QUESTION: Are there guidelines for how sacraments are to be celebrated? Recently I attended the christening of a relative and it was like a three-ring circus! There were eight babies to be baptized and the priest had no idea of how to organize it. Families were scattered all over the church and there was no microphone, so no one could hear anything. As each child was called up, the priest invited whole families to join them so those who did not go up could not see a thing. Something’s wrong. Chaos is not what we should see at the celebration of a sacrament.
ANSWER: There are directives for the celebration of each of the sacraments. These directives involve the essential elements of each sacrament, but also apply general directives and guidelines that relate to all liturgy and sacraments. The principles are contained in the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Sacred Liturgy as well as in the many documents promulgated since then.
One of the foremost principles of liturgy is that of participation. The liturgy is not something done for people as silent bystanders, but something done by the people with clergy and laity exercising their proper ministries. Participation implies that liturgy should be able to be at least seen and heard by everyone.
In fairness to the priest described in the question above, the celebration of sacraments is life, and in life things happen and lots can go wrong. But experience can be our best teacher, and we need to learn from it.
Eight children to be baptized at the same time is not a simple sacramental celebration for anyone. It is challenging to hold the attention of the assembly before and after the baptism of each individual child. Pictures are taken and conversations begin as the other children are called forth. It can become a “crowd scene” worthy of a movie. That is why some parishes schedule baptisms every Sunday so that large numbers of children can be avoided.
But most importantly the question above raises the point of ministries and roles at the celebrations of sacraments. Unfortunately, some may ask, “What would anyone but the priest do at the ceremony?” The answer is “a lot.”
Deacons have a direct and historical role in the celebration of baptisms. Their assistance with baptisms in a parish can be of major help.
In addition, ministries of hospitality can clearly help in organizing seating and getting paperwork questions answered before the ceremony begins. Think how helpful it can be to have greeters (or others responsible for hospitality) meet people at the door and escort them to places specifically reserved for them.
There are so many ways in which careful planning and attention to the norms and guidelines of the church can assist in the celebration of sacraments. In celebrating sacraments, we should be concerned with all the elements, not just validity. Sacraments should be how we teach, inspire and enrich the spiritual lives of all who participate.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.