Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections:
Baptism and the parish community

by Father Jan Larson

(From the Jan. 17, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson Parents are sometimes surprised to learn that it makes a great deal of difference where their infant is to be baptized. Roman Catholic tradition holds that the baptism is to take place in the parish church where the parents live, or where they are about to live. Our Catholic tradition expects there to be a well-founded hope that the child will be raised in the Catholic faith, and the first setting for this formation, outside the family itself, is the parish community in which at least one of the parents lives and worships.

This is why pastors and others who direct infant baptism programs are always concerned that parents seeking a baptism have come to the proper parish – the one in which they live and worship. The minimal sign that parents have identified with a particular parish community is that they are registered there or at least that they worship there on some kind of regular basis.

Baptism is never a private, family affair. The entire parish community has an important stake in the baptism of every child for baptism is what regenerates the Christian community. An infant is baptized into the church – the Body of Christ, the people of God – and the parish community is the church for this time and place.

Thus the Introduction to the rite of baptism reminds us: “The people of God, that is, the church, made present by the local community, has an important part to play in the baptism of both children and adults. Before and after the celebration of the sacrament, the child has a right to the love and help of the community.

“During the rite ... the community exercises its duty when it expresses its assent together with the celebrant after the profession of faith by parents and godparents. In this way it is clear that the faith in which the children are baptized is not the private possession of the individual family, but the common treasure of the church in Christ.”

The church’s canon law allows baptism outside the parish of the parents in times of medical emergencies, or if there is a “grave inconvenience” that prevents the person being baptized from going or being taken to his or her parish church. Here the law has in mind the difficulties of travel that exist in many missionary situations.

But baptism outside one’s proper parish community is hardly appropriate simply to provide more convenience timing or travel arrangements for godparents or family members. Nor is it appropriate to celebrate baptism in another parish church simply because family members may have been baptized there in the past.

The relationship between the infant and parents and the parish in which they live and worship must not be underestimated, nor should this relationship, grounded so deeply in our theology and in our tradition, take second place either to travel convenience or to nostalgic family memories, as important as these may be.

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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