Sacraments of Initiation
Part 5  Selected Pastoral Issues

Chapter i52 The Place for Initiation

For an explanation of the divisions of the History Grid, see Chapter d21 Overview of the History of Liturgy

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

1. Apostolic [0-399]

2. Patristic [400-799] 

3. Early Medieval [800-1199]

4. Medieval [1200-1299]

5. Late Medieval [1300-1499]

6. Reformation [1500-1699]

7. After Trent [1700-1899]

8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]

9. Vatican II [1960-1975]

10. After Vatican II [1975-2050]

Unity of Sacramental Theology

Theological Issues

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

Describe the most beautiful baptistery you have seen. Where was it located? What did you like about it?

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Bibliography

FDLC. Places for Baptism, Washington, DC: Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. Slides.

S. Anita Stauffer. Re-Examining Baptismal Fonts: Baptismal Space for the Contemporary Church, VHS video cassette, 36 min., Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1992. $59.50

BCL. Environment and Art, #78-77

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Your Parish Church: How Should It Look Today?" Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, November 1980.

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1. Apostolic [0-399] 

In the river...

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2. Patristic [400-799]

Cistern...

"The story of the architectural setting of baptism within the early Christian period does not begin until the opening decades of the third century. Baptisteries may have existed before then, but of these no literary evidence survives and no archaeological traces have so far been discovered. In the apostolic age baptism was administered in rivers and lakes, and even in the sea, while the gatherings for worship were held in private houses. When at length special architectural provision was made for the latter, we may assume that it would embrace the former, so that as accommodation was created for the liturgical assembly of the Church, it was also set aside for the sacrament of initiation into the Church. Nearly four hundred of these baptisteries, from the third to the seventh centuries, are now known, and here in stone, mosaic and fresco is a rich testimony to the importance of the sacrament and to the way in which it was administered and understood, not only in great cities like Rome, Jerusalem or Antioch, but even in remote country districts in Greece, Syria or North Africa." (J. G. Davies. The Architectural Setting of Baptism, p 2.)

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3. Early Medieval [800-1199]

Tub...

"All the evidence indicates that once the detached baptistery had been abandoned as the architectural setting for baptism, the font was introduced into the church and sited close to its main doorway. The reasons for this position at the west end near the principal entrance were twofold. First, there was the symbolic reason; baptism, as John Carpenter, Bishop of Worcester, echoing many medieval divines, asserted in his Articles of 1480, is ‘the door of all sacraments'. Just as no man can enter the Church without initiation, so no one could enter the church without a visible reminder of the sacrament of initiation. Second, liturgical conservatism operated to produce the same result. Although the catechumenate had long ceased to exist, the tradition that the uninitiated should occupy a position at the back of the church was perpetuated in the positioning of the font. Moreover, many of the elements of the rites of the catechumens, such as the insufflation, the placing of salt on the tongue, the exorcism and the effeta, were preserved as the first part of the baptismal office under the title of "Ordo ad Faciendum Catechumenum" and this was directed to take place at the church door, close to where it was fitting that the font should stand for the performance in due course of the other parts of the service."  (L. G. Davies. The Architectural Setting of Baptism, p 61.)

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4. Medieval [1200-1299]

Raised tub for infants...

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5. Late Medieval [1300-1499]

Covered font -- Gothic lids...

Cover: to prevent taking the water for witches and black magic

Placement of baptistery building
    a. baptistery in front -- demolished when church was lengthened
    b. Baptistery to side -- often saved

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6. Reformation [1500-1699]

The Roman Church was largely unaffected by the Reformation Movement in regard to baptism and continued to operate out of a Medieval model. There would, however, be a gradual movement toward effusion over a divided font with locked cover. In some of the Reform Churches there would be a movement toward public baptism while in some Churches baptism would move out of the church building and into the home. Thus, throughout this period the location, design, use and in some cases, the very presence of the font varies greatly. The 19th century would witness the Gothic Revival and result in a return to the medieval architectural setting for baptism in many churches of England."  (L. G. Davies. The Architectural Setting of Baptism, p 106.)

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7.  After Trent [1700-1899]

In many ways this was the "low point" of liturgical history.  Fonts at this time become functional, small, portable, moved into a corner in the back of church to be used on Sunday afternoon with the priest, infant and godparents.

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8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]

"In the years following WW II, there was a great deal of rebuilding to be done of church buildings in Europe. The liturgical movement of this century begins to be expressed in the design of many of these buildings. The location as well as the design of the font during this period, together with the restoration of the Triduum/Easter Vigil by Pius XII served to set the stage for the most recent development in the Rites of Christian Initiation." (FDLC)

1950 Restoration of the Easter Vigil

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9. Vatican II [1960-1975]

RCIA introduces baptism / confirmation / eucharist at the Easter Vigil

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10. After Vatican II [1975-2050]

"Architecture responds to and expresses the new thinking about baptism as tomb/womb and about the importance of the symbolic nature of the liturgy.  Tomb-wombs with flowing water at entrance of the church replace holy water fonts and baptismal fonts."

Often the "font" was moved out of the baptistery and placed at the door of the church or in the sanctuary; and the baptistery became the reconciliation chapel (That is why so many reconciliation chapels have a stained glass window of the baptism of Jesus by John!)

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Unity of Sacramental Theology

Metaphor:  The stone dropped into a quiet pond and the ripples go out.....

Baptism:  Door to the Church

As baptism is the "door" or entrance into the sacramental life of the church, it is fitting that it be physically placed at the door of the church building.

But:  What if this means that the congregation cannot "see" the baptism at the moment of immersion...
The congregation can be invited to get up and move to the door...????  ("Priestly People, Kingly People, God's Frozen People....")

Multiple doors:  but what if the church building has multiple entrances (as many modern church buildings do)...   Does this result in "Multiple fonts...."??? The font becomes a sign of the baptismal pool which is a sign of entrance into the Church...  signs of signs of signs of signs -- becomes weaker at each point.

General Principle:  "Multiply money and you get more money; multiply symbols and you get less symbol."
General Principle:  "Less is more."
General Principle:  "If nothing can go wrong, perhaps nothing can go right!"

Confirmation: 

Because of the union of baptism/confirmation/eucharist, adolescent confirmation should begin at the font....

Eucharist:

As Aidan Kavanagh, OSB, once wrote, “in baptism the Eucharist begins, and in the Eucharist baptism is sustained” (Martinez, 171). 

Reconciliation:

If a church building has a separate chapel for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it should be designed in relation to the baptismal pool to show the intimate relation between baptism and reconciliation (Penance is the "second plank after shipwreck")  One would presume that this "Reconciliation Chapel" would be used only in those rare occasions when Rite I (individual confession) is celebrated.   Ordinarily sacraments are celebrated with the community in the worship space proper.  Catholic churches, for this reason, do not ordinarily have "Confirmation Chapels" or "Ordination Chapels"  or "Wedding Chapels".  Sacraments "are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the sacrament of unity."

The church building may have rooms/spaces in addition to the liturgical assembly space;  there may be a space for business meetings, or shared (non-eucharistic) meals and other celebrations (e.g. funeral meals), a space for catechesis, a space for counseling and/or spiritual direction, and even space for devotional practices (e.g. an Eucharistic Chapel).  For most people, "confession" traditionally takes place in a devotional space.    See Chapter r62 The Place for the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: 

26. Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the "sacrament of unity," namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops [33]

Therefore liturgical services pertain to the whole body of the Church; they manifest it and have effects upon it; but they concern the individual members of the Church in different ways, according to their differing rank, office, and actual participation.

27. It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasi-private.

This applies with especial force to the celebration of Mass and the administration of the sacraments, even though every Mass has of itself a public and social nature.

Anointing:

In the sacrament of Anointing the Sick we are joined with the suffering Christ -- the "dying" of our Baptism involves real dying...

Order:

Baptism is the primary sacrament of ministry...

Marriage:

Marriage is a sacrament of initiation.
It is the way Baptism is lived out.

Funeral:

The placement of the pool of baptism is also important for Christian funerals-- the first thing the (deceased) person encounters when entering the church this one final time is the baptismal pool and water from that pool is once again placed on the body. "Anyone who dies with Christ in Baptism, has no fear of the second death." That is the very essence of our theology of death.

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Theological Issues

Multiple Values

The placement of the font/pool is determined by liturgical issues, theological issues, practical issues, ascetic and artistic values, pastoral issues, etc.  Ideally these can all be satisfied at one and the same time; sometimes this is not the case. 

Once and not repeated....

Should minister go into the water?

Noun / Verb 

The Churches and pools when not in use should look EMPTY.  The USCCB statement on Art and Environment in Catholic Worship reminds us that a Church needs a worshiping community to complete it.  e.g. Looking at Kings Island (Coney Island, Holiday World) when it is closed for the winter and no people are there. You have to imagine what it would look like with the lights flashing the bands playing the screech of the roller coaster and the delighted cries of the little children.  Similarly, a Church building is a "House for the Church, the Assembly" and when there's no one at home, it will naturally look empty.  e.g.  A picture frame complements the picture. One shouldn't be drawn to the frame but to the picture. "Oh, what a beautiful (empty) church" = "Oh, what a beautiful picture frame!"

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To Think About

Why is Easter the Baptismal day?

Compare and contrast the symbolism of baptism by immersion and by infusion or aspersion in the light of the biblical statements on baptism, conversion and initiation. Down into the river, Down into the tomb, etc.

Show how the history of the changing shape of the places for baptism indicate the changing theology of baptism.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter. All Rights Reserved. This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.   Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own. Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 03/20/15. Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org