May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image,
and washed clean through the sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.
Blessing of Baptismal Water, Easter Vigil Mass
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
One of the wonderful things about Lent and Easter is that these holy seasons help us to understand just what it is that we believe about the necessity of Baptism. Because if Baptism is just a nice little ritual that precedes a family party, it’s hardly of any consequence, indeed it’s not necessary at all. And if that’s true, Lent and Easter aren’t really necessary either. But if we truly believe that Baptism is the integral washing away of our sinfulness so that we may be made worthy of the life of heaven, then there’s nothing that should get in the way of it, and these holy days are of utmost importance.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve begun taking a look at the texts for the celebration of Holy Week. As you know, the new Roman Missal re-translated everything, including all of the texts for those holy days. What is disconcerting, but also in some ways refreshing, about the new translation is that it doesn’t beat around the bush about our need for Baptism.
Looking at the text above, from the Blessing of Baptismal Water on the Easter Vigil, the text speaks about the new life the Baptized receive. Nothing too shocking about that. But notice how it refers to the life before Baptism: “from all the squalor of the life of old.” Well, that seems a little harsh, doesn’t it? Really, squalor?
It’s not so different from the language of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation: “This is the night that even now, throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones.” Worldly vice and the gloom of sin are hardly things we want to think about, but we all know they’re there, and the only chance we have of being delivered from them is by being united to Christ through Baptism.
So yes, squalor is part of the human condition. If humanity weren’t in such disarray, Christ would never have had to die on the Cross. But thank God he did, or we’d be mired in that squalor for all eternity. God forbid.
People are often taken aback by the language of Ash Wednesday, that leads us into this holy season: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Dust? Yes, that and squalor! “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Repent? Yes, we all need to repent from the gloom of sin and worldly vices.
Catholic theology is based on the premise that we pray what we believe. So the words of Lent and Easter might come across as a little harsh on the human condition, but that’s only because the human condition is actually pretty harsh, left to itself. Thanks be to God it isn’t ever left to itself: Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ makes possible deliverance from all that dust and gloom and squalor and vice.
I’ve found myself bristling a bit at some of the new language. Thank God! I need to bristle and come to new awareness of the awesome deliverance that we celebrate during the holy days and the real gift that is our Baptism. All that bristling will make the “Alleluias” of the Easter season that much more poignant!
Yours in Christ and His Blessed Mother,
Father Pat Mulcahy