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Remembering Our Baptism

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Jan 09, 2014

My husband and I were struck by the theme of Pope Francis' General Audience from January 8: Learn and Celebrate the Day of Your Baptism (complete text here):

Baptism is the Sacrament “on which our faith is based, and which grafts us to Christ and His Church, as living members. Together with the Eucharist and Confirmation it forms the so-called 'Christian initiation', which constitutes a single, great sacramental event that aligns us with the Lord and makes us into a living sign of His presence and His love”.

“Therefore, it is not a mere formality! A baptised child is not the same as an child who is not baptised; a baptised person is not the same as one who has not received baptism. It is an act that touches the depth of our existence. We are immersed in that inexhaustible fount of life that is the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love of all history; and thanks to this love we are able to live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil, sin and death, but rather in communion with God and with our brothers”.

The Pope again commented that many of us do not know the date when we were baptised and, as before, asked, those present in St. Peter's Square to find out the date of their baptism, as “it is a happy date”. “Obviously we do not remember the ceremony, especially if we were baptised soon after birth, but it is a pity not to recognise the importance of this day, as we thereby “risk losing sight of what the Lord has done for us, of the gift we have received. We end up considering it merely as an event that took place in the past – and not even by our will, but rather by that of our parents – that has no effect on the present”.

 I confess my baptismal date is not one that I always remember. I do keep my sons' dates and we try to commemorate their baptismal days, but my husband and I are now determined to remember our dates. They should be firm in our memory and roll off the tongue even faster than our birth dates, because that is when we became part of the True Vine, when we became adopted sisters and brothers of Christ, and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. What could be more memorable and important than that?

Last night our family watched the 1947 movie, Life with Father and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although a comedy, the theme of baptism runs throughout the movie (although Episcopalian). While we jokingly imitate William Powell saying he is "getting bapt-IZED", the idea of receiving baptism IS life-changing. In the sight of God we are forever changed. We have a special name now; we have been given the name of Christ.

Sunday marks the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and also the end of the Christmas season. While we contemplate Christ's baptism, our whole family will celebrate the remembrance of each of our own baptisms. One way will be Renewing our Baptismal Promises, during which we will verbally renew our baptismal vows publicly, since we did not voice them at our infant baptism. Our baptismal candles will surround our white Christcandle. I won't light the candles, though, because they burn down too quickly because they are not made of beeswax, and they need to last a lifetime.

I'm always moved when we renew our promises. One time in particular was quite memorable. My sons attend an atrium of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd which has been such a wonderful experience for our whole family. When my oldest son received sacramental preparation for his First Holy Communion, one of the ceremonies was the renewal of their baptismal promises. The children prepared candles reminiscent of their baptismal candles, and then each had a dalmatic-shaped white garment, with a red cross embroidered in the front. Since there was no priest present, my husband led the ceremony. Each child received their white garment, lit their candle from the Paschal Candle, and then renewed their baptismal promises. It was so solemn and beautiful! Later they received Holy Communion in that same white garment.

Children love hearing stories about when they were babies, so with the candles and white garment on display, we retell what happened on their baptismal day, how their grandmother made their special gown, who was there, who are their godparents, etc.

Besides contemplating our baptisms on Sunday, I also want to make a plan on how we shall mark the actual baptismal days during the year. There are several activities for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord that share ideas of ways to emphasize the external signs of Baptism, such as the white garment and candle. I recently learned of the connection of the white garment with Adam and Eve, and was thrilled to find this explanation by Damasus Winzen, O.S.B.: (From Born of God II from Orate Fratres. Vol. XX, March 24, 1946, No. 5. ):

Outward signs of the new life and the new dignity which the neophyte has received are the white garment and the burning candle which are now given him. The garment is (or was, traditionally) more then an ornament or a matter of fashion. Like the name given to a person, it is meant to express the true being of a man. After the fall Adam and Eve put on the garment of mortality, made of the leaves of the fig tree, the tree of death, or of the skin of dead animals. Down through the centuries men have been wearing the constantly changing, artificially arranged and colored raiments of vanity, of fashion, of sensuality, of power. In baptism all this is put off. Naked, as he was born and as he will die, man returns into the womb of the Font, there to receive a new garment of glory, of immortality, of innocence. He is now a "child of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36). He has received a new nature, sanctifying grace, the garment of immortality. The white garment is to be brought unsoiled before the judgment seat of Christ, when it will be changed into the glorified body of the resurrection.
The same idea is expressed by the burning candle. God, who bade light shine out of darkness, has, through baptism, kindled a light in our hearts whose shining is to make known His glory as He has revealed it in the countenance of Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6). The neophyte is a "son of light" (Luke 16:8). If only he will keep the light of faith and of charity burning in his heart until the Bridegroom cometh!

 I can't recreate our candles or white garments since the baptisms have already happened, but I can find ways to display them. Perhaps I can find or make matching candle holders, with engraved or painted baptismal names and dates. Another idea is having a large candle and decorating as the Christcandle, but include the dates of the baptism. I love the idea from Therese Mueller of creating a table runner with embroidery reflecting the symbols of the sacraments and the family names and sacramental dates. And as I love to do calligraphy, I am contemplating creating some family records, and perhaps some of the text of the Rite of Baptism to display. Not all these ideas will happen, and certainly not all this year, but I can start planning and creating.

No matter how we decorate or celebrate, the point is to instill in our family the significance of our baptismal day, to become familiar with the signs, symbols, gestures and prayers, and most importantly to maintain the grace and life of Christ within us as begun in baptism.

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 13, 2014 9:32 AM ET USA

    This is very good news. The key to our future is a rediscovery of Baptism and of what it means for the Christian to be an heir to supernatural life. This includes the wondrous gifts our Savior has given us through his Mystical Bride the Church. The Holy Father is addressing something fundamental. It is something to be built upon. The rights of the faithful to the gifts of the Church and the duties incumbent upon us must be restored their rightful priority. This is our time for conversion.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jan. 12, 2014 10:20 AM ET USA

    It is a unique insight of Francis. For when we celebrate our Baptismal date we cannot help but give thanks for the unmerited favor of God directly to us and indirectly through parents, Godparents and the Church.

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