Baptism at Easter (and pre-eminently at the Easter Vigil), and Lent as a season for baptismal formation and preparation, has been gradually re-discovered and re-appropriated by the churches since the mid-twentieth century. But what of the other primary baptismal days and the weeks that precede them?
Baptism at Easter (and pre-eminently at the Easter Vigil)…has been gradually re-discovered and re-appropriated by the churches since the mid-twentieth century.
As All Saints’ Day stands now, it is wedged in among the last few Sundays of Ordinary Time and I suspect, because of this, its theological and liturgical richness and its fitness as a baptismal day is often overlooked. If, instead, it becomes the culmination of the liturgical year, might its “new” position (or its new prominence) give it greater importance as one of the chief baptismal days of the year, and provide a paradigm for the entire year?
As the culmination of the year, a principal feast, and a principal baptismal day, All Saints’ Day/Sunday could revolutionize the church school time leading up to it. It is ideally placed to do this. While Labor Day is not, of course, the liturgical or theological beginning of the church year, it is so in practice.10 Many churches resume their full schedules of Sunday School and other educational programs around Labor Day. That means there are seven or eight weeks leading up to All Saints’ Day/Sunday. This is a ideal block of time for instruction and formation: for baptism, confirmation, renewal of baptismal vows, commissioning for specific ministries in and by the parish, and ongoing mystagogy.
That this pre-All Saints time is, practically-speaking, a “season” in its own right, with opportunities and challenges not yet fully embraced by the churches, is the approach taken in The Promise of His Glory: Services and Prayers for the Season from All Saints to Candlemas, a Church of England text published in 1990.11 The volume provides resources for that “season.” “The Service of Light,” the liturgical centerpiece of their proposal, is a flexible service that may be used in a variety of situations and in combination with other services, including baptism and confirmation, on All Saints’ Day/Sunday, Epiphany, and the Baptism of Our Lord.12
The Great Fifty Days of Easter may be used both as a time for mystagogy and as preparation for baptisms at Pentecost.
The other principal baptismal days would also have their logical blocks of preparatory time, if our proposal is followed. The seven Sundays in Advent combined with the two after Christmas make a nine-week block of preparation time for baptisms (and other initiatory rites) on the Baptism of Our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany). Advent is already, in the Episcopal Church at least, intended to be a time of baptismal preparation, even if it is rarely used that way.13 The six-week block of time available for baptismal preparation, as our calendar stands now, is very likely not quite sufficient in many circumstances. Our proposal to expand Advent would likely make this time of preparation more fruitful and perhaps, therefore, make baptisms and other initiatory rites on the Baptism of Our Lord more workable. The Great Fifty Days of Easter may be used both as a time for mystagogy and as preparation for baptisms at Pentecost.
Join Dr. Laura Moore next Tuesday for the conclusion of Setting the Tone: Expanded Advent?
10Even an eminent liturgiologist like H. Boone Porter has an essay called “Back-to-School Month” in the section on the weeks after Pentecost in his book, Keeping the Church Year. H. Boone Porter, Keeping the Church Year (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), 117-118.
11The Promise of His Glory: Services and Prayers for the Season from All Saints to Candlemas (London: Church House Publishing; London: Mowbray, 1990), 1. Note that their proposal has similarities to ours. In the outline of the part of the year this book addresses, “All Saints’ Tide”/“Sundays of the Kingdom” is the first, pre-Advent, block of time.
12Promise of His Glory, 10.
13The Book of Occasional Services (BOS) provides a form for the enrollment of candidates for baptism, and the rubrics note that candidates are enrolled at the beginning of Advent for baptism on the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. The Book of Occasional Services (New York: Church Publishing, 2003), 116.