry by ruling their own person by obedience to God. It is an authority under the King of Kings, which allows the faithful not be to blown about by passing fads and customs, but to govern themselves according to the rule of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28).

Following the post-baptismal anointing with Sacred Chrism, the revised Order indicates, the child is clothed with a white garment. The garment cannot be another color,[28] and should be provided by the family. The white garment reminds the faithful of the white garments being worn by those in heaven, whose lives were cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). It is a sign, the rite states, of Christian dignity, and is meant to be unstained.[29]

After the handing over of the baptismal candle, which represents the light of Christ, the optional “Ephphatha” Rite may take place. This rite reaches back into Jesus’ ministry and brings to the present the opening of ears to hear and the mouth to speak, symbolized by the priest touching the ears and mouth of the child while saying, “May the Lord Jesus, who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, grant that you may soon receive his word with your ears and profess the faith with your lips, to the glory and praise of God the Father.”[30] The ministry of Jesus was one of healing, which he often accomplished through touch. In the rite of baptism, Jesus’ healing is manifested in the Ephphatha so that the child can hear the Word of God and, as he or she matures in the faith, profess it to others. In a world that so often encourages a cacophony of voices that compete with Jesus, and which seeks to stifle the Word of God by keeping believers silent, this optional right may be a good way to help, not only the child, but the rest of the faithful present to keep their ears open for Christ and proclaim the faith in their daily lives.

Following the “Ephphatha” Rite, the Order instructs that the celebration of Baptism has concluded, and Mass continues in the usual way with the Offertory.[31] It also highlights that the Eucharistic Prayers “For the Conferral of Baptism” from the Roman Missal include proper insertions.[32] At the conclusion of the Mass, there are special blessings for the child’s mother and father, as well as for all the faithful present.[33]


In the Incarnation, Jesus’ divinity was communicated through his sacred humanity, the invisible through the visible. In his Mystical Body, Jesus continues to communicate his invisible grace through the visible realities of common life. In baptism, the new life that God desires for all his people is communicated through water and other symbols of belonging to Christ. The new Order of Baptism of Children, especially through the rubrics, prayers, and actions of the celebration within Mass, makes present the spiritual realities from the twin fonts of Baptism and the Eucharist, and continues to pour out grace, sanctify men in Christ, and glorify God.

[1] Sacrosanctum Concilium in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II. Ed. by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1999, n. 10. Emphasis mine.

[2] The Order of Baptism of Children [OBC], English Translation according to the Second Typical Edition. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2019, n.250. The OBC goes on to add, however, that baptism celebrated during Sunday Mass “should not happen too often.”

[3] Ibid., nn. 296-297.

[4] OCB, n. 298.

[5] Code of Canon Law Annotated, eds. E. Caparros, M. Thériault, J. Thorn. Montréal: Wilson & Lafleur Limitée, 1993, c. 855.

[6] OBC, n. 303.

[7] Ibid., n. 304.

[8] Rite of Baptism for Children [RBC]. English translation prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 2004.

[9] Ibid., nn. 305, 306.

[10] Ibid., n. 307.

[11] See General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 372.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., n. 308.

[14] Ibid., n. 311.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., n. 312.

[17] Ibid., n.314.

[18] Rom. 8:9, NAB.

[19] Cf. Mk. 3:27, NAB.

[20] OBC, n. 315.

[21] Ibid., n. 317.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., n. 323.

[26] Ibid., n. 18.

[27] Ibid., n. 324.

[28] Ibid., n. 325.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., n. 327.

[31] Ibid., n. 328.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid., n. 329.

Father Anthony Strouse

Father Anthony Strouse is a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, MI, and pastor of St. Pius X parish in Flint. He was ordained in 2010 after studying at the University of St. Thomas/St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, MN, and Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Following ordination, he also completed a Master of Arts in Liturgy degree through the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, IL. He is a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Dominic, and a Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.