Infant Catechumenate….a Possibility for the New Evangelization?

Dr. Edward Peters makes this insightful comment regarding recent media attention on Pope Francis’ celebration of the sacrament of baptism:

“Lost in this whole discussion has been, I fear, any recognition of the fact that, while baptism is of great value, it is also to take on very serious, life-long duties. Imposing via baptism those burdens on a child who is at heightened risk of not receiving adequate assistance in the Faith, and on some parents who in public respects seem ill-equipped to live the very Faith they want passed on to their children, is itself pastorally problematic, no?”

Indeed. Pastorally problematic.

But it doesn’t have to be. In The Shape of Baptism, Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B. writes:

“In the context of tradition’s witness concerning the unity of the initiatory sequence….compels one to the following conclusion. Whenever it is deemed advisable to initiate a Christian, regardless of age, that Christian should be initiated fully and completely by water baptism, the ‘sealing’ of confirmation, and first eucharistic communion.

This should hold for everyone, although it may be found pastorally more advantageous to begin the sequence of baptism in its fullness so far as infants and very young children are concerned with solemn enrollment in the catechumenate followed by the sacraments of initiation in full sequence later at some appropriate time.

To do this is not to ‘delay baptism.’ It is to begin baptism in its fullness as soon after birth as practicable, and to celebrate its stages over a period of years according to the child’s growth in faith, rather than to telescope the sacraments of initiation into a few minutes or dismember the sacramental sequence altogether” (p. 175).

Basically, he’s suggesting an infant catechumenate. Any infant could be enrolled, no canonical worries. It offers a solemn ritual, important for the parents and community’s understanding. But, it allows the all important sacraments of initiation to be delayed until the child/family is able to participate in faith. Taking this option would surely reduce the number of baptisms out of culture that are devoid of the critical aspect of faith (within the baptized or the family).

It also creates an option from within our Church’s tradition for families who would prefer that children be initiated fully, in the historical sequence. Can we handle liturgical diversity, rather than a one-size-fits all approach? I think the tradition of our Church upholds both the theology inherent in infant baptism and the theology inherent in a unified initiation process of a “professing” believer. Another great both/and of Catholicism 😉

What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s possible for a parish to have so many options? 

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