Catholic Activity: Sacramental Life in the Home: Baptism
Therese Mueller discusses ways we can make our child's baptism more tangible, especially in following years of remembrance.
Our lives on earth are measured by years, but all our years of grace and growth are merely part of a marvelous sacramental pattern that begins with Baptism and ends with anointing for a holy death. The center and turning point is, as it were, the unfathomable mystery of the Eucharist, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, which envelops us by the day and the hour as it is celebrated all over the face of the earth. For we and all who are baptized, knowingly or unknowingly are lifted up on every paten, offered in every chalice where wine is mixed with water.
The seven Sacraments are the most significant milestones in a Christian's life, for they are precious gifts instituted by Christ Himself, the overflow of His saving love. Perfect in themselves, they do not depend on our cooperation, and still, for all their impenetrable mystical depth, they are the more effective the more we try to understand them.
Baptism is the first and most necessary of the sacraments. How hard does Mother Church try to make us aware of its reality and symbolism, its transforming powers. Indelible is the sign Baptism imparts to us—some day to testify for or against us. Full of mysterious power are the exorcisms, setting us aside, marking us as God's own property, forbidden even to the approach of the evil one. The opening of the senses (should not the awakening of every morning remind us of the consecration of our senses at Baptism?) consecrates all the powers of body and soul for the service of God. The saving waters from which we emerge a new creation, reborn according to the Spirit, no longer born according to the flesh—before our very eyes these saving waters are prepared, imbued with the mystic powers in the Easter night ceremonies. How impressive are the two gifts given us after the royal unction has been performed: "receive the burning light . . . receive the white garment . . ."
What makes us so blind that we overlook the significance of these perfect gifts? Why are they no longer taken home with the newly baptized Christian, these precious carriers of supernatural powers? Why in our quest for appropriate Baptismal gifts are we farther and farther form the source of the gift of gifts, the new life in Christ, while we go on searching in the market place? As the body of the candle spends itself, expires in the service of the burning flame which is Christ, so our every talent and ability must exhaust itself in the same service of Christ.
The white garment received on the day of Baptism must be laid at the feet of the Judge, unstained or washed in the blood of the Lamb, before we are admitted to the eternal wedding feast which is our goad. Is there anything more expressive, more palpable than these symbols of sanctifying grace?
To be sure, there is no prescribed shape or design for a baptismal robe to be used in the Baptismal rite. Our imagination and creative skills are unfettered as long as we keep in mind, that this is not the garment the child wears when taken to church for his "christening" and as long as we don't make it another "baby dress," to fit the children only now. Thinking of many future uses—in connection with the other sacraments up to the deathbed and even the coffin—we prefer a good size linen piece: square and shirred on side to be worn like a cape; or oblong like a shawl or stole; or cut like a dalmatic with an opening for the head and handing down in front and back evenly. Always have the adolescent and adult in mind, to whom the message of the symbol is geared, who is meant to use it and care for it with great reverence.
The decoration and adornment of the "robe" can be simple or elaborate: a centerpiece of the Dove over the waters, or of the ark upon the waves with the dove and the rainbow, or a panel with symbols of all seven sacraments, with name and dates stitched in eventually, a record, as it were, of the sacramental history of the Christian. Often there is not even enough time to do more than the "essentials" that should not keep us from preparing the essential and leave the details and the finishing touches for later. One mother, regretful for not having provided baptismal robes for each of her many children, designed a special table runner to adorn the sacramental feastdays and anniversaries of her family. Signs for the seven sacraments are stitched in simple lines around the dominating sign for Christ, the CHI RHO.
Now since this ends all worries of godfather and godmother concerning suitable gifts, let us concentrate and meditate on these gifts with all the serious study and prayer of which we are capable and with all the skill of our hands, so that when our turn comes, there will be no last minute buying of just a trinket. A study of the rite of Baptism inspires many ideas for worthy and appropriate gifts: a metal or wooden stand or holder for the candle, one that is kept only for the Christcandle, perhaps marked with name and date of Baptism; or a holy water dispenser, well-chosen if not made at home; a crucifix of value, even though it might take the united effort of all concerned to pay for it; or a cup or scoop of beaten silver to become an instrument of Baptism, which having lifted the holy water from the font will remain a precious witness of this most decisive moment of the Christian life. And then there is the letter of the godparent in which is put down his wishes and greetings for the new member of the Mystical Body of Christ, for whom he vouched loyalty and obedience, taking on a tremendous responsibility for time and eternity.
Activity Source: Guide for the Christian Homemaker by Theresa Muller (Therese Mueller), Abbey Press Publications, 1965