Scriptures recount the baptism of Jesus as pretty straightforward: Jesus, John the Baptist and the River Jordan. Two thousand years later, baptism has quite a different look.
This weekend take time to look at the baptismal font. Since Vatican II the baptismal fonts can be found in different locations in the church. Newer fonts may have holy water that is continually flowing and the font serves as the holy water font for the entire assembly. Some fonts are extremely large so that the one being baptized can be immersed in the water.
If you worship in a 1950’s or older building do a bit of visual sleuthing. Hidden away somewhere is most likely a baptismal room. At one time, the font was located there with the baptism celebrated only with the parents and godparents present. Most of these baptismal rooms are now serving another purpose. At one of my church sites, the room has been converted into the reconciliation room and at the other site it has become a vestment room.
Aside from the baptismal water, there are other symbols used for baptism. You will always see holy oils. Two of the three church’s holy oils are used, the oil of catechumens, placed near the collarbone, and sacred chrism, which is used to anoint the head of the newly baptized.
The paschal candle is always lit for a baptism. From that candle, godparents take the light of Christ on behalf of their godchild. Most parishes provide the special baptismal candle used for this part of the rite. It is a simple white candle which usually has a symbol of baptism printed on it. Parents take this candle home with them and are encouraged to light it on each anniversary of the child’s baptism day.
The newly baptized are clothed in some type of white garment. Some babies wear baptismal gowns that may have a long family history.
At a baptism in your parish you may notice some additional rituals such as the baby carried among the assembly. These “local customs” proclaim to the parish community, “We have a new member, let us rejoice.”
On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord you may also note that a sprinkling rite is used. The sprinkling rite reminds us that our baptism is not just in the past, but an event that we live each day of our life. Recall those promises made at your baptism, examine how you are living them out — being faithful to them can be the best New Year’s resolution you’ll make.
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.