Receiving the newly-baptized

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.

comparison across four Prayer Books, assembled by the Rev. Matthew Brench

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.

thinking devotionally

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.

Anglican Baptism: dunk or drip?

The climax of the Rite of Holy Baptism is threefold: the Naming, the Baptism, and the Reception.

The 1549 Prayer Book asked the child’s name earlier, during the Presentation of the candidate(s), but the established pattern ever since then has been stable: the minister asks for the child’s name, and immediately performs the baptismal act.

Classically, three components are essential to the formula of a sacrament: Word, Intent, and Matter.

Word & Intent

The baptismal formula put forth here is the standard Western liturgical text.  Eastern Churches have minor variances from this, the Greek Orthodox Church for example putting forth the following: “The servant of God (Name) is baptized in the Name of the Father.  Amen.  And of the Son, Amen.  And of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”  At each invocation the Priest immerses him (her) and raises him (her) up again. After the baptizing, the Priest places the child in a linen sheet held by the Godparent.  The front matter “I baptize you” verses “Name is baptized” is different, but the trinitarian formula is the same.  Most clearly, this is in fulfillment of Christ’s words of institution reported in Matthew 20:19.

Over the course of the Church’s history, the occasional controversy has arisen regarding the baptismal formula, especially with regards the validity of Baptism performed by Arians or other heretical sects.  Some people then, as well as some churches today, followed the example of Acts 8:16 and 19:5 and baptized people in “the name of Jesus” only – is this valid?  This is where the matter of sacramental intent comes into the picture.  The testimony of the Church’s great theologians, especially in the early centuries, admits that Baptism in the Name of Jesus can be valid if the faith of the one performing the baptism is orthodox – he is simply making an error.  If the full trinitarian formula is used, then the intention to baptize the candidate into Christ’s Body the Church is reasonably assured.  On that basis, even if one is baptized in a heretical sect in the Triune Name, that person does not need to be re-baptized in the true Church; but if a heretic baptized someone only in the name of Jesus, that person does need to be baptized properly.

In more recent years, additional controversy has arisen in the Roman Church regarding the phrase “We baptize you” instead of “I baptize you.”  This, they declared, was invalid, and thousands of people have been tracked down for emergency baptism.  Such strictness with the part of the formula not explicitly ordained by Christ is not, however, in keeping with the Church’s historic witness (much less with the Eastern Church’s current practice, which is not explicitly rejected by Western churches).  Ministers who edit the front matter of the baptismal formula are acting disobediently and ought to be corrected, but the change of “I” to “we” does not invalidate Christ’s Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

As in other cases, conformity to the liturgical norms is not a matter of mere pickiness with details (as some Protestant brethren assert) nor or is it an absolute necessity for validity (as some Roman brethren assert), but such conformity is key to the principle of common prayer, of orthodoxy – the meeting-place of “right praise” and “right doctrine”.  This applies not only to the words of the liturgy but also to the physicality of the liturgy, as shall be considered next.


The Greek word for baptize means “wash.”  Water is necessary.  A child dedication in a Baptist or non-denominational Church, therefore, is not equivalent to Baptism.  A personal and public declaration of faith, likewise, is not equivalent to Baptism.  As with bread and wine in Holy Communion, Christ instituted that water be used for the washing of regeneration in the New Covenant, and to omit or replace water with another substance is to reject his command and invalidate the offer of grace.

The controversies, past and present, surrounding the waters of baptism have instead concerned the mode or method.  The 1549 Prayer Book ordered three-fold immersion: Then the priest shall take the child in his hands, and ask the name.  And naming the child, shall dip it in the water thrice.  First dipping the right side: Second the left side: The third time dipping the face towards the font: So it be discreetly and warily done.  Subsequent Prayer Books dropped the specific instructions for three-fold dipping and further admitted “if they certify that the Child is weak, it shall suffice to pour Water upon it, saying the foresaid words.”  The language in the present Prayer Book, “the Celebrant immerses the Candidate or pours water upon the Candidate three times” is largely the same rubric; the difference is that the pouring of water should be thrice (with the name of each Person of the Holy Trinity) and dipping the person into the water may be either a full or partial immersion.

Opinions have varied over the course of history regarding the appropriate contact between the water and the candidate: from full immersion, to partial immersion, dipping in water, pouring water on the head, or finally to a mere sprinkling of water.  Historically, all of these have been considered valid; only certain sects or denominations have developed legalistic attachments to particular choices of mode.  Chapter 7 of the late-first-century document known as the Didache, for example, puts forth the following order of preference: “But if you have not running water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, then in warm.  But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head ‘in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.’”  As Christians moved further North, baptizing infants in cold running water naturally became less desirable, and the favored modes changed accordingly.  With the improved availability of clean heated water in modern times, full immersion has risen in popularity in North America and Europe, and the warmer climes of the Global South have made it convenient to follow suit.  The Prayer Book tradition’s sensitivity to availability and health on this matter provides enough leeway to protect us from legalism on the one hand yet sets a standard wherein the visual symbolism of the act is preserved: baptism is the washing of regeneration.

Reflecting on the liturgy as we have it

The naming of the candidate is not merely a matter of logistics, reminding the minister of the person’s full name right before it is spoken in the baptismal act.  Rather, this is itself a meaningful act.  The parents (or other sponsors) actually name the candidate.  For much of European history, this has doubled as a legally-binding moment when a child receive his or her name and is recorded in the official registers.  Baptismal records in church archives is how much genealogical work is done, as well as verification of inheritance rights and other family-related matters.  Although the context is different, this carries significance for adults as well: being named at this time is the capturing of their identity, which is about to be given to God and baptized into his Name.  Some may even take on a new, or additional, “Christian name” at this time, betokening their newfound identity as a Christian.

Water then is poured upon the candidate(s), and the minister speaks the baptismal formula.  “The Name” of the trinity, as the biblical uses of the word imply, is a richly-layered invocation.  It refers to the power and presence of God.  It refers to the divine authority invested in the minister’s act.  It also refers to the identity of God and the unity of the three Persons of the Trinity.  In all these senses, the fullness of God is brought to bear on this poor sinner, with water blessed by the Spirit, to bring about new life that is ripe for eternity.

Blessing the baptismal water

With the candidate(s), sponsors, and congregation prepared for the Rite of Baptism, one thing remains: the water.  Although a significant step away from the many medieval traditions that came to surround baptism, the Prayer Book tradition has retained a single prayer to sanctify the water in the baptismal font.  This is not superstition, but entirely wholesome.  For one, it matches the liturgy of the other Sacrament ordained by Christ – Holy Communion – in its acknowledgment of preparing earthly materials for the grace-giving work of the Holy Spirit.  From another angle, biblical witness attests many examples of Prophets and Priests blessing physical things before the working of a miracle, or the regular service of the Tabernacle or Temple.

from an historical perspective

The text of the prayer was stable from the 1550’s into the early American Prayer Books.  It began to undergo edits the 20th century: the American Prayer Book of 1928 added the Sursum Corda to the beginning of it, giving it a context more closely resembling the Great Thanksgiving and Prayers of Consecration in the Communion service.  The word “elect” was also removed in that book.  The Canadian Prayer Book of 1962 also took up the Great Thanksgiving format but retained the language of “thy faithful and elect children.”  Both of those Prayer Books also add a trinitarian ending to the prayer, again mirroring the end of the Prayers of Consecration.

The prayer, as put forth in the present Prayer Book, is rather different.  The first paragraph focuses on “the gift of the water” where the original prayers begin with the death and commandment of Christ.  Appeals to the waters at Creation, the Red Sea, and the River Jordan are made, introducing biblical references previous versions of the prayer have never utilized.  However, the latter two images were in the old versions of the Flood Prayer (see above), thus this paragraph represents a re-arrangement of traditional material rather than an entirely new rite.  In the logic of this baptismal Rite, the Flood Prayer is narrowed in on the saving efficacy of the waters of Baptism, and the Thanksgiving over the Water then turns to the water itself.

The second paragraph follows the general outline of the biblical history of water with a treatment of baptismal water itself.  Although the wording is drastically re-worked, the main points of this paragraph link back to the traditional Blessing, namely that through the water “we are made regenerate”, baptizing people according to Christ’s command, to the end that their fellowship with us (and Christ) may continue forever. The final paragraph begins with the celebrant touching the water in some fashion, again matching the Communion liturgy which also requires the celebrant to touch the bread (or patens) and the cup (or flagons).  The blessing, “Sanctify this water”, is the heart of this Thanksgiving prayer, and the two desired effects named in the desired prayer (“to the mystical washing away of sin” and “to receive the fulness of thy grace, and ever remain…”) are both retained here.  Between them is added a third desired effect: “be born again,” which is the typical modern Bible translation for the classical term “regenerate” which has already appeared in the previous paragraph.  A doxology, in line with the form in the 1928 and 1962 Prayer Books, concludes this portion of the rite.

from a devotional perspective

With the preparatory prayers complete, the minister, candidate(s), and sponsors move to the baptismal font.  Traditional church architecture places the font in the nave or the narthex – near the entrance to the worship space, so in large buildings this could be a procession from the altar of some distance and ceremony, hence the option for a psalm, anthem, or hymn.  Liturgical planners and music ministers should take care to vet any sung lyrics for its doctrinal content, that it be consonant with Anglican doctrine as expressed in the Articles of Religion and the Prayer Book liturgy.

There, the minister begins the Great Thanksgiving.  The fact that it the text is identical to the Sursum Corda in the Communion service enables the congregation to participate easily without having to learn new responses.  It also highlights the sacramental nature of Holy Baptism, which is something that many evangelicals who are new to Anglicanism can have trouble understanding early on.  It also brings out the posture of thanksgiving and preparation inherent in the more traditional forms of this liturgy.

Perhaps one of the most striking challenges to understanding the sacramental nature of Baptism, for those coming from traditions who only consider it symbolically (after the baptism of infants, which has already been addressed in the liturgy), is the blessing of water.  Thus, the traditional prayer of thanksgiving and blessing has been expanded in the present form, and broken up into three paragraphs to make it easier to follow the words and logic.

The first paragraph focuses on biblical roles that God has given to water: the place of creation, the salvation of Israel from Egyptian bondage and entrance to the promised land, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Baptism of Jesus.  More could be said (see the Flood Prayer, for example) but these three images provide the worshiper with key foundations that will enrich comprehension of Holy Baptism.

The second paragraph subtly applies the biblical examples to Baptism itself.  The Exodus story presages death and resurrection in Christ (fulfilled citing Romans 6:4).  The presence of the Holy Spirit in creation and the Baptism of Jesus presage the gift of regeneration (cf. Titus 3:5).  With these benefits in mind, the celebrant naturally leads the congregation to “joyful obedience” to Jesus in bringing people to this Sacrament.

The third paragraph, finally, contains the blessing of the water itself – again calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit.  Three benefits, or results, are named that the worshipers expect from Holy Baptism: cleansing from sin, being born again, and continuing forever faithful in the risen life of Christ.  The first two are gifts provided instrumentally through Baptism.  The candidate is truly about to be washed from all sin actual and original, and truly about to be re-born; these gifts may be abandoned, but they cannot be taken away.  To persevere in the life of Christ forever is also a gift of God, but that grace is only begun in Baptism, not infallibly assured.  Nevertheless, this great beginning is a time of celebration, and so to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we accord all honor and glory.

Praying for the Baptismal Candidates

The 1662 Prayer Book places a series of four short prayers follows at this point:

  1. That the old Adam in this Child may be so buried that the new man may be raised up in him.
  2. That all carnal or sinful affections may die and all things belonging to the Spirit may grow.
  3. That he may have power and strength to have victory over the devil, the world, and the flesh.
  4. That whoever is dedicated to God may also be ensued with heavenly virtues and be everlastingly rewarded.

The first of these four was altered in the American Church by 1928, and even further altered by 1962 in Canada.  The American 1979 Book, finally, replaced these with a litany of brief prayers, the format of which has been retained in the current Prayer Book, but the content is considerably improved.

Seven petitions now stand in the Litany for the Candidates, the first marked as optional as it applies specifically to infants and young children.  The third petition echoes the fourth of the traditional prayers, the fourth petition echoes the first and second traditional prayers, and the sixth and seventh petitions are also akin to the fourth traditional prayer.  The rest of the litany carries an emphasis on the candidates’ new life as members of the Body of Christ.

Where many traditional prayers emphasize the immediate or permanent effect of Holy Baptism, this litany focuses on the anticipated fruit of the Sacrament that the candidate(s) should develop over time.

That these children may come to confess their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
We beseech you to hear us, Good Lord.

First, when it is infants or young children being baptized, we pray that they would take up that good confession themselves.  This prayer is offered in line with the earlier exhortation to raise the children in the faith and bring them to the Bishop for Confirmation when they are ready.

That all these Candidates may continue in the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,
in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.

Second, we pray for the candidates to continue in the Church’s life of worship.  This is in opposition to the sad trend in some places where Baptism or Confirmation end up being treated like a graduation and the candidates soon fade away.

That they may walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they have been called,
ever growing in faith and all heavenly virtues.

Third, an appeal for a life of Christian ethics and virtue is made.  Both child and adult need to continue to grow in faith and virtue, the reformation of life is always an ongoing process.

That they may persevere in resisting evil,
and, whenever they fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.

Fourth, we pray specifically for the struggle against evil and for continual repentance.  Regular participation in the liturgy directs every worshiper to do this, but it is a spiritual discipline that ultimately must take place within the heart of each believer.

That they may proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ Jesus
to a lost and broken world.

Fifth, the mission of the Church comes to the fore as we pray that the candidate(s) will proclaim the Gospel through both word and deed.

That as living members of the Body of Christ,
they may grow up in every way into him who is the head.

Sixth, weaving together the first three petitions, the liturgy now directs us to pray for the candidates’ membership in the Body of Christ, quoting Ephesians 4:15.

That, looking to Jesus, they may run with endurance the race set before them,
and at the last receive the unfading crown of glory.

Lastly, referencing Hebrews 12:1, we pray for the eternal perseverance of the candidates in the “race” of faith.

It should be noted that the rubric, Other petitions may be added, allows for the congregation to offer their own prayers, or the minister to include the traditional prayers from the historic Prayer Books.

The Flood Prayer

When Martin Luther was revising the Roman liturgy for the German Protestant churches in the 1520’s he abbreviated the baptismal service twice, streamlining its attention upon the baptismal act and the grace of God therein.  But one thing he added to the liturgy is what came to known as the “Flood Prayer,” which carried over into the English Prayer Books in 1552.  By 1662 the prayer had taken a distinct, slightly shorter, form from Luther’s version.  The first American Prayer Book rendered it an either/or option with the Prayer for the Good Effect of Baptism that followed it in the 1662 liturgy, and by 1928 the Flood Prayer was gone entirely.  Its reappearance in the 2019 Prayer Book, albeit in a shortened form, is therefore a retrieval of prior tradition lost in North America.

This is a short version of a prayer known as the Flood Prayer.  Drawing from 1 Peter 3, it depicts the Flood in the days of Noah as an archetype foreshadowing this Sacrament of Regeneration wherein the sinful Adam is drowned.  (Additional references to the crossing of the Red Sea and the Baptism of Jesus are omitted in this version, though these images and types appear in other contexts within the Prayer Book.)  Baptism, this prayer further affirms, washes and sanctifies the candidates through the power of the Holy Spirit, and delivers them from death akin to how the Ark delivered Noah and his family from the Flood.  Indeed, the image of the Church as the Ark is enshrined in other terms: the primary section of a church interior where the people stand or sit is called the nave, derived from the Latin word navis – ship!  The prayer concludes, obliquely referencing Ephesians 3:17, with a desire for the eternal salvation of the candidate(s) as they “pass through the turbulent floods of this troublesome life”. The worshiper is thus reminded that the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is not a novel concept in the New Testament, but an expression of the promise of God that has its echoes as far back as Noah’s generation.  Much less is Baptism a “work” done by man, but it is God himself who works, who saves us through this physical enactment of his ancient promise.

For more on the Flood Prayer, click here and read this!

The Baptismal Profession of Faith

This portion of the liturgy, although novel in its arrangement, is a sublime synthesis of traditional Prayer Book elements into three sets of three Questions and Answers, with a transitionary interlude between each one.

It begins with the renunciation of the Christian’s three-fold enemy: the devil, the world, and the flesh.  In renouncing each of these in turn, the worshipers are taught that temptation to sin comes from real spiritual beings; that the world offers us empty promises at best, or deadly deceits at worst; and that even the desires of our own flesh ultimately draw us from the love of God.  All these evils must be cast aside to walk in the way of Christ.

In response to these renunciations the minister may anoint the candidate(s) with specially-prepared Oil of Exorcism, speaking words of deliverance.  While this act does not necessarily imply that everyone who is not-yet-baptized is in possession of a demon, it does remind us that such is truly possible.  Indeed, with the mission field increasingly at North America’s front door and the rise of Neo-Paganism and other world religions in our communities, the necessity of exorcising adult converts in particular is more pronounced today than in centuries past.

With evil rejected and cast out, the liturgy heeds the warning of Matthew 12:43-45 / Luke 11:24-26, and calls for something to take the place of those former masters: the three renounced evils are matched with three positive affirmations.  In place of the devil and his angels, the candidates affirm Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; the Christian may be mastered by none other than He.  In place of the world’s promises and deceits the candidates affirm the Christian Faith as revealed in the Bible; the only truly infallible source of truth.  And against the sinful desires of the flesh the candidate affirms desire to obey God’s holy will and commandments, returning to the Lord the claim to true knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve stole in the Garden of Eden.

The interlude at this point is for the minister to turn to the congregation.  For, as the candidates finally answered “the Lord being my helper”, it behooves the whole church to take part in that ministry of helping.  Thus while the culture has a saying “it takes a village to raise a child” the liturgy reminds us that “it takes a church to raise a Christian” – of any age!

The final trio of questions and answers are, building from the congregation’s commitment to support the candidate(s), addressed to everybody present.  The full text of the Apostles’ Creed is affirmed, according to the division of its three major articles, and thus the candidate(s) and sponsors and congregation are all clearly and explicitly on the same page concerning the Faith alluded to in the previous brief affirmations.

Traditional Background

The Profession of Faith begins, in accordance with the biblical definition of repentance, with the renunciation of evil.  Where the majority of Prayer Book tradition has rolled all three renunciations into a single question & answer, the present volume returns to the 1549 format of renouncing the devil, the world, and the flesh each individually.  The option to exorcise the candidate(s) is also a retrieval of tradition in the 1549 Prayer Book, although the prayer is considerably shorter.  The 1549 exorcism reads:

I command thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou come out, and depart from these infants, whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to call to his Holy Baptism, to be made members of his body, and of his holy congregation.  Therefore thou cursed spirit, remember thy sentence, remember thy judgment, remember the day to be at hand, wherein thou shalt burn in fire everlasting, prepared for thee and thy Angels.  And presume not hereafter to exercise any tyranny toward these infants, whom Christ hath bought with his precious blood, and by this his holy Baptism calleth to be of his flock.

The three-fold affirmation of faith in Jesus, the Bible, and God’s will and commandments is most reflective of the questions asked an adult in the American Prayer Book of 1928, which in turn is substantially the same as the greater Prayer Book tradition.

The involvement of the entire congregation “who witness these vows” promising to support the candidates is a modern feature, though the sentiment is very much in line with historic Prayer Book doctrine, as the close of the liturgy will further note. Traditionally, the text of the Apostles’ Creed was read by the minister as questions, to which the candidates or their parents would answer “All this I steadfastly believe” (with the exception of the 1928 liturgy which merely named the Creed, rather than read it in full).  The practice of placing it in the mouths of the entire congregation seems to have begun in the Canadian Prayer Book of 1962, although the breaking up of the Creed into three Q&A sections was introduced in the American Book of 1979.

Presenting the Baptismal Candidates

As is the case in other Sacraments or sacramental rites, the question of fitness for reception is addressed first.  (The question of if the children have already been baptized is in all the classical Prayer Books too, though typically in a rubric before the start of the liturgy itself.) In this case, the twin realities of not having been baptized before, and desiring to be baptized now, are the immediate concerns.  Those who are baptized in infancy or childhood, are not raised in the faith, and later come to believe in Christ, do not need a repeat Baptism.  Indeed, as the Acclamation from Ephesians 4 already affirmed, there is indeed only one Baptism for the Christian. That being true, this does not mean that the church may indiscriminately baptize every child she comes across.  When parents (with godparents, or sponsors) present children for Holy Baptism, they are expected to be ready to undertake the work of raising a Christian child. 

The celebrant’s follow-up words (provided below) to the presentation of infants and younger children by parents and godparents is a speech that is new to the Prayer Book tradition.  This is largely due to the decrease in understanding by the average church-goer regarding the solemn biblical meaning of Baptism, as well as a decreased normalcy in being baptized at all in Western culture at large.  This innovation is not without precedent, however, as the American Prayer Book of 1928 contains a similar introductory speech to the parents and godparents before proceeding to the Promises, or Examination, or Profession of Faith.

Today, on behalf of this child, you shall make vows to renounce the devil and all his works, to trust God wholeheartedly, and to serve him faithfully. It is your task to see that this child is taught, as soon as he is able to learn, the meaning of all these vows, and of the Faith that you will profess as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. He must come to put his faith in Jesus Christ, and learn the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and all other things that a Christian ought to know, believe, and do for the welfare of his soul. When he has embraced all these, he is to come to the Bishop to be confirmed, that he may publicly claim the Faith for his own and be further strengthened by the Holy Spirit to serve Christ and his kingdom.

As you can see, the Celebrant’s response to the presentation of a child or infant for Baptism is a carefully presented speech.  The parents and godparents are responsible for:

  1. Making renunciations and vows on behalf of the child
  2. Seeing that the child is taught the meaning of these vows and the biblical faith
  3. Seeing that the child learns the Creeds, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments such that (s)he may put his/her faith in Jesus
  4. Bringing the child to Confirmation once (s)he has embraced the above on his/her own.

The Introduction to the Baptismal Liturgy

Gosh, nearly two months after I promised I’d start writing about Baptism, I’m finally getting around to putting some of this work online for you. Sorry about that! Expect a series of write-ups on the waters of baptism on “Thirsty Thursday” for the next several weeks, if you can stand the ridiculous play on words involved.

The Acclamation

from an analytical perspective

Ephesians 4:4-6 has been adapted as an extension to the regular or seasonal Acclamation.  This is drawn from the 1979 Book, in light of the Communion service being the liturgical context for Holy Baptism in this book.

The basic text of the liturgy calls for the Collect of the Day immediately thereafter, followed by the Lessons, but the Additional Directions permit other normal elements of the Communion service including the Penitential Order, which is particularly desirable for the retention of a formal Confession and Absolution of Sin, which otherwise will be omitted.

from a devotional perspective

The fact that Holy Baptism is to be celebrated is reflected in the opening of the Communion service in which it will be embedded.  In addition to the seasonal Acclamation are four lines of further call-and-response.  This brief phrases succinctly and effectively place the theology of Baptism into its broader biblical context: what the Nicene Creed calls “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” the scriptures also link to unity with the Body of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the hope found in God’s calling or election, the unity of faith, and unity with the Lord God and Father.  Even in “mere” words of celebration, the depths of Baptism far beyond mere outward symbolism is proclaimed.

The Exhortation

Dearly beloved, Scripture teaches that we were all dead in our sins and trespasses, but by grace we may be saved through faith. Our Savior Jesus Christ said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”; and he commissioned the Church to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Here we ask our heavenly Father that these Candidates, being baptized with water, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, born again, and received into the Church as living members of Christ’s body. Therefore, I urge you to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his abundant mercy he will grant to these Candidates that which by nature they cannot have.

This is a form of the opening speech that begins the Baptismal liturgy in all the Prayer Books.  It is expanded from the classical versions, adding references to the call to discipleship and mission.  Its historic core is fourfold:

  1. All are conceived and born in sin
  2. None can enter God’s Kingdom without regeneration and new birth
  3. Call upon God through Christ to give this person what by nature (s)he cannot have
  4. That (s)he may be baptized and made a lively member of the Church

It should be observed that the primary additions to the present form of this Exhortation are drawn largely from John 3 and Matthew 28, two of the Scripture lessons provided in the 1928 Prayer Book’s baptismal liturgy.

One of several classical addresses to the “Dearly beloved,” this exhortation provides a didactic introduction to Holy Baptism, contrasting yet complimenting the Ephesians 4 Acclamation at the very beginning of the liturgy.  The historic Prayer Book opening exhortation is shorter, more focused and succinct; this form is more expansive, as if to explicate the words of the Acclamation.

The first half of this Exhortation is a three-stage summary of the Gospel.  First, all are dead in sin and unable to enter the kingdom of God.  Second, salvation by grace through faith is offered to us instrumentally through being born of water and the Spirit – that is, through Holy Baptism.  Baptism is therefore not a “work” done by the candidate or even by the Church, but is God’s act of grace.  Thirdly, in that state of grace, the Church is commissioned to make disciples of all nations, offering God’s gift of Baptism to succeeding generations.

The second half of the Exhortation is the exhortation proper: inviting the people to pray for the baptismal candidates.  We pray for those approaching Baptism that they may enjoy its benefits: being filled with the Holy Spirit, receiving new birth, and being made living members of the Body of Christ.  This is an urgent call to prayer, not simply perfunctory, because none of these gifts can be possessed by nature – that is, these are blessings and gifts that can come only from God himself.

Paedocommunion: a feature or a bug?

There are a couple inconsistencies in the 2019 Prayer Book that I would like to address, gently, carefully, and with respect. Both involve doctrine and practice that were changed in the 20th century and are accepted by some otherwise-conservative Anglicans today without even batting an eye, yet grumpily condemned by the more traditionalist brethren. And the 2019 Prayer Book, perhaps predictably, has ended up awkwardly with a foot in each camp, so to speak. Is this a feature or a bug?

The issue that I’m going to address here is paedocommunion, the practice of serving Holy Communion to infants and small children, requiring only that they first be baptized. From what I have seen, this practice has been found among some of the more strictly traditional Anglican provinces, not just the ACNA, but there are still people in our midst who are hesitant or outright opposed to this practice. Historically, the Prayer Book tradition has required that one be Confirmed, or at least “desirous to be confirmed” in order to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. That loophole exception proved useful in the early years of the Episcopal Church in the USA when bishops were scarce, but that temporary situation soon went away and regular discipline was eventually resumed, as far as I know. Other Protestant (as well as Roman) traditions were all on the same page: receiving Communion requires a confession of faith, repentance of sin, and the desire to commune with Christ. Basically, if you just read 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 at face value, you get the rule that all of Western Christianity observed for over a thousand years.

But there are rumblings concerning the varied practices in the Early Church, and there is the ongoing witness of Eastern Orthodox practice wherein a child is baptized and “confirmed” (properly, chrismated) all at once, and then go on to receive Communion before what Westerners would call the Age of Reason. But we’re not confirming our infants, like they are, so what changed in Western Christian thought that has led so many Anglicans (and certain other traditions) to make such a radical change in practice?

The answer is largely found in the doctrine of Holy Baptism. It is no secret that the 1979 Prayer Book contains a severe shift in baptismal theology compared to the Prayer Book tradition previously. It became less about cleansing from sin and the beginning of the new life in Christ and more about joining the family of God and belonging to the mission of the Church. The Preface to the 2019 Prayer Book, on page 4, even calls this out:

Baptismal theology, especially in North America, was affected by radical revisions to the received Christian understanding, and came perilously close to proclaiming a gospel of individual affirmation rather than of personal transformation and sanctification.

The poster child for this was “The Baptismal Covenant”, which took some traditional elements of the examination of the candidates and set them in a context that shifts the emphasis from Baptism being a gracious gift of God toward Baptism being a commitment that we make as individuals.

All that being said, the question now arises: what does the 2019 Prayer Book do about all this? The Preface expresses clear concerns about the previous baptismal liturgy, and the 2019 Baptism service does a good job of bringing back several elements of historic prayers. There is still a thread of emphasis on “welcome to the family of God”, but that’s fine because it is (first of all) correct, and (secondly) not a theme original to 1979 but already cropping up in 1962 and 1928 alongside the historic liturgical forms. One might quibble over the quality of the balance between “welcome to the family” and “this child is now regenerate”, but it can safely be said that our baptismal liturgy is once again within the bounds of Anglican orthodoxy.

And yet, nearly the entire ACNA communes its not-yet-Confirmed members. And so do some of the Continuing churches who never even adopted the 1979 Prayer Book in the first place. So when you look at the 2019 Prayer Book and observe the utter lack of direction over whether not-yet-Confirmed children may receive Holy Communion or not, one has to conclude that this is a feature and not a bug as such. It is an inconsistency, yes, because we’ve called out the baptismal errors of the Episcopalians since the 70’s and yet we often retain their practice of communing our children on the basis of their Baptism alone. But it’s an inconsistency that we share with others, and therefore one that we cannot simply “solve” in our new Prayer Book alone.

If you or members of your congregation are uncertain about the practice of paedocommunion, I highly recommend you avoid it. If there are scruples or doubts about doing something, then it would be done in fear and not in faith, and therefore should not be done (Romans 14:23).

If this is a subject you’ve never thought about before, then please go read 1 Corinthians 11 and the Exhortation to Holy Communion in our Prayer Book. I have a doctrinal walk-through of it here for you, and an historical summary of it here.

Whatever you decide on this, make sure that you are able to do so in the confidence of the Holy Scriptures and the directions of your Church.

The Rites of Holy Baptism compared

My slow and careful study through the Prayer Book has brought me to the Baptism service. In general, followers of this blog may have noticed a lot of entries about the Daily Office in 2020 and the Communion service in 2021. I did have a nice “plan” to work through the Baptismal material in December, Confirmation material in January, and continue on through the majority of the rest of the Prayer Book rites over the course of 2022, but I’m already “behind schedule.” Be that as it may, wherever I am in this process, I’m still sharing snippets of information – insight, encouragement, and advice – online here as I go, so we can all learn together.

Before we get into any specifics of the Baptism service, it’s helpful to take a big-picture view of where this liturgy has been in the past. Sometimes trends over the centuries can shed light on the peculiarities of the present (or any previous) day. Five Prayer Books are standing in parallel here: the English Prayer Books of 1549 and 1662, the American 1928, the Canadian 1962, and the 2019 Book of the Anglican Church in North America.

We begin with the context. One of the stand-out differences here is that the modern tradition is to place the Baptism amidst a Communion service. This was introduced in 1979, and reflects the practical reality that Communion is now the standard Sunday service in the vast majority of Anglican churches. It’s interesting to see, though, that the recommended “home” of the Baptism service has changed before. The 1662 Prayer Book does not make any direct suggestion about the timing of the service, other than that it’d best be on a Sunday or Holy Day so the maximum number of people will be present to witness it. The American and Canadian Prayer Books took their cues from the original: embed the Baptism within Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer!

So, just as the Wedding service begins with the immortal words “Dearly beloved…” so too does the Baptismal liturgy begin. There are several exhortations in the Prayer Book that begin this way, actually. In any case, this short opening speech or exhortation provides a brief outline of the purpose and necessity of Holy Baptism, and why we’re here to celebrate it. The 2019 version is a bit longer than its predecessors, as it’s combining elements from past versions of the liturgy that are not maintained later on.

The Flood Prayer follows in the English Prayer Books, which I’ve written a little about before. It was dropped in North America, but the 2019 Book has actually restored it, just later in the service.

This part of the comparison chart may be the most jarring. The 2019 Prayer Book continues with the Scriptures and Sermon, following a usual Communion liturgy, where the classical Prayer Books provided a special reading and set of preparatory prayers. Some elements here, I think, would be of use to us if we reclaim them in the 2019 BCP context. The short “Explanation of infant baptism” that follows the Scripture lesson in the English and Canadian Books, for example, would make a great starting point for the Sermon. The Prayers, too, are rich resources that the preacher could use, quote, or even teach on.

In defense of the 2019’s changes and losses at this juncture, however, it should be pointed out that the 21st century West is a Post-Christian society. The baptism of adult converts should become increasingly common, and the gearing of the Baptism liturgy toward small children and infants is not especially helpful to that end. It might be more helpful, at this section of the liturgy, to compare the 2019 order to the 1662’s Baptism of Those of Riper Years. Personally I haven’t looked closely at that yet, that’s just an observation that I think would be helpful to look into for those who are concerned about the details.

This is where the 2019 Prayer Book shines more brightly compared to the previous section. The Flood Prayer is brought back to North America, the classical Exhortation & Examination includes the full three-fold renunciation unheard since 1549, and also follows up on those renunciations with an Exorcism, also unseen since 1549 (albeit that Book placed the exorcism earlier in the service). The prayers for the baptismal candidates are thus longer and more robust, and the Flood Prayer serves double duty as a transition from prayers for the candidate(s) toward the actual baptismal act itself.

Last of all, the Baptism itself is where Prayer Books have changed the most over the years. This is where it really pays off to include the Canadian Prayer Book because it more smoothly connects the liturgy to the Daily Office in which it is recommended to abide.

In a strange twist of irony, the so-called “catholic traditionalist” 1549 Prayer Book does not include an explicit blessing of the water, while the “fully reformed protestant” 1662 Book does. (Hence why stereotypical labels like these are unhelpful!) It is interesting to see, however, that the 1549 Book explicitly orders a triple Baptism (right, left, then face-first into the font), where its successors haven’t been so specific. And for those who are squeamish about babies in water, there have always been provisions for the pouring of water instead (which was also normative for adults who can only lean their heads over a typical baptismal font). Another unique change from 1549 is the naming of the child – I think enough ministers complained that they couldn’t remember the name three minutes later that the naming was moved to the baptismal act itself. (I jest! It’s probably mainly for theological reasons: in baptism we receive our Christian name. The 1662 catechism says as much.)

The sign of the Cross is made on the forehead of the newly-baptized, but the use of anointing oil was not mentioned after 1549 until 2019.

Again the 2019 Book has lost some of the traditional material, most notably the post-baptism statement: Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this Child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits, and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this Child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning. However, this is not as great a loss as some might make it out to be, for this statement is a call to prayer, and the actual prayers (labeled “Thanksgiving and Prayer”) that follow are strong equivalents across the board.

Another concern that has been raised about the 2019 Prayer Book is the lack of attention to the doctrine of Regeneration. Where the classical Prayer Books use that word frequently, ours uses it only once. It must be understood, however, that a significant part of this dynamic is conformity to Bible translation. Where older translations say regenerate newer translations say born again (or from above), and that phrase is found several times throughout the 2019 liturgy. The Additional Directions on BCP page 172 clearly assert the biblical and traditional precedent for the doctrine of regeneration, so there ought to be no contention or confusion on this point. Holy Baptism is “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5).

One final note is that this comparative study has ignored the American baptismal rite of 1979. This is because that rite represents too significant a deviation from the historic content, and presents theological emphases too askew from the traditional Anglican position, to make it worth considering alongside the others. The 2019 Prayer Book’s theology of Baptism is to be understood in light of our solid common history, not from our recent errors. The Preface to the Prayer Book on page 4 specifically notes that “Baptismal theology… came perilously close to proclaiming a gospel of individual affirmation rather than of personal transformation and sanctification.” Fruitful comparative study of the 1979 Book may still be had, but it is my (and our Prayer Book’s) opinion that 1979 represents a liturgical-theological dead end from which we have turned back.

Customary update: Holy Baptism

Work on the Saint Aelfric Customary continues; we are getting into more “occasional” services now, where there are fewer options to choose from. But options, there still are, and so some sort of customary is needed to assist the decision-making.

One of the biggest things about the Baptism service in our (2019) Prayer Book, along with the 1979 Book, is that it is expected to be a part of the Communion service. The baptism basically takes the place of the Antecommunion, or the Communion liturgy up to the Offertory. In the classical books, Baptism was a stand-alone office, and as a result there are a number of tradition-minded folks who lament this change. Some are concerned that the Eucharist will overshadow Baptism. Some are concerned that the clarity of our baptismal theology will be hidden amidst a longer, less focused, liturgy. Some are concerned that the Baptism will overshadow the Communion. So there are a number of considerations at play here, giving us good reason to say “no thanks” to the Prayer Book’s recommendation of holding Baptisms within Communion services. There are times that’s a fine idea, and times when it may not be.

So you can read more about that, and how these decisions can impact the execution of the liturgy as a whole, on the Customary page here: