Baptism by the Book (cont)
As mentioned in my previous post, my daughter's recent baptism gave me an excuse (not that one is ever really needed) to re-read "The Ministration of Publick Baptism of Infants" in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. As one does, I also wanted to compare this service with the earlier prayer books of 1549, 1552, 1559 and 1604 (and the Scottish prayer book of 1637). All of these earlier texts included a very interesting paragraph regarding the timing of the baptism.
In my experience, infants are often (usually?) baptised once they are at least a couple of months old. This allows time for godparents to be selected and asked, family members invited and for an occasion to be made of the event. All this can be a fun and joyful celebration of new life, sometimes with informal festivities continuing after the service over a meal. Indeed, we did all this, though being in Scotland, only managed to get one of three godparents and one family member from each side to come and join us. Partially, we picked our timing based on when those family members could be here, and since we didn't want to wait too long, having the baptism exactly a month after the birth seemed appropriate (and means that we now have an alternative date for birthday celebrations if Christmas Eve tends to overshadow things).
However, in all the prayer books prior to 1662, some version of this rubric appeared:
The pastours amd curates shall oft admonyshe the people, that they differ [defer] not the Baptisme of infantes any longer then the Sondaye, or other holy daye, nexte after the chylde bee borne, onlesse upon a great and reasonable cause declared to the curate and by hym approved.In other words, unless you have a very good excuse, it is best for your child to be baptised on the first Sunday (or other holy day (e.g. Christmas)) after birth. No mucking around here!
I will discuss the reason behind this in a little more detail in my next and final post on "Baptism by the Book". But the short answer is that when it comes to baptism, church family trumps blood family. No waiting until great aunt Gertrude can make it up from the farm; the child is welcomed immediately by and into the congregational family at their next major gathering. And this makes good sense. If children are to be welcomed into the household of God so that they are always raised within the Christian faith (as the practice of baptising infant baptism implies), then to be consistent, this baptismal welcome should occur as soon as possible. Why then wait until Sunday? Why not baptise on the day of birth? The answer to that will be in my final post.
Therefore, resolve to make your arrangements for a baptismal celebration prior to the birth. Expectant parents often spend hours researching prams and selecting nursery colours. Why not also (instead?) put some time into making preparations for the child's spiritual growth? Settle your conscience on the good gift of infant baptism. Meet with your priest or minister to discuss any concerns and to ensure you understand what baptism means and how it will work. Think about godparents early (and remember, godparenting is not primarily a chance to honour your closest friends, but a responsibility for those who will be faithful in prayer and example, taking the lead in discharging the duty and privilege of the whole church family in raising a new child in the faith and love of Christ). Check your church has a font or pool large enough for the infant to be dipped into. Have your child baptised at the first service available after their birth. And read your prayer book.