If Kristin Lavransdatter is any indication, in the history of Christendom, baptism was a Pretty Big Deal, and not for the heirloom gown or the pastel cupcakes. Instead, I was struck when reading it with how 14th century Norway Catholics took baptism really, deeply seriously. Like, don’t take your baby out of the house until he’s baptized seriously. Seriously.
Pippin’s baptism was not that way. It took awhile for us to decide for sure we’d baptize him Catholic (vs Anglican — we were a house divided at the time), and then to break the news to family who we thought might not be thrilled (they were, because they’re great). And then all the family wanted to be there, and our insanely generous former Anglican priest, which is wonderful, and suddenly, he was ten months old and too fat for the family baptism gown.
What would Kristin say?
Next up was Scout. She was born four weeks early, throwing our plans off and making us miss the mandatory baptism class, but we fared better: we managed to get her baptized when she was about seven weeks old. (And the party wasn’t too shabby, either.)
But we want to take baptism as the solemn gift it is, as Kristin and her contemporaries did. I love the lacy gowns and (honestly, all) cupcakes, and I will cheerfully attend your kid’s baptism at any age, but even as late as my father’s childhood in the 1960s, the Church was instructing young catechists on how to perform emergency baptisms just in case of roadside accidents. This made me wonder if there was maybe new post-Vatican II teachings that supported why our parish priests had felt so unrushed in baptizing Pippin, and why we kept encountering a lot of resistance to scheduling in our current church.
Spoiler: There isn’t.
Instead, I talked to people far smarter than I am, and this is the sort of thing we found.
From the Catechism:
250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.
But maybe the Church has revised its teaching on the ultimate destination of the unbaptized? Maybe there’s a general shift toward greater reliance on God’s mercy? we wondered. And after all, infant mortality rates are way down from KL’s day. But elsewhere we’ve got this line:
1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” 64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
Canon Law reinforces this idea:
Can. 867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.
In talking to a wide range of American Catholics, I’ve found there’s a huge spectrum in how determined clergy and administration are to making that “first few weeks” thing happen — our church tries to schedule on only one Saturday a month and generally refuses to baptize Thanksgiving weekend, Advent or Lent. (Sometimes the argument is that these are penitential times, but baptism is, to my mind, penitential!) It seems like Tridentine churches often get on the ball sooner; big churches like ours seem to struggle most.
But it seems like a practice worth pushing back against. So we informed ourselves and got to politely advocating for a speedy baptism.
Roo’s big day came on her one week birthday. A scramble!
Here’s how we made it happen:
- Introduce extended family to your plan early. We have loved having our whole families attend previous baptisms but including them when they live so far away has contributed to a lag. Explain your reasons for baptizing promptly well before your due date so no one feels snubbed.
- Get godparents on board. You’ll need flexibility in their schedule or a willingness on their part to let you use proxies (which we did for Scout’s semi-prompt baptism). Roo’s godparents let the priest know she was born the next day and started trying to schedule right away on our behalf.
- Meet all parish guidelines in advance.
- Gather family heirlooms. I realized at 32 weeks we didn’t have the family baptismal gown here — it was still with my mother-in-law. Since my last baby was a 36-weeker, I made sure to ask my MIL right away if she’d be willing to mail the gown.
- Don’t worry much about a reception or party. We got the official time for the baptism less than 24 hours in advance, and promptly sent out text invites to everyone who had fed us and cared for us during that long, long pregnancy. We decided to do pizza and my mom made brownies and salad — other friends offered to bring cake and bread and Prosecco. We didn’t even worry about a final head count until after the sacrament, at which point we counted and called in an order of pizza. And you know what? It was fine.
Worth the rush