Catholic World News News Feature
Pope celebrates Mass ad orientem, speaks on Baptism January 14, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI baptized 13 infants, the children of Vatican employees, in keeping with a Vatican tradition on the feast of the Baptism of Christ.
The Holy Father used the ad orientem posture, facing in the same direction as the congregation, using the magnificent altar of the Sistine Chapel rather than portable altar that had been set up in previous years. This provoked widespread comment, with many journalists reporting that the Pope had revived an old liturgical tradition. (In fact, the ad orientem posture was never abolished.)
Msgr. Guido Marini, the new master of ceremonies for papal liturgies, said that the traditional posture was used to emphasize the "beauty and harmony of this architectural masterpiece," as it was originally designed for liturgical ceremonies. He noted in a public statement that in celebrating ad orientem, the Pope was not breaking with existing practice but "making use of a possibility contemplated by liturgical norms." Still the Pontiff's return to a traditional practice revived rumors that Pope Benedict will soon celebrate a public Mass using the "extraordinary form"-- the traditional Latin Mass.
The Pope baptized 8 girls and 5 boys at the January 13 ceremony. (One of the boys was named John Paul.) In his homily he reminded the parents and godparents that in Baptism the child enters "into a personal relationship with the Creator, and this lasts forever."
"It is for this reason that Christian parents bring their children to the baptismal font as soon as possible," the Holy Father continued; "knowing that the life they have communicated to them invokes a fullness, a salvation, that only God can give." By having their children baptized promptly, he said, "the parents become God's collaborators, transmitting to their children not only physical but also spiritual life."
"Unfortunately," the Pontiff continued, "man is capable of extinguishing this new life through sin." For other animals, death means only the end of life, the Pope observed. But for humans "sin creates an abyss which risks swallowing us up forever." Christ went into that abyss himself, he said, to give mankind the opportunity to escape it.
Later on Sunday, at his midday Angelus audience, Pope Benedict reflected on the Baptism of Christ, noting that the event marked the beginning of Christ's public life. "By having Himself baptized by John together with sinners, Jesus began to take upon Himself the burden of sin of all humanity," he said.
The Pope continued: "The whole of Christ's mission may be summed up in this way: Baptism in the Holy Spirit to free us from the slavery of death and open us to heaven-- in other words ... to true and full life."