ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
66. Both the rites for the baptism of adults are to be revised: not only the simpler rite, but also the more solemn one, which must take into account the restored catechumenate. A special Mass "for the conferring of baptism" is to be inserted into the Roman Missal.
I must remind myself that I am getting older [I turned 71 today] and that much of the readership of the Catechist Café has a considerably different experience of the Church than I had in my early life. For example, the official rituals for the sacraments, ordered revised considering the teachings of Vatican II, only became available in my 20’s. The revised order of the Mass, the Novus Ordo of Pope Paul VI that we use today in our parishes, did not come into use until 1970. Pope Paul’s introduction of the new Mass missal at that time is an informative and enlightening explanation of the principles employed in “changing the Mass” after the Council.
The Ordo Paenitentiae or rites for the Sacrament of Penance was promulgated in 1973. The three rituals that fall under the umbrella “rites of Penance” have had a very interesting development since the 1973 release. The gulf between sacramental rites as they were promulgated, and the ways we celebrate them today, is probably worthy of its own book, a testament to liturgical evolution, or at least a good doctoral dissertation. As one example, the 1973 rite includes as an option the practice of “General Absolution,” large clusters of the faithful receiving binding canonical forgiveness without individual confession. My college parish in the 1970’s embraced that practice enthusiastically, as my suburban parish did in the 1980’s. However, Pope John Paul II disapproved of the use of General Absolution even though this rite was never removed from the books, and this practice has, alas, fallen into disuse. Curiously, the penitential rite most used in my neck of the woods is the “going to the confession in the confessional mode,” but if you look at Ordo Paenitentiae you will notice that even this rite is more complex than what we generally do in the box today. Acknowledging this, Pope Francis felt compelled to write a pastoral commentary on the uneven development of penitential practice in 2015 with emphases on areas of improvement. Francis’ relatively brief [by Vatican standards] instruction is historically interesting and intriguing to this day.
The practice and rites of the Sacrament of Baptism were delivered piecemeal in the early 1970’s due to the needs and ages of those seeking the sacrament, infants and adults. Para. 66 is an umbrella statement that attempts to address the multiple constituencies seeking baptism, which in 1963 would have spanned the newly born to adult converts. I would like to hear from some catechists with boots on the ground about present day baptismal preparation, as I do not see in para. 66 a constituency that appears very frequently in parish life, children and teens who were not baptized at infancy and present themselves for baptism between the ages of 2 and 17, from what I hear from my friends in multiple parishes.
Para. 66 speaks of “both rites” then in use for adults. I have searched to find out exactly what they might refer to. I remember a few adult baptisms in my youth. They were private affairs attended by the candidate and his or her family [and sponsor], at a time when nothing else was scheduled in the church. There was at the time no “catechumenate” as we know it today; instruction for baptism was conducted privately by a priest in the rectory office. In fact, one of the best sellers in the pre-Vatican II era was a popular text called Father Smith Instructs Jackson. This was an effective catechetical tool, a narrative of discussions between the erudite Father Smith [a fictitious character] and “Jackson,” described as a searching pagan. In my own copy, which I have unfortunately lost, Father Smith sits in front of an impressive office library, while Jackson enters with top coat and briefcase, like a businessman returning home from New York on the Metro North to Tarrytown.
As I say, the rite and the instructions were generally private. I have no idea of what the “more solemn” rite refers to in the text. However, in the old Tridentine Rite there was an official notation in the Holy Saturday Mass [replaced now by the nighttime Easter Vigil] that instructs immediately after the blessing of the Easter water, “if there are persons to be baptized, [the celebrant] baptizes them in the usual matter.” This is from a 1957 ritual; I personally never saw it done on Holy Saturday.
The idea of a Holy Saturday baptism of adults perhaps throws light on the next instruction in para. 66, that ‘the restored catechumenate” must be taken into consideration where the baptism of adults in concerned. Clearly, the voting bishops must have had some idea of what a catechumenate looked like or entailed, for the text itself implies that. In the pre-Council era, the first half of the Mass before the Offertory was called the “Mass of the Catechumens” dating to the early centuries when adult candidates for baptism participated in hearing the Scripture and the sermon; such participation was a vital part of their faith formation. The catechumens would leave before the sacred rites of consecration and communion, which were reserved for the baptized.
I could not find a “Mass for the conferring of baptism” which para. 66 had called for adding to the new post-Council Mass formulas. In a rather thorough search, what I found is strong opinion that baptisms be celebrated in a parochial Mass on the weekend using the established texts of that weekend. The idea here is emphasis upon the communal nature of the Church and a large representation of the Church community to give witness to the newly baptized that he or she is born again into a body of people saved by Christ, with whom the newly converted can share the Eucharistic meal and the full life of the Church.
A nagging question today, which para. 66 was in no position to address, is the variety of folks who approach the Church for rebirth or baptism but may be already baptized in another Christian faith tradition or even the Roman Catholic Church itself. First off, no one can be rebaptized regardless of which tradition conferred a previous baptism. Only those who are unbaptized are, technically speaking, catechumens and need the full series of rites and lessons leading up to the Easter Vigil. An intriguing website, “Team RCIA,” gets into the nuts and bolts of parish conversion formation. TR confirms what I hear on the ground, that the biggest set of requests come from Catholics and Protestants seeking to join or rejoin full membership. The biggest need in their lives is adult catechetics and faith formation. I refer you to TR’s blog about who belongs where, and the very interesting responses of parish workers in a very fruitful and non-polemic discussion of parish strategies.