Have you ever wondered what a priest’s daily life is like? In his book, ‘Crazy Chronicles of a Parish Life’, Fr Michael Collins describes his thoughts, questions, experiences and life through short stories and illustrations, giving an entertaining and engaging account that all readers will enjoy. Below is a short excerpt of one such story, where he ponders why baptism through immersion will most likely not become the norm in today’s society, especially considering all the civil suits that could come of it!
The baptismal fonts in our new and renovated churches tend to reflect the ambiguity of the Church’s thinking on Baptism. Floating around in the recesses of its conscious mind is the suspicion, if not the conviction, that immersion is the only logical and historical way of Baptism; but the obvious difficulties of submerging an adult without flooding the basement, and the no less obvious difficulties of attiring the naked form, male or female, in some suitably asexual and opaque garment for the occasion, must have proved too much for the sheltered souls of the early episcopate, for they settled for the best compromise available – what might be called the devotional equivalent of a quick splash around the ears and neck while leaning over the kitchen sink.
It did little for the dramatic soul of the liturgy professor, but it satisfied the expectations of the ecclesiastical lawyer, for as in the days of your childhood, when your mother asked you if you had washed your face, you could always answer truthfully that you had, even though the quick rub with a damp flannel that you had just administered was a long way from the cleansing bath that your mother had classified as the minimum essential. Today’s trickle of water down the forehead of the baptismal candidate hardly requires a font four feet plus in diameter, but you are going to have some difficulty immersing an adult in it, unless he hangs his legs over the side, though some provision for adults will have to be made if immersion of infants ever becomes the norm.
That, however, is unlikely to happen, if only because of the danger of civil suits against any clergyman unlucky enough to a) drop the child into the water, b) hold it under for too long, c) expose it to chills and pneumonia by using water that is too cold, or d) endanger its health through risk of contagion by immersing it in the water that Joe Soap’s pimply child has just vacated.
We finish up, therefore, with a compromise: a font that is too small for immersion, but big enough to collect all the water that will ever be poured on the foreheads of all the infants of the parish for a century to come. We find the same compromise in new or renovated houses. Instead of throwing out the bath – an inadequate and antiquated method of washing – and substituting in its place the shower, we regularly find the shower positioned over the bath, so that when we slip – as we are always likely to do – we land on our heads because there is nothing to hold on to. For some inexplicable reason, we feel duty-bound to hold fast to the drawbacks of the old system when we introduce the advantages of the new. There is a kind of guilt about abandoning the difficulties of the past.
If, as seems likely, Baptism will be carried out for the foreseeable future by pouring water of the forehead of the candidate, it seems reasonable to assume that baptismal fonts will only need to be big enough to collect and dispose of the drainage. Anything bigger is merely another indication of our reluctance to leave the past behind and our pathological fear of embracing any form of change.
To explore more entertaining and interesting accounts by Fr Michael Collins, buy yourself a copy of his book Crazy Chronicles of a Parish Life