Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beware the aspergillum

We had a baptism Sunday, a lovely thing made moreso by the disparity in age between the baptizer, our senior vicar who had just turned 86, and the baptized, little Elizabeth, age 6 months.

Baptism is another of those rites of the church that Christians have squabbled endlessly about over the centuries, many Johnny-come-lately protestants arguing for what's called believer's baptism, often by total immersion. That's why my Church of the Brethren ancestors, whose theological outlook blended anabaptist threads with pietism, were sometimes called Dunkers.

Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and many others, however, hold to the take-no-chances stance of the traditional church and baptize as soon as possible after birth. And the water may be sprinkled, poured or applied by touch, generally in small amounts but always in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The rite is very old and the font at St. Andrew's has a few years on it too, dating as it does from the first of three buildings where the parish has been housed. It also weighs a ton and is not something moved casually from place to place since two or more people are needed to shift it.

Even cranky old heritics can find this affecting. "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever," gets me every time. It's so --- hopeful.

As the rite ends, all assembled are called upon to renew their own baptismal convenants concluding with vows intended to govern relations with the world beyond church doors:

"Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God's help."

"Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God's help."

"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God's help."

This is where the aspergillum --- a device for dispersing holy water often in the form of a small whisk broom --- comes into play. Dipped into blest water, the officiant uses it to deliver generous cold spashes squarely into the faces of the assembled within range, making sure all are sprinkled. Cautious congregants already have removed their glasses.

 The spoken admonition that accompanies the water generally is "remember your baptism!" or something similar.

That element of the rite didn't happen Sunday for various good reasons, including the fact Fr. Lintner doesn't move around as well as he did say 10 years ago and must in fact sit down much of the time, but all were welcome to approach the font and apply the water themselves. I kind of missed the drama.

Then I got to wondering what would happen if all professing Christians arose in the morning, splashed their faces with cold water and renewed their baptismal vows. Maybe that would help. Aspergillum not required.

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