‘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