There was a baptism during mass today. I love seeing the sweet babies in their white gowns, so pure, so sweet. When my children were baptized we gathered after mass in a private ceremony with family. Nowadays, at my new church at least, the sacrament of baptism is an integral part of the whole mass so everyone in the congregation can be a part of the moment the child’s life is dedicated to God.
Some people disagree with the Catholic tradition of infant baptism and they have valid arguments to the contrary. However, without going into a theological debate I would surely lose I will say that the other sacraments Catholics receive throughout our lives are built upon and affirm the vows of baptism we could not speak for ourselves as infants. Even the liturgy of the mass itself is a reaffirmation of our faith.
As a mother I can say without question that having my babies baptized was a blessing to me. In the act of baptism I gave them over to God so throughout their lives when they took those scary steps towards independence I reminded myself of their baptisms and it eased the stress of letting go.
My priest, Father Tommy, always gives the parents the option of keeping the actual baptismal vows private or inviting the congregation to join in. I’ve yet to see parents keep them private, and I’m glad. It gives me the opportunity to renew my own baptismal vows in the process. The ritual is portioned throughout the mass and becomes an integrated part of the service for everyone present, solidifying the child’s membership in the community of the church.
The first part is the baptismal vows. Father says,
“Do you reject Satan?” “I do,” I proclaim with conviction.
“And all his works?” “I do,” I affirm.
“And all his empty promises?” “ I do.”
“ Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven earth?” “ I do.”
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?” “ I do,” I say with a slightly weakened voice. By this time the emotion of the moment is setting in.
“Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? ” “ I do,” I say through the lump in my throat wiping the tears that ultimately stream without permission.
This morning I maintained my composure fairly well, but the last baptism got the best of me. The little girl being baptized a few weeks ago was named Mary Ann, my mother’s name. Well, one of her names anyway. By the end of mass little Mary Ann was sound asleep as Father Tommy placed her tiny feet on the altar as a sign of dedication. My thoughts drifted to my mother and what she may have looked like when she was baptized. I feel certain the sacramental rite was not celebrated in the communal way it is today. It was probably more of a formality, a matter of fact, anoint and splash sort of ceremony. I say this from what I know of my mother’s baptism.
The story goes like this. When my mother was born her parents named her Doris Mae. When it came time for her baptism her Godmother took her to the church to meet with the priest. Apparently my Granny didn’t even go to the church, I don’t know why. When the priest asked “What name do you give…?” her Godmother said Doris Mae. The priest told her that was a name for a movie star, not a saintly name. He suggested naming her Mary instead. But my mother’s Godmother told the priest my mother had a sister named Mary Marie and so they didn’t need another Mary in the family. He then chose Mary Ann and the matter was settled. So little Doris Mae was brought home and called Mary Ann from that day forward. I always wonder what my Granny thought of that, why she didn’t call her Doris anyway. Knowing her the way I did I imagine she probably just shrugged her shoulders and spouted a sharp quip and then went on about her business of raising her six children.
It wasn’t until she was in her teens and needed a copy of her birth certificate that my mother learned her true name. She was in disbelief and thought she was adopted. From then on she went by Doris Mae on any legal documents, pay check, driver’s license, etc. but she was always Mary Ann to the people in her life.
In addition to the thousands of times Mary Ann confirmed her faith in mass she repeated her vows of baptism seven times for her own children and just as many times for her grandchildren. She took the words as gold and lived a faith-filled life that was an inspiration to me. My mother may have told me to do as she said, but all the lessons I learned from her were from the way she lived her life. She was like her own mother in this way and I try to continue the tradition even though I still trip from time to time from veering down a rocky path. But I know the way home to heaven because she started me on the right road when she had me baptized, and kept steering me in the right direction even though she may not have ever known it. Well, maybe was knowing it after all.