Oh, how our ears can deceive us. I’m sure we all remember the telephone game, you know the one where the first person whispers a word or phrase to the person next to us. By the time it reaches the last person in the chain, the message is far from its original transmission. There are other unmistakable sounds that stay with us forever because of their changing impact on our lives. Our senses, which we many times take for granted, play a vital role in choices we make.
In today’s Gospel you will hear the word Ephphatha as Jesus puts his finger to a deaf man’s ear. This Greek word means, “to be opened”, and comes from the Aramaic word pethach. In this moment, the “man’s ears were opened and his impediment was removed.”
You will note that Jesus took him aside first. Why? Could this be a symbolic gesture for us to see that this was more than just a physical healing? Was there a moral or spiritual impediment at work here as well? It might make you wonder how often we may be “deaf” to what we really should hear. Sometimes we often do not want to hear what really needs to be heard. Are we always “open”?
In the Rite of Baptism for Children, there is an optional prayer or Rite of Ephphetha over the ears and mouth of the child. It goes like this, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father” (n. 65 Rite of Baptism for Children).
This rite became part of the Easter Vigil very early on in church history. Some of the ancient rites also included the consumption of milk and honey and immersion in living waters, i.e., rivers and streams. The bishop would also use the oils of thanksgiving and exorcism, which we now know as the oils of chrism and catechumens. There was a time, around the fourth to sixth centuries, that the meaning of baptism became blurred: some saw it as a right, others as insurance into heaven.
Since that time various attempts were made to recover the ancient rites. But it wasn’t until 1972, following the reforms of Vatican II, that the current elements we see today were re-established, including the optional Rite of Ephphetha.
This Ephphetha rite is only optional and not used often. It can be a powerful reminder to listen and be open to correction and to speak with truth and kindness in our hearts. Whether or not this rite is used, the efficacious (visible) sign of baptism remains forever. It is a wonderful witness to our faith.
As we continue to witness baptisms in our churches, let its prayers and blessings guide us to let our ears and eyes be opened, to be mindful of those around us and to be ever vigilant to overcome our deceptive perceptions.
Wettstein is a volunteer choir director and former director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.