The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” – Matthew 28:19
More than two millennia have passed since the day when Jesus directed his disciples to baptize all those who responded to their evangelism by answering the call to follow Christ. Since that time, countless individuals have followed in the footsteps of the Lord and received the gift of living water and membership in the Church – the living body of Christ. Along with the Eucharist, Holy Baptism is considered one of the two major sacraments of the Episcopal Church, and as such it holds an important place in the life of Christ Church, Millwood. The opportunity to receive Holy Baptism is available to any who desire it, whether adults or parents asking on behalf of their younger children. But as with any serious commitment of this type, it is not to be entered into without prayerful consideration and a bit of advance work.
Here at Christ Church, we follow the directions (known as rubrics) found in the Book of Common Prayer. Our preference is that the Holy Baptism be offered during the visitation of the bishop or on four major feast days during the church year: the Easter Vigil; the Day of Pentecost; All Saint’s Day (or the Sunday following); and First Sunday after the Epiphany (when we recall Christ’s own baptism). We do recognize that those days may in many instances not be convenient for families, so discussions can certainly be held to identify a suitable Sunday. Because Baptism is the sacrament leading to reception in a larger community, it is conducted at the main services on those days in front of the entire congregation. Unless there are extenuating circumstances that dictate otherwise, private baptisms are not offered.
Additionally, there is a period of advance study required for adults seeking the sacrament or for parents of children for whom baptism is being sought. Known as catechesis, this period provides an opportunity to study the roots of the sacrament of Holy Baptism, discuss how it is an important step towards membership in the community, and discern the appropriate time for reception of the sacrament. It is also a time for parents, godparents and sponsors of to reflect on their own responsibilities in seeing that the baptized is supported in their life in Christ and the Church (vows that the entire congregation also takes during the liturgy itself).
It also is important to emphasize the close relationship between Holy Baptism and the Eucharist that we celebrate here at Christ Church. At the end of the baptismal service, the newly baptized is welcomed into the community of God – and here, that also means being welcomed as members of the community of Christ Church. At that point, we take the next step of ensuring that they are welcomed – as members of the body of Christ – to the altar rail to participate in the Eucharist. Baptism as a requirement for receiving the elements dates back as far as second century Rome, when the Eucharist was the final act of celebration for and with the newly-baptized. There are also examples of the rite in early North African churches including the Eucharist as part of the overall process of baptism. We continue that theological tradition today here at Christ Church – and even if the individual is a child, they, too are offered the bread and the wine to signify their status as members of the communal body of Christ.