Apparently, there have been some questions raised among the membership of Faith regarding something that’s happened the past three weeks prior to the Prayer of the Church.
At the Vigil of Easter on April 15, a young woman will be baptized here at Faith. I’ve been meeting with her and and her mother for two or three months, answering questions, reading the Scriptures, and preparing her for baptism. Since very early in the Church’s history, the time prior to the celebration of the Resurrection was used to instruct those who were to be baptized at Easter, since that was the primary (and in some places, only) time when baptisms took place.
While preparing people for baptism, there have been many different forms of instruction, and various rites and practices to lead people to the baptismal water. As it is for the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8; Lydia and the Philippian jailer in Acts 16; and pretty much all the other adult converts from Acts 2 on, they are instructed, they believe, and they are baptized. Part of that instruction as it developed in the Church–especially, after the destruction of Jerusalem, once the Church began to instruct people who did not know the Old Testament–included various events and rites to help bring people into the fullness of the Christian faith. For example, Cyril of Jerusalem used to physically walk people from the place of Christ’s crucifixion to the place of His empty tomb within the walls of the church that had been built over the believed sites of those events. There were also other physical movements associated with baptism meant to signify the transfer of a person from old to new life, from death to life, from blindness to sight, and from darkness to light.
Now, only God can make Christians, and so His work and promise in Holy Baptism, believed by the person baptized, is the decisive point. Nevertheless, it does not take away from that decisive point of conversion if–prior to baptism, as well as afterward–the Church hands over the substance of the Christian faith in Creed, prayer, and the Word and blesses the person on his or her way to the water of baptism, and on to the resurrection. We pray that God would preserve newborns who have not yet been baptized, and we pray the same for adults on their way to baptism.
Prayer and hearing the Word of God in Christ are the ways of preparation, just as they have always been. Why do it publicly within the Divine Service? So that the members of the congregation can bear witness, for the sake of the one to be baptized, to the promises of God present in His Word and in baptism, as well as remember the promises God made to each person in his or her baptism. Such prayer and blessing is absolutely catholic–what the Church has done in all places and all times. There’s nothing distinctly Roman Catholic about it.
Why is it called a “scrutiny”? Because in the beginning of the Church, the sponsors (who were the same people who introduced a person to Christ’s Church) were asked to testify that the person really did want to become a Christian and was not doing it to spy out the Church (when Christianity was illegal) or for any material benefit (once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire). So the candidate for baptism and the sponsors were “scrutinized” to that effect.
It seems that many people were not prepared for this public process, and for that I take full responsibility. I hope this little explanation has cleared up some of the questions. I would also remind everyone that I am available often for anyone to ask any questions that might arise. People who don’t know the answers, on the other hand, are probably not good resources of whom to ask the questions one may have.
Feel free to clarify any of this at any time. For now, I ask you to rejoice with me and with the angels in heaven that God is claiming another person for His Kingdom through His Son, Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. God grant you a blessed celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, as you remember your own resurrection to eternal life in Holy Baptism.