The Power and Beauty of Traditional-Rite Baptism

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On October 27th, 1996, I was baptized.

I’m pretty sure I screamed; as is wont with most humans, I didn’t take any pains to realize that something good (incredibly wonderful, rather) was actually happening to me, but rather focused on everything I didn’t like (WATER, and NO FORMULA IN MY MOUTH).

It’s difficult to believe that, two decades ago, I was that double-chinned baby (pictured above) who was eventually coaxed into complacent yawning (meanwhile wondering why in Heaven’s name they weren’t feeding me?) under the cavernous ceiling of the Cathedral of St. Paul . . .

. . . and I had no idea what had gone on in my soul.

Baptism is truly amazing; a Sacrament of awe in which God exhales downward and erases the infinite gap between Him and the soul with a single breath of His infinite mercy and grace . . . and the threefold pouring of water.

Rather interestingly, if you open a pre-1962 Missal (as I recently have) and peruse through the Rite of Baptism, your eyebrows will lift as though gravity’s left them altogether. Here is something far soberer, something far longer, something far more forceful, mysterious, intimidating, and (symbolically and liturgically speaking) far more attention-grabbing than you ever thought Baptism was. Today as it is done in the New Rite, Baptism is still certainly beautiful and moving, but it is comparatively a little brief, generally woven into the Mass, whereas in the Old Rite, Baptism remained distinctly outside of Mass (and, for the first part, even out of the nave itself, for reasons explained below!).

Of course, new or old rite notwithstanding, the Sacrament of Baptism is beautiful and efficacious in its total cleansing of Original Sin and its bestowal the spirit of adoption on the sweet new Catholic baby. But the outward, liturgical reminders of what is truly going on in the baby’s soul—what a truly infinite outpouring of grace on God’s part is occurring upon an infinite inherited offense—are rather fewer and weaker.

As deeply and eternally grateful as I am for my Baptism (no matter what its exterior form!), I can’t help but wish that, as the double-chinned baby I used to be, I could have been breathed on by the priest in the Exsufflation (quoted above), had salt poked into my mouth, been exorcised, then been actually admitted into the nave, then received another exorcism, than had the priest’s spit (you thought salt was bad?) on my ears and nostrils, then anointed with chrism, and then, finally, baptized, receiving the Consoler into what was now His own temple (my body and soul), and receiving the inheritance of Eternal Life . . .

. . . but perhaps someone might have called DHR and my baptism wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Oh, well. (God-willing, my future babies will experience the traditional rite of Baptism and I will get to joyfully soak in what I wouldn’t have even have remembered as an infant. I can deal with the DHR 😉 )

My favorite phrases from the traditional rite are as follows:

Depart from her, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Ghost, the Consoler . . .

Take from her all blindness of heart. Free her from the snares of Satan which until now have held her. Open to her, Lord, the gate of Thy mercy . . .

Therefore, accursed devil, acknowledge your condemnation and pay homage to the true and living God; pay homage to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Ghost, and depart from this handmaid of God, (Mary), for Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, has called her to His holy grace and blessing, and to the font of Baptism. Accursed devil, never dare to desecrate this sign of the holy cross which we are tracing upon her forehead . . .

Heard enough about devils yet?

While they do make us squirm, the potential problem with the removal/rewriting of these and other forceful phrases from the current rite of Baptism is that we are now probably not reminded quite so much of how grave our condition is pre-Baptism. After all . . . aww, it’s a sweet little baby in her beautiful christening gown; aww, this is such a lovely time with all the out-of-town family; aww, Father’s pouring water over her head; aww, the baby is now a child of God! So, where’s the cake and punch? (Yes, I am always wondering where the cake and punch is!)

Yet how troubling that we should forget that, although any baby is absolutely the most intoxicating, innocent and squeezeable sight on earth (in my opinion, anyway!), the state of any soul pre-Baptism can be accurately summarized as, Without the grace of God.

No grace. The Holy Ghost does not dwell within the soul. The soul is captive to Original Sin; or, even more bluntly, captive to Satan. Period.

That’s quite a sobering reality.

And yet the utter graveness of our lack of grace is what consequently makes Baptism so unfathomably powerful and beautiful. Our total poverty is what makes Baptism nearly unthinkable in its richness of mystery and initiation. It’s an overwhelming and indispensable act of mercy and grace on God’s part. It is, indeed, a rescue, a ransom, after which we should heave a sigh of relief and fall on our knees that God has seen fit to give our child grace and adopt him or her as His son or daughter.

Baptism is not simply a sweet little dedication ceremony and an occasion for a tulle-swathed reception afterwards. Baptism is life. It is our first spiritual gasp after our plunge into the water; we are pulled out of darkness and into the light of life. In Baptism, rather than needing to be resuscitated from the water, the water resuscitates us.

The traditional rite for Baptism reminds us quite clearly of this. Along with many beautiful traditions of the Church that have been sadly forgotten or misunderstood since Vatican II, it is a pearl that is in need rediscovery. The faithful are in real need of the return of the traditional Rite of Baptism; in need of its beauty and power of form and of liturgy. To be honest, we all are in dire need of remembering the gravity of sin (including Original Sin) and the undeserved gratuity of God’s grace. We must realize the depth of our spiritual poverty before Baptism; because how else can we give Our Father in Heaven due praise for what He has wrought in us through this Sacrament?

Thus passing through the baptismal waters the soul, as St. Paul tells us, is buried with Christ in Baptism, that “as Christ is risen from the dead” so it also may walk in newness of life.

~Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962

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Seton Magazine :: The Secret to Asking for Help from Our Guardian Angels

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While it sounds wonderful in theory, we might be wondering how can we apply this reality of the angels—particularly our Guardian Angels, whose feast we celebrated on October 2—to our humdrum homeschooling efforts.

Sure, they’re easy to talk about with lofty religious delight. But let’s be honest: when the hours are growing chaotic with tantrums and math sheets and looming essay deadlines, we find it quite easy to forget our guardian angels are even here.

After all, we are presented with so many (sometimes domestically horrifying) physical realities (cue the juice-cup-catastrophe)—aren’t we justified in wondering how we’re supposed to remember invisible ones?

Well, it’s true, our guardian angels are rather hard to remember (being completely unseen and all). And yet, inviting them into our homeschool does begin by simply being aware of them.

It might seem like an impossible task at first. But if we take the time slow down and ponder what truly amazing, rather flabbergasting gifts the guardian angels are to us, the process of remembering them becomes slightly less difficult over time—and our homeschool will reap tremendous blessings because of this recognition.

Read the rest at Seton Magazine 🙂

Home: Where My Part Is

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I was sitting on the back porch, wind ruffling through my frizzy hair; I had my fat pink notebook propped open on my lap while I breathed in deep breaths of naturey-smelling-air and wrote my daily letter to the Blessed Virgin.

This was a fairly new practice for me, and it was one that I’d embarked on shortly before my act of Total Consecration. It had just seemed right to me. There was so much on my heart surrounding the culmination of this 33-day devotion . . . like, life-changing things. In what had seemed a very short space of time, God had stripped away away years’ worth of my dreams through consecutive revelations that His will for me lay along a different path, and that what I had been desiring for so long had not been for my good, nor for the good of others. Painful? Yes. But it also brought undeniable peace.

And, at the same time, it left me with the inescapable feeling of being scraped clean, of starting over, of looking ahead, of inhaling a different kind of air and seeing the world under a different finger of sunlight . . .

. . . so what better time to become a slave to the Virgin Mary? What better time to chain my wrist to her and totally surrender to her, asking her to guide my life as God willed it, while I kept nothing for my own?

What better time to write her letters about what was going on in my soul?

Thus I had embarked. I was a little astonished how fluidly the words poured out of my heart and into hasty cursive. (I mean, I write a lot, but still, this was a little unprecedented!) I had so much to say; it seemed there were new realizations for me with my every pulse. I quickly found the Blessed Mother to be an intensely compassionate listener in whose presence I could be entirely unafraid and transparent; after all, her presence is the presence of the most perfect and loving Mother whose face is tenderness and whose hands are consolation. She loved me like a daughter although I was about to make myself her slave.

So yes, I was sitting on the back porch, writing her yet another letter (apologies for sidetracking there). I was pondering (again) this scraped-clean feeling of mine; this chance to begin anew, to step out afresh, to really pursue God’s will for me with all I’d learned over the past few years engraved in my heart.

And it began as a niggle. I started wondering about all sorts of things. What about a job? I’m just going on stipends now. Maybe I should really reconsider where I am in terms of work. Should I move towards getting my own car? Building some sort of platform? Should I be out, doing more things?

To clarify, my lifelong dream, my deepest desire, my insatiable soul-deep craving had always been to be a Catholic wife and mother. Period. I was practically born loving domesticity in one way or another. I started planning my wedding at the age of ten, and of course the children’s names came directly afterwards. I’d already done my first load of laundry at age nine.

And now, at this point of my life (post-school and all) I did a good bit of freelance writing, pursued a few musical avenues, but, apart from that . . . I did laundry and dishes, cooking and cleaning, generally being a miniature homemaker though I’d yet to leave my parents’ house. I’d thrived in it, because I loved it and because I was such an ardent believer in the graces of the domestic church. But now . . .

Maybe I should be doing something else.

So I started incorporating these ideas into my letter to the Blessed Virgin . . . or, rather, I tried to. I did, after all, want to be totally open to God’s will for me in this new chapter of life.

But no matter how much I wrote, the words that emerged from the tip of my blue pen weren’t the words in my  head. It was almost as if someone were attempting to send me a message through myself. (Hmm, no clue as to who that would be . . .)

Pretty much in spite of myself, I wrote the following (apologies for the wordiness, but that’s just what happens when there’s no screen in front of me):

I don’t want to be busy to where I lose interior quiet and fail to hear God’s voice, yet at the same time, I want to work with energy and purpose at doing things that are good for me and those around me. I know that my immediate household tasks, along with the needs of my family, are the most important because they are potentially the most easily ignored and postponed in the face of “greater things” – so I know that my small, faithful contributions to the peace and well-being of our own little domestic church is equally, if not far more, pleasing to God than anything else I might ever do. It’s in these humble tasks that I can most closely unite myself to you, Mother, and imitate your humble, patient and generous example among the family God has given me.

Here lies the rhythm where my prayer life can continue to grow. Here is where I can best scorn the spirit of the world, as I promised to do in my total consecration – here is where I can be the smallest. The world would insist I now seize this time to go out and begin accomplishing things for myself . . . but as my Father has not yet seen fit to remove me from my home and family, here I will remain, in heart and mind as well as in body. Help me to truly and with authentic love put my family first, Mother, always before myself . . .

It’s been very tempting for me to want to go out now and start something new, start doing things that truly feel inspiring and important and very good, especially since my friends and those I know are out working, etc. . . . but I know in my heart the little domestic things will please God best and will prepare me most for being a faithful, content and generous wife and mother if God calls me to marriage; so until you show me otherwise, Mother, here is where I’ll stay.

There it was. And I was convinced by it, even before I’d even finished writing this argument-that-wasn’t-exactly-mine. Home is where my part is. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world; if it seems imprudent or immature or whatever other adjective comes to the modern mind. Home is where the special graces are. Home is where I will be challenged to love those who are closest to me (and are therefore most annoying 😉 ) and asked to do the most mundane of tasks for the love of God. What place could make me into a better person than my own home? What other place on earth could prepare me better for my vocation?

I have always sensed my vocation lay in the domestic church. Its reality and mystery is my passion and my joy. Wifehood and motherhood are my deepest desires. So the question remains: if this is my vocation, why leave the training ground before God sends me away Himself?

Ah, well. I’ve got to stop writing this now . . . I can hear from the sound of things that I have dishes and laundry waiting on me 🙂