The season of Lent is that time in the Church year when the baptized are called to prepare to renew their baptismal promises, and when those who are not baptized enter into the final stages of their baptismal preparation. As we are to prepare to do this throughout Lent on Easter Sunday, today I would like to speak a little bit about what is one of my favorite themes in the Liturgy for Baptism by making particular reference to the Ritual for the Baptism of Infants.
When a child is baptized, the Rite of Baptism begins at the doors of the church. The priest greets the parents and godparents of the child at the doors of the church and asks them to introduce the child to the Christian community. This is also what we did with the adult catechumens when they were introduced to the Christian community for the first time. The only difference being that the adult candidates are not baptized right away, but undergo a period of preparation. In the baptism of a child, the infants are baptized right away in the same liturgy. The reason why the infants are to be introduced to the community goes back to that period in time when the Church was persecuted and only those known by the community could enter the Church. In fact, it is the role of the sponsors even to this day to testify to the sincerity of those who inquire into the life of the Church. Once the children have been introduced, they process with the priest and their families into the church to hear God’s Word proclaimed. A similar procession takes place at the Easter Vigil when the candidates and the whole community process in after the Easter candle, which represents the Risen Christ who they are all to follow. At the Easter Vigil, the symbolism is of us all following Christ, the true light of the world.
Once the procession arrives at the front of the church, everyone is seated for the proclamation of God’s Word, and the Litany of the Saints and Prayers of the Faithful. When the Prayers of the Faithful are completed, the parents and children come up to the font where the water is blessed, the families profess their faith and the children are baptized. After they are baptized a number of explanatory rites are celebrated: the anointing with the oil of Chrism, clothing with the white garment, presentation of the candle and the Ephphetha rite. After this, the children and parents and godparents move to the altar, where they pray the Our Father on the children’s behalf. This is a very significant movement.
The families of the children baptized move to the altar for two reasons. The first is that it is hoped that through their baptisms, the children will come one day to share in the Eucharistic banquet with their families. The Eucharist is the food for the baptized which strengthens them on their journey. The Church intends the children who are baptized to be strengthened on the journey by God’s Word and the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, so that they will have the strength to deal with the trials and tribulations that they are to face on their journeys through life. The second reason that the families of the newly baptized are brought to the altar is because through baptism we all hope to share in the banquet of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The movement that takes place in the Rite of Baptism for an Infant speaks to me of the great journey that we all take in life. We all come into the world through birth and the door of life. Where we will go in life, none of us knows. Some of us here today were born on different continents and never dreamed of coming to Canada in our childhoods. Others who are here today might just find themselves at the end of their lives living on another continent, or for those who are younger, possibly on another planet. Where we go in life, none of us can really know for sure. Life is a great pilgrimage and its length is uncertain. However, the reason that we are all here today is that we all hope to end up in Heaven and the Eucharist is the food for the journey which takes us there.
In fact, what I would like to suggest today is that the Eucharist is to be for us what the Transfiguration experience was for James, Peter and John in today’s Gospel story. Knowing that He was about to suffer and die in Jerusalem, Jesus takes His disciples up the mountain with Him so that they might know who He is before He is subjected to the shame of the crucifixion and His death on the cross. While on the mountain, the Heavenly Father declares to these disciples the identity of His Son so that they might be strengthened during the difficult days that will accompany the great persecution. He does this by declaring to them: “This is my chosen Son, listen to him.” What the Transfiguration does for these disciples, the Eucharist is intended to do for us on our pilgrim journeys. The Eucharist reminds us that Christ has given His life to save us and forgive our sins. The Eucharist proclaims for us on our way that Christ has conquered death and will help us to conquer our weaknesses and strengthen us for the journey. Every Sunday when we come to Mass, we hear God speak to us and we receive the Risen Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we might know God is with us throughout our own trials and tribulations.
The idea of pilgrimage and journey is a profound theme in our Lenten readings. In our first reading this Sunday, we are told of Abraham’s call to leave the comfort of his homeland to follow God’s call to an unknown and strange land so that he could be the father of God’s people. For his willingness to believe God’s promises and follow, Abraham will be known as the father of Faith and of God’s people. He is an example of the need to leave our places of comfort during Lent and follow God if we wish to be truly blessed in this season. The theme of pilgrimage will also play a large role in the readings from Exodus and the story of God accompanying His people through the desert to the Promised Land. This theme is also emphasized as we are told by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “Our citizenship is in Heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Through our baptisms, God has promised to accompany us on our pilgrim journeys in life. Each one of us is called by our baptisms to listen for God’s voice as he journeys with us. The call or vocation that belongs to every baptized person is to allow God to accompany us through our trials and difficulties. Like the disciples who see Christ transfigured before them, and hear the voice of the Father declare Jesus the beloved, the Eucharist is to strengthen us in those times where we may doubt Christ’s absence in our lives. At the celebration of the Eucharist, in His Word proclaimed, we are to hear God’s call to us to seek His face in our lives. Jesus is always with us. The privileged season of Lent is a time that we are called to look for His face in our midst. We are to ask Him where He might be calling us to grow closer to Him and what we are invited to leave behind on our journey. Sometimes the hardest thing about being on a journey is the type of detachment that it can call us to as we recognize what we need to leave behind and what we need to give to God in order to reach our destination. Pilgrims are called to leave behind anything that gets in the way of their reaching their destinations safely. Lent is that season where we are invited to leave behind whatever gets in the way of our serving and following God. As we will hear from the readings that come in the Lenten season from the Book of Exodus, the people of Israel were required to spend forty years in the desert before they were willing to put aside their golden calf and enter the Promised Land filled with milk and honey. Whatever it is that we are being asked by God this Lent to give over to Him in order that we might follow Him more closely, His words that are spoken to Christ’s disciples today in the Gospel of the Transfiguration ought to help us to strengthen our conviction and desire to follow the Lord: “This is my chosen Son, listen to Him!” Like Abraham, may these words in this Lenten season, give us the courage to leave the comfort of our present situations to follow and come to know the fullness of the Lord’s blessings in our lives. Next weekend, I will speak of one of the best ways that we can leave behind those areas of sin that are in the way of us following Christ—the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As we are called to leave behind those sins that prevent us from following after the Lord and renewing our baptismal promises, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the best ways that we can do this in this Lenten season.
Father Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto
This reflection based on the readings for the Second Sunday of Lent—Year C: Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-41; and Luke 9: 28b-36.