Thursday, February 12, 2009

On Baptism

I've found sticking points with the Catholic Church over the last year, but none so bothered me as how the church handles adult baptism. Though I've often supported the church on this blog, I don't think that'll be the case with this post.

A person can be baptized at any age, though the Catholic Church makes a distinction between infants and adults. Infants, once baptized, are good to go for the rest of their lives. They can attend classes geared just for them and receive their first communion around the age of 7. They don't ever have to be confirmed to continue taking communion for the rest of their lives. Adults, though, are required to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), a year-long series of classes and events that culminate in baptism, confirmation, and first communion all at Easter. The adult cannot partake in communion before this, nor can they truly participate in any other aspect of the church (except sitting there on Sunday) until these things happen.

My first big problem with this is that adults are only baptized at Easter. Why? Why can an infant be baptized at any point during the year, but an adult must wait months or more to join the church? The adult has the ability to say "Let me join you!" while an infant has no knowledge of the sacrament. The Bible says that it is a sin to postpone baptism for any reason, yet the Catholic Church purposefully makes adults wait and go through classes in clumps with other adults.

The second issue I have involves the RCIA process itself. A child can experience each sacrament as an individual thing. They have time to absorb the magnitude of each grace as they move from baptism to first communion to confirmation. They have years to prepare for each one, and they can fully participate in the church without being confirmed. Adults, however, must go through the entire RCIA process and experience all three sacraments at once whether they're ready for them or not. One can take the classes as many times as one wishes without partaking in any of the sacraments, but if an adult wants to be baptized, the other sacraments follow within days. The church sets up these cohort-like programs so that an individual will hopefully feel connected to the church community. Once a person is in the program, they are pushed through the system until they squeeze out Catholic on the other end.

A baptism where the Trinity is invoked is a valid baptism, whether it's by a priest or an ordinary person (even an unbaptized person in an "emergency"). If one were to be validly baptized already in any faith, one would move through the RCIA process at a different level, more of a conversion-to-Catholicism level than a conversion-to-Christianity level. The baptized individual would be confirmed and receive communion at Easter (and apparently no other time of the year).

As my fiancé and I have expressed our wishes to get married, a common question to me is, "will you have to become Catholic?" Short answer, no. The church will let us marry as long as I sign papers saying that I allow my future husband to try to convert me to his faith and that I am willing to have our children brought up Catholic. Neither of those are a problem for me. My concern is that I'll be signing paperwork that isn't true. Mr. Wonderful and I don't often disagree about matters of faith. The only difference between us is that he's been dunked (or sprinkled, whatever) and I haven't. He is in full communion with the church and I'm (obviously) some sort of wretched creature from Hell or something. No matter how many times someone tells me that isn't true, it still hurts. The only way I can avoid those papers is to become Catholic myself, or at least be baptized anything. As I was raised Protestant, I'm not sure how my own family would react to me "crossing the Tiber," and while they don't have to agree with my decision, I would appreciate it if they supported me in that decision. I don't necessarily want to be labeled "Catholic" if it's possible to be baptized by anyone and simply be "Christian" while still maintaining the sanctity of baptism. According to, as long as I'm baptized anything validly and have been instructed in the Catholic Church's traditions (check and double check there), I should be able to enter into communion with the church at any point.

If it means going through the RCIA process, you can count me out. I don't want to experience everything all at once. I don't care about making friends or finding my place in a community I realistically won't be living in for many years anyway. Baptism is an outward sign to the world saying, "I believe!" Baptism only requires belief (and waiting months, going to classes just to make sure you really do believe, and participating with lots of other people so that you can have witnesses say you were actually there in case something happens and you get stuck at the pearly gates... or something).

I'm sure some people will read this and say that I'm not speaking maturely or with full understanding of what the process really is. Each RCIA program is different. I'm not trying to say it's a bad idea or that the Catholic Church is wrong to want it's parisoners to understand their faith, of course not. I am saying, however, that rigidly forcing me to go through classes two-by-two in lock-step isn't how I'm going to grow in my faith. I will have a full lifetime to live in the community of Christ. Can't someone toss me in the river, pass me the Jesus Cookie, and let me experience God on our time table instead of the church's? They let children do it...

1 comment:

Areson said...

Excellent post! I whole-heartedly agree...why the wait? Way to stand for what you believe in.