by Fletcher Lowe
“Our brother was washed in Baptism and anointed with the Holy Spirit; give him fellowship with all your saints….”
Recently a very close friend of mine died after a difficult illness, spread over a number of years. Throughout it all he maintained his optimism about life — and his own life. His smile could always light up a room. At Charlie’s Episcopal Prayer Book memorial service, I was struck as to how Baptism was integrated into it. The quote above comes from the Prayers of the People, with the concluding prayer including these words: “…. who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism….” The service uses the Baptismal (Apostles) Creed (rather than the Nicene) and that creed is introduced with these words: “In the assurance of eternal life given at Baptism, let us proclaim our faith and say…” Yet another way Charlie’s Baptism was celebrated. Nowhere, except in the homily, was it noted that he was a priest.
When our 1979 Prayer Book revision took place, there was a concerted effort to reclaim the centrality of Baptism in our liturgical life. That the Baptismal liturgy is the first of the sacraments in the BCP (rather than buried toward the back as in earlier prayer books) set a tone. Central to the baptismal liturgy is the “new” (as of 1979) Baptismal Covenant that has become a regular part of our Episcopal language these days. But, aside from the Burial liturgy, not much Baptismal language is used elsewhere in the book.
Most significant for me is the absence of baptismal language in the Ordination services. Ordination is a minor sacrament, yet nowhere in those liturgies — for Deacon, Priest or Bishop or in the Ordination Litany — is the word Baptism even mentioned. Yet Baptism is the major sacrament that undergirds each of them. Nowhere in the Marriage ceremony, another minor sacrament, is Baptism mentioned. And I could recount the other liturgies as well. The absence of even the mention of Baptism, in sacraments meant for the Christian, is striking.
For me, how Baptism is integrated into the Burial Office serves as a model for all those other Prayer Book liturgies. So my hope — and prayer — is that any future Prayer Book revision will take good note of that model. After all, Baptism is not only our major sacrament; it is our commissioning to baptismal living in our daily lives of home and job and community.