ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
69. In place of the rite called the "Order of supplying what was omitted in the baptism of an infant," a new rite is to be drawn up. This should manifest more fittingly and clearly that the infant, baptized by the short rite, has already been received into the Church.
And a new rite is to be drawn up for converts who have already been validly baptized; it should indicate that they are now admitted to communion with the Church.
In talking with faith formation directors of parishes and reading the blogsites connected to Catholic liturgical sites, not only are fewer Catholics participating in sacramental life as a whole, but those young people seeking participation in the sacraments of initiation come to the Church with erratic histories and diverse understandings, if any, to the point where each young person—and adult, for that matter—needs a separate roadmap to capture the spiritual organic richness of initiation into the Body of Christ. It almost reminds me of retirement planning and portfolio management.
Paragraph 69 appears as a simple housekeeping directive, a follow-up to an earlier directive that any person, in an emergency, can validly baptize another human being so long as the Trinitarian formula is used, i.e., “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” [In ecclesiastical jargon, “the short rite.”] At the time Sacrosanctum Concilium was written in 1963, the Church had a formal ritual for use at the church after the emergency had passed, in which all the other parts of the Baptism ritual were performed except for the pouring of water. The blessings, anointings, exorcism, profession of faith by the Godparents, etc., were performed in this later rite.
Para. 69 calls for a new follow-up rite to emergency baptisms; the new rite is required to emphasize that baptism received in unusual circumstances has the same impact upon the person as a baptism performed by a bishop in his cathedral. The emphasis of the Church Fathers is placing new emphasis upon a basic principle, that in Baptism the person “has already been received into the Church.” In the 1990’s the Catechism would state “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.” It is sometimes lost in catechetics that Baptism is a universal sacrament, not a denominational one. By Catholic tradition, one is not baptized a Presbyterian or a Methodist; rather, through faith and baptism (Rom 6: 3-5) the Christian assumes a new identity in Christ. One becomes a “new being” in a washing that changes one’s internal character forever. Some years ago, the phrase “born again” was popular in Christian ministry, but in Catholic practice the baptismal washing is never repeated. The other sacraments and the liturgical seasons provide for what we would call a “rebirth” after baptism.
The second part of para. 69 calls for a new rite for converts, those [presumably adults and children of the age of reason] “who have been already validly baptized” in their own churches and should demonstrate “that they are now admitted to communion with the Church.” Presumably this instruction is intended for Protestants seeking to enter full communion with the Catholic Church, having been baptized legitimately and of their own free will in the ritual of their Christian Church. There is a significant theological point to be made in the full text of para. 69. The universal nature of Baptism stands in complimentary contrast to full participation in the sacramental life of the Catholic union.
Catholic teaching since the Council has attempted to show reverence and respect for the worship and good works of Christian Churches not in communion with Rome or under the authority of the Bishop of Rome, the pope. At the same time, Catholic theology has labored to find the precise language to state Catholicism’s exclusiveness as the full treasury of God’s revelation. Vatican II deftly avoided stating that Catholicism was the sole owner or repository of God’s holiness; it turned to the word “subsists” in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: “This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.” LG goes on to say that elements of the Church—the prayer, preaching, ministry, and good works of other Christian Churches—are pleasing to God and worthy of fraternal respect, but these churches are lacking in specific ways the fullness spoken of in the Creed—one, holy catholic, apostolic.
As I write this, I understand there is a measure of arrogance that grates upon modern ears. I also concede that Roman Catholicism has indulged in this arrogance to the point that from time to time in history our hubris has led to intellectual and moral decay. For Catholic leaders of truth and holiness, to preach and lead as the one Church fully endowed with the truths and rites of salvation is a cross, not an accolade. None would dare claim it were it not the explicit command of Christ as he empowered his apostles with the life of God in his Holy Spirit.
Going back to para. 69, I have to think that the new ritual for converts called for in the text is nothing less than the celebration of the sacraments of full communion, i.e., Confirmation—the sealing of the Holy Spirit—and the first Eucharistic banquet. Para. 69 speaks of those who pass through this rite as “now admitted to communion with the Church.”
There are important catechetical dimensions here. There is a difference between those who have never been baptized and those who have. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, part of the Easter Vigil, is indeed just what the title indicates, initiation into the universal Christian life. By contrast, converts who have been baptized are already Christian and their quest is full union with the Catholic tradition of faith. Their preparation and rites take a different form.
Some may ask why—if Baptism is a biblical constant across Christianity—we make a “big deal” about denominations and their differences from Catholic life. The answer is that the Spirit compels us to, for Catholic faith compels us to be “one” in faith. The fracture of the Christian body does not date to apostolic times. It is our historical missteps. I believe that other churches have come into being as gifts along the way to the end of time, as communities with charisms of reform. I believe in Christ’s prayer that we all be one, but that unity will be hastened as we listen to the insights of those enriched with special charisms for a specific era. The Orthodox keep us rooted in the sacredness of rite and the treasure of founding doctrine. Lutheran charism needs no introduction. Methodism brought affective faith experience at a time of general religious stagnation. Anglicanism stressed the episcopal [bishops’] ministry at a time when Roman Catholic authority was becoming overly centralized.
We are many bodies, and we are One Body. Para. 69 reminded the Catholic Church to bear this in mind in reforming its rites of baptism and initiation.