The liturgy concludes with symbols of the baptized persons’ new life being given to them, and the congregation verbally welcoming them into the Church.
The 1549 Prayer Book did this with two traditional acts: bestowing a white garment (with accompanying verbal explanation) and anointing with oil, followed by a final exhortation to the parents and godparents to raise the children accordingly, teach them, and bring them to Confirmation when they’re ready. The external symbolism was reduced in subsequent Books, the minister instead reading a pair of declarations, affirming the efficacy of Holy Baptism: “We receive this Child into the congregation of Christ’s flock…” wherein the Priest shall make a Cross upon the Child’s forehead, and “Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this Child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church…” Our rite contains the first of these statements, the phraseology having been reworked, and with express permission to make the sign of the Cross with Oil of Chrism. A second, shorter statement is also provided as an option, which is a holdover from the 1979 Prayer Book.
Additional traditional baptismal symbols (garments and candles) are also permitted at this time, both of which have their accompanying verbal texts in the Additional Directions on page 172. Where the classical Prayer Books contain the minister’s second statement about the regeneration of the candidate, followed by the Lord’s Prayer and a final thanksgiving, the present rite skips straight to that thanksgiving. Although the emphasis on regeneration has been diminished by way of word count, the prayer contains the same elements. It should also be noted that the reduction of this prayer’s length already began in the American and Canadian Prayer Books of the 20th century.
Most of the classical Prayer Books follow this thanksgiving with a final charge to the baptismal sponsors, but that is omitted in the modern liturgy because the substantial exhortation to them has already been given during the Presentation of the Candidates. Instead, the celebrant turns to the congregation and bids them welcome the newly baptized. This, and the congregation’s words of welcome, originate with the American Book of 1979.
The exchange of Peace at the conclusion of the liturgy is both a transition point leading to the remainder of the Communion liturgy and natural outflow from the act of welcoming new members into the Church.
A secondary act, primarily symbolic yet still charged with powerful meaning, is tracing the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the baptized person(s). This may be done with or without holy oil, and (as the celebrant here says) it betokens the banner of Christ under which the newly-baptized is hereafter charged to fight against evil. For the entry to new life through Baptism sadly entails entry into the age-old war against sin; thus the first thing that the Church does for her new members is give them armor and encouragement. The alternative text, upon the signing of the Cross, side-steps the militaristic imagery and focuses singly upon the “seal” of the Spirit. This, too, can be a deeply powerful statement of assurance, protection, and love, if rightly understood.
After the newly-baptized have been marked with the Cross (and perhaps received baptismal garments and candles), the celebrant once again gives thanks to God. In a way, this prayer reflects the Thanksgiving over the Water on the other side of the font, as it were. Once again we thank God for bestowing the forgiveness of sin, for adopting the candidate(s) as his own children, incorporating them into the Church, and giving them the grace of new life. We pray that these good things will last unto eternity, by God’s sustaining (or persevering) grace.
Last of all, the minister invites the congregation to acknowledge what God has done, and welcome the newly baptized accordingly. The worshipers, with one voice, receive the baptized into their fellowship and give a three-fold charge. First, the new member(s) are to confess of faith of Christ crucified. This speaks especially to the call to catechesis: learning the truth attested in the Scriptures and growing in the knowledge and love of God. Second, they are to proclaim his resurrection, which is largely a call to worship. Similarly, third, they are to invited to share in “the royal priesthood”, which indicates both a worthiness to be in the presence of God (participating in the life and sacraments of the Church) as well as a responsibility to represent God to the unbelieving world around. A priesthood, after all, is a form of intermediary, and all Christians are called to be go-betweens on God’s behalf to those who are still lost and dead in sin. Baptism is much to be celebrated, but it is also just the beginning of a truly new and different life than came before. The sharing of the peace, in this context, is bound to be less a time of reconciliation (see the commentary of the Communion liturgy) and more a time of solidarity and mutual encouragement to face up to the common task before us as baptized persons – God’s people in the world.