The celebration of Holy Baptism in the midst of the Communion service is a practice reintroduced to the Anglican tradition in the 20th century. It has become normative, such that the 2019 Prayer Book begins the rite with the note that “Baptism should be administered as part of the Holy Eucharist” (emphasis added). However, Prayer Book tradition before 1979 universally put forth an Office of Baptism that was a stand-alone rite, so the minister and family should not feel compelled to wait long for a convenient Sunday.
There are also localized traditions of deferring baptism during seasons such as Advent or Lent. Such traditions are to be eschewed; Holy Baptism is a rite that may be celebrated at any time. And, as the introductory text on BCP160 concludes, “The minister shall encourage parents not to defer the Baptism of their children.”
For children of answerable age, and adults, however, where catechesis precedes Baptism, regular appointed times for Baptism throughout the year are desirable, and that is where the Prayer Book’s recommendation of Epiphany I (Baptism of our Lord), the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day (or Sunday) are most appropriate.
The Entrance Rite
If the Baptism is being held as a separate Office, the Prayer Book service should be followed as simply as possible. The appropriate Acclamation for the season should be said, followed by the Baptism-specific responses.
If the Baptism is being held within a Service of Holy Communion, the congregation’s usual customary for the Communion service should be followed, with Acclamation being followed by the Decalogue or the Summary of the Law, and (except in Advent and Lent) the Gloria in exclesis Deo.
Further, the Confession ought to be said at every celebration of Holy Communion, so two options stand. The default is that the Confession and Absolution of Sin (drawn from either the Office or the Communion) should be said after the Decalogue or Summary of the Law, as per the rubric on BCP171. The other option is to place it after the Offertory as per the tradition order of Holy Communion provided on BCP142.
The Liturgy of the Word
The Collect of the Day is appointed in the same manner as the Daily Office and Communion service.
The same applies to the Lessons and Psalm, though if the Baptism is being held without the celebration of Holy Communion, the Lesson appointed to read in the 1662 Prayer Book is Mark 10:13-16. Subsequent Prayer Books added further choices, so the recommendation is:
- Mark 10:13-16, default, especially for infants and young children
- John 3:1-8, especially for families new to the faith
- Matthew 28:18-20, especially for adult converts
The Sermon should be on the lesson(s) appointed. As in a wedding or funeral, the preacher must take care not to turn the preaching of the Word into a celebration of the candidate. A homily or other exposition on Baptism is also appropriate, especially in cases where the Baptism will be celebrated without Holy Communion.
The Exhortation, Presentation, Profession of Faith with renunciations and anointing, and the Litany and Prayer for the Candidates contain no variable components, other than the recommendation of the Oil of Exorcism. Whenever possible, this is to be used, the minister making the sign of the cross on each candidate’s forehead with his thumb.
Thanksgiving over the Water
A procession to the baptismal font is only necessary in a traditional church setup where the font is near the entrance of the nave, or in the narthex, and the liturgy is otherwise lead from the sanctuary and/or the altar. If such a procession is to be held, Psalm 42 may be read or sung, or the congregation should sing a Baptism Hymn. As with music during the celebration of Holy Communion, it should not be much longer than the time necessary to process to and reassemble around the baptismal font.
Although a rubric on BCP172 permits the words “made regenerate” be replaced with “born again”, this provision should not be followed. The language of regeneration in Baptism permeates the Prayer Book tradition, and has been greatly reduced in recent liturgies; its last vestiges must not be lost.
The Oil of Chrism, whenever possible, should be applied to the forehead of the newly baptized, in the same manner as the Oil of Exorcism. Of the two options for the words spoken at the signing, the former (“receive the sign of the Cross as a token…”) is more grounded in Prayer Book precedent than the latter (“you are sealed by the Holy Spirit…”), and is to be preferred. The minister is encouraged to make note of the language of both statements in the catechizing or preaching during the Sermon.
The lighting and distributing of baptismal candles is encouraged whenever possible. The wearing of white baptismal garments is encouraged, so long as they are used in the rite. Gestures unfulfilled lose their symbolic power.
It is customary in some places to follow the exchange of peace with a round of applause or other gesture of celebration for the newly baptized. This is to be discouraged; the words of welcome before the Peace is the Church’s special greeting of the baptized, and extra-liturgical greetings are best reserved for outside of the liturgy. Immediately after the Peace should follow the Offertory Sentence (if Holy Communion is to follow) or the invitation “Let us pray” to begin the Lord’s Prayer.
The Conclusion of the Liturgy
The service of Holy Communion proceeds from the Offertory to its conclusion following the usual custom for the Communion service on that day.
When the Baptism service is held as its own office, the Peace is followed by the Lord’s Prayer, Additional Prayers, and a Blessing or Closing Sentence. The minister is encouraged to consult classical Prayer Books for further prayers; prayers of thanksgiving are most appropriate at this juncture. The following Closing Sentence, drawn from Ephesians 3:14-19 and the 1928 Prayer Book, is recommended:
The Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named; Grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being; that, Christ dwelling in your hearts through faith, you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen.
Conditional and Emergency Baptism
The words of the Conditional Baptism are to be used in the place of the regular Baptismal formula in whatever form the Baptismal Rite is being celebrated.
The Emergency Baptism is to be used when a newborn or a recent convert is gravely ill and not yet baptized. Although understated today, this is one of the great Christian responsibilities of parents, family members, or other ministers to carry out should the need arise. As medical professionals prepare parents for the birth of a child, so too should the Church prepare parents with this instruction and knowledge.