At every funeral Mass, we pause and welcome the remains of the deceased at the Baptismal Font as we enter the church. Standing there with the family around and the friends and neighbours gathering in we recall the beginning of the Christian journey at another font as many years ago as this person has lived.
For some that will have been a simple celebration, in the days after birth, without the mother, in a church close to the maternity hospital. In Dublin, many people were baptised at the ProCathedral or Westland Row, close to the Rotunda and Holles Street. For those born from the mid-sixties on, the baptism more likely happened in the local parish church, often within a month of their birth. For this reason, the old christening robes, often handmade, covered with lace and handed down from generation to generation, are tiny!
From the 1990’s on baptisms increasingly came a few months after the birth and were joined by a family celebration, welcoming the little baby into the circle of life. Baptisms from this time were ideally celebrated in small groups to emphasise the public nature of our belonging to the church and the support we Christians get from each other.
Now in the pandemic, one of the first actions taken was the draining of the Baptismal Fonts, Holy Water Fonts and distribution of blessed water. For over a year we had few if any parish baptisms at all, and then with great relief and joy we were able to start again in the autumn.
The babies presented were often over 2 years old, some almost three, and a few even had a newborn little brother or sister. Many of the parents commented on this when they were preparing for the celebration, “he is far too big for any christening robe,” “She looks like she’s making her communion!”.
When we hear in the Gospel today how powerful the baptism of Our Lord was in the river Jordan, the heavens opening, the descent of the dove, the voice of the Father, we are reminded of the real importance of this moment in the life of every Christian. On that day, the disciples really didn’t know much about what lay ahead for Jesus, or themselves as his followers and to be honest, at any baptism we can only hope that this infant will grow up in a family of faith and make a wonderful contribution to life in the years ahead.