‘In the life of Christ the baptism in the Jordan is an event of highest importance because it represents a significant phase in the work of redemption. In the course of the ecclesiastical year not only this episode but all the phases of Christ’s redemptive work are commemorated in the liturgy. In recent weeks we have celebrated quite a number of important events pertaining to our redemption, viz., the annunciation (Missa aurea of Advent), the nativity, the circumcision, Christ’s coming-of-age. The baptism at the Jordan marks the beginning of our Lord’s public life. Indeed, it seems as if His baptism effected His anointing as the Messiah by the Holy Spirit. Whatever its ultimate significance, the Greek Fathers in particular regarded the event as tremendously importance.
In the symbolism of His baptism, Christ displayed beforehand His redemptive death and resurrection. Himself immaculate, He assumes the sins of the world, descends into the purifying waters, and raises mankind to divine sonship. Note that Christ’s baptism was vicarious in nature. There He stands in the Jordan in our stead. Consequently, the act must find its true expression in our subjective or personal redemption. Three such occasions would be baptism, holy Mass, and death.
At my baptism I was immersed with Christ, and with Him I died and was buried. Then I emerged, and for the first time heaven opened to me as the Holy Spirit made His entrance into my soul; and my Father in heaven glanced down upon me, now “His son, His child.”
In each holy Mass Christ’s baptism is again operative. Through the holy Sacrifice I am immersed in His sacrificial death; heaven then opens and the Holy Spirit descends in holy Communion, while through the pledge of the sacrificial Banquet the Father assures me of renewed and enriched sonship in Himself.
The baptism of Christ takes place within me a third time at death, for death is indeed a sort of baptism. Death is like immersion into the dark depths, and when I emerge, it is into heaven above. Then I will see the Blessed Trinity, no longer through the darkened sun-glass of faith, but in immediate vision, face to face.
To sum up, today’s liturgy helps me to understand more clearly the basic structure of spiritual life. Christ’s death is the foundation. Upon this foundation the edifice rises through baptism and the Eucharist; while the Lord’s return at death spells completion to the work’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1959, by Pius Parsch 1884-1954
Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ did take our nature upon him, and was baptised for our sakes in the river Jordan: mercifully grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may also be partakers of thy Holy Spirit; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Baptism of the Lord, Divine Worship: The Missal.
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
from Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot OM, 1888-1965
A busy week or so since Sexagesima, hence the lack of posts. My wife gave birth to our sixth child, a son, earlier this month, and yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Chair of Saint Peter, our Feast of Title in this Ordinariate (which displaced the pre-Lenten Quinquagesima Sunday), I had the great honour of baptising him within our Sunday Mass. The music was glorious, but it was a special delight to hear Palestrina's Sicut cervus sung as we processed back to the high altar to resume the Mass. A joyfully patrimonial feast followed in the hall.
O Almimghty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle Saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandedst him earnestly to feed thy flock: make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors diligently to preach thy holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same; that they may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘God loves infinitely an infinite goodness; the Son loves it in the Father whence it comes, the Father loves it in the Son in whom he places it, and upon whom he pours it out: “This is my Son, my only beloved, in whom I am well-pleased”.
The Father’s unqualified delight, his outpouring of his Holy Spirit, comes down with Christ from heaven to earth.
When St John came to write the story of Christ’s baptism, he connected it with Jacob’s dream of the ladder from heaven to earth, on which the angels of God ascended and descended (John 1:32, 51; Genesis 28:12). And certainly the baptism has so many levels of meaning in it, that without ever going outside it we can run up as though by steps from earth to heaven and down again. At the height of it is the bliss of the Trinity above all worlds, in the midst is the sonship of Jesus to his heavenly Father; at the foot of it (and here it touches us) is the baptism of any Christian.
We cannot be baptised without being baptised into his baptism: and the unity we have with him both in receiving baptism and afterwards in standing by it, brings down on us the very blessing and the very Spirit he received. In so far as we are in Christ, we are filled with the Holy Ghost, and the Father’s good pleasure rests upon us; infinite Love delights in us’.
Austin Farrer FBA, 1904-1968
Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ did take our nature upon him, and was baptised for our sakes in the river Jordan: mercifully grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may also be partakers of thy Holy Spirit; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal
An interesting baptismal hymn today, which I share in this month of the Sacred Heart on account of the author’s unconventional reference, insofar as mainstream Anglican hymnody is concerned, to the Lord's Heart in the second verse.
C.E. Riley, who was born in Liverpool, England, was an Anglican clergyman who went on to become the second Dean of Toronto and Rector of St James’ Cathedral from 1937 to 1961. Overall, the hymn, written in 1938, reflects a mixture of sound theology and straightforward prose, with a gentle Catholic emphasis, generally reflective of Canadian Anglicanism of the era, as can be seen throughout the compilation of hymns that make up the very fine hymnal known as The Book of Common Praise.
To the tune Shipston
Jesu, Son of blessèd Mary,
Once on earth a little child,
Pattern fair of holy living,
Gracious, loving, undefiled.
Though thy sacred heart was yearning
Heavy-laden souls to free,
Yet thou calledst little children
In their happiness to thee.
Thy dear kingdom still they enter
Through this Sacrament of grace;
In thy loving arms enfold them;
Hands of blessing on them place.
From the power of sin delivered
May they learn to live for GOD;
Guided by thy HOLY SPIRIT,
Nourished with the living WORD.
Grant that we, like little children,
Free from pride and guile may be;
Cheerful, trusting, safe, protected
By the Blessèd TRINITY.
Charles Edward Riley, 1883-1971
No. 254 in the Book of Common Praise:
being the Hymn Book of the Church of England in Canada (Revised 1938)
‘Today is the solemn eve of the great feast of Pentecost. A vigil always implies preparation, a time for cleansing and adorning the soul before the feast. Two themes occupy our attention: a) baptism; b) the graces of Pentecost.
In spirit we stand at the font of our baptism to stir up the graces that we once received. There were read the pointed words that St Augustine addressed to a class of neophytes. “Today with the greatest joy Mother Church will give birth to you through holy baptism. By the most sacred sign of the Cross she conceived you in her womb, there she nourishes you and joyfully brings you, her joyful, to the day of birth. In the holy bath of baptism true light is restored to you.
“Mother Church is not affected by the punishment inflicted upon Eve who must give birth to her children in pain and sorrow, nor do her children come into the world weeping as those of Eve; you are born with a cry of joy... All the mystery-laden rites that have been performed over you (during your catechumenate) and are still being performed by the ministry of ordained priests, such as the exorcisms, prayers, spiritual songs (psalms), insufflations, penitential garb, bowing the head, prostrations, even the very fear that you experience - all these things are food which should enliven you in the womb so that when reborn in baptism, Mother Church may present you as joyful children to Christ.
“You have already received the Creed; this Creed is your mother’s protection against the serpent’s venom. In John the apostle’s Apocalypse it is written that the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bring forth, that when she had brought forth he might be devour her son (12:5). You all know that the dragon is the devil; also, that the woman represents the Virgin Mary, who a virgin herself, gave birth to our Virgin Head. She, moreover, is a type of holy Church; for as Mary remained a virgin in giving birth to a Son, so the Church remains virginal although constantly giving birth to new members.
“You have vowed to renounce the devil, and in this vow that has been recorded not by men but by God and His angels, you have declared: I do renounce him. Renounce him not merely with words, but in your conduct too; not only with the sound of the voice, but in the acts of daily life; not by the speech of lips alone, but with the loud cry of action. Remember that you have joined battle with a wily, skilled, and inveterate enemy; once you have renounced him, never let him discover his own handiwork in you lest he claim the right to drag you away into servitude. For you shall be detected and brought to light, O Christian, whenever your deeds contradict your vow”.
This passage, so redolent with the spirit of ancient Christianity, affords a profound commentary on the rite of baptism and could well serve as the subject for a meditation. The Doctor of Hippo draws a parallel between baptism and birth, and with good reason, for it is baptism that imparts the divine life. At this time the ceremonies of baptism were not conferred as they are now, but in the course of several weeks or months. For that reason St Augustine likens the process to the origin and development of a human embryo. The individual was enrolled in the catechumenate with the sign of the Cross, an act that is compared to the conception of new life. After conception, life must grow in the womb and be nourished by its mother’s blood; this phase is represented by the rites and ceremonies which Mother Church performed over the neophyte during Lent. The solemn traditio of the Creed to those qualified for baptism constituted the antitoxin which counteracted the serpent's poison. A ringing exhortation to transform our baptismal vows into action brings the address to a close’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
Fr Lee Kenyon