A young woman in the RCIA asked about the Rite of Baptism. She wanted to know what was going to happen when she was baptized. I started to talk about having the stain of original sin removed and was beginning to move into the story of creation and Adam and Eve when she interrupted me.
“No,” she said, “that’s not what I want to know. I want to know how I will be baptized.” Now I started on the use of water and the Trinitarian formula when again she stopped me. “Deacon,” she said with some exasperation. “I want to know if you dunk us under the water! Will my hair will get wet!”
Many years ago before I was ordained, I attended a workshop on the Triduum given by a priest who’s name I’ve misplaced, but who talked about the Triduum, especially the Easter Vigil Mass which continues to stay with me. His description of this celebration on this mystical night fired my imagination; making want to share in the experience of the Vigil in the same way. There was darkness, chanting, fire and candles, processions, proclamations, light, more singing, readings (all seven of them), Glory and praise, ringing bell, prayers and more prayers - all lasting until the early hours of the morning when the celebration greeted the rising sun and the empty tomb. Envisioning this celebration of our Lord’s victory over death made the heart swell and the eye tear.
He described the baptism as beginning in a very solemn way. The Candidates lined up in white robes (with bathing suits on underneath) ready to step into the fountain in the vestibule of the church with the whole community watching. As they entered the chest deep pool the priest held them, saying in a loud voice, “I baptize you in the name of the Father (dunk), the Son (dunk), and the Holy Spirit (dunk)!” Each newly baptized Christian emerged from the pool dripping from head-to-toe and smiling from ear-to-ear.
Now the moment arrives when the newly baptized are anointed on the crown of their head with the Oil of Salvation, as Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King. On a tray are small carafes of Chrism Oil – one for each. The fragrant oil drips and runs down their hair onto their faces and shoulders as the priest pours the saving oil over them: investing each as a member of the Body of Christ; sharing in everlasting life.
As I remembered this workshop and the impression it made on me, not just on the way the Vigil was celebrated, but on the awesomeness of the Vigil itself and its significance for all people, I smiled. I am reminded of Peter, when the Lord wanted to wash his feet at the Last Supper. As Jesus explains to him why it was necessary, he cried, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head."
Would only that each person approach baptism with this same full, heart-felt presence of what God is doing in our lives – freeing us from darkness and death in sin – up into light and new life; raising us up to be with Him and the joy and peace of heaven forever and ever.