Guidelines for Holy Baptism
WHO may be baptized at Saint Michael’s?
Baptism may be administered to persons at any age. In the early church, most candidates were adult converts to Christianity. Occasionally children and infants of converts were baptized with their parents. Once Christianity became the religion of the majority, most baptismal candidates were children of Christian parents.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer presents adult baptism as the norm of Christian initiation. However, infants and children continue to be the majority of candidates for baptism. Infants are “baptized so that they can share citizenship in the covenant membership in Christ, and redemption by God. Promises are made for them by their parents and sponsors, who guarantee that the infants will be brought up within the Church, to know Christ and be able to follow him” (BCP pp. 858-859).
The Church expects that such candidates are within the “household of faith,” a setting of Christian commitment. Normally, it is expected that:
- At least one parent is an active, worshipping communicant of St. Michael’s.
- A previously inactive family has demonstrated Christian commitment by sharing in the worship and life of St. Michael’s for at least six months.
- In the case of inactive parents, at least one sponsor is an active worshipping member of St. Michael’s who will be responsible for seeing that the child will be nurtured in the community of Christian faith. It is expected that the child have the active support of parents to bring him or her for worship, instruction and fellowship.
If a child or infant is not in such a setting, it is best to wait until the family is ready to fulfill the promises of sponsors or until the child can, in some way, make his or her own affirmation.
Adults and older children are expected to share in the worship and life of St. Michael’s for at least six months prior to their baptism to received instruction in the Christian faith.
WHAT is Christian baptism?
“Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church and inheritors of the kingdom of God. The outward and visible sign in Baptism is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit” (BCP p. 858).
WHEN is Holy Baptism administered at St. Michael’s? Because of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Easter is the principal time of baptism in the Church. Normally, adults will be baptized at the Great Vigil of Easter. In addition, infants and children are baptized on “the Day of Pentecost, All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the first Sunday after the Epiphany)… As far as possible, Baptisms are reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present” (BCP p. 312).
WHERE is Holy Baptism administered at St. Michael’s? Holy Baptism is a corporate act of the Church. It is the way in which we become members of a community of faith. Therefore, it is important that the sacrament be celebrated in the midst of the community which gathers to celebrate the Eucharist at St. Michael’s. Private baptism will not be administered at St. Michael’s except in cases of emergency (such emergency baptism will be recognized at the next public administration of the sacrament).
WHY does the Church baptize and WHY do people seek baptism?
The Church is clear as to why it baptizes. Jesus commanded his disciples to go into the entire world and do so (Mt. 28: 1920). The church also follows the example of Jesus himself, who was baptized by John. The church, which is the body of Christ on earth, celebrates baptism as the entrance into the church itself. It provides access to all the other sacramental rites of the church – Holy Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, Confirmation, Reconciliation of a Penitent, rites for the Sick and Dying, and the Holy Orders of deacon, priest and bishop. Baptism celebrates the rebirth of a person in the spirit of Christ. It seals the person as “Christ’s own forever” and conveys grace and power to the reborn person to work in the world to carry out the mission of Christ, which is to reconcile people to God and to each other.
People seek baptism for many reasons. In most cases, the desire for baptism is a response to the movement of God’s Spirit. Sometimes people understand baptism as a sign of their commitment to Jesus and their alliance with the powers of good in the struggle against evil. Sometimes people view baptism as a way of identifying with the Christian heritage of their family and community. Sometimes people see baptism as little more than a social event, as an occasion to celebrate the birth of a child or a way of joining a social or community group. It is expected that the preparation of parents or individual adults for baptism will connect human motives with the intention of the church.
WHAT ABOUT Holy Communion at St. Michael’s?
Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. All privileges and responsibilities of discipleship devolve upon the new member immediately and are appropriated at different levels of meaning as the Christian person matures. Thus, he or she may immediately participate fully in the sacramental life of the church, including the reception of the Holy Communion (Diocesan Guidelines for Rites of Initiation, 1985).
The Prayer Book is clear in its teaching that baptism is “full initiation” into the Church. The canons of the Episcopal Church recognize that teaching by defining “membership” in the Church on the basis of baptism (and not additional rites such as confirmation). In historic Christian practice there have been three main parts to the process of Christian Initiation: baptism with water, anointing with oil, and reception of the Eucharist. By placing the liturgy for baptism within the framework of the Eucharist, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer makes clear that baptism is not “finished” until the newly baptized person has received Communion. No differentiation is made for infants or adults. It is therefore expected, at St. Michael’s, that all baptized persons are given the Eucharist as a completion of their baptism. In the case of infants, the help and guidance of parents and sponsors will be sought.
HOW are candidates prepared for Holy Baptism at St. Michael’s?
Adult candidates will be prepared by prayer, study and participation in the life of St. Michael’s. Wherever possible, the framework of the Catechumenate in the Book of Occasional Services will be utilized. Both clergy and active lay persons will assist in the preparation and instruction of adult candidates.
Parents and sponsors of infants will be prepared also by prayer, study and participation in the life of St. Michael’s.
Wherever possible, guidelines approved by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church will be utilized. Recognizing that pregnancy, birth and baptism are often closely related in the lives of families, parents are invited to plan for baptism as soon as pregnancy is known. In appropriate ways then, the Church’s prayer and support may be offered. Clergy and lay persons will assist in the preparation, support and instruction of parents and sponsors of infant candidates for baptism.