Q. During Lent, our parish does not perform the sacrament of baptism, and holy water is removed from the fonts. Is this proper and is it required? (Swedesboro, N.J.)
A. No church law prohibits baptisms during Lent, and the matter is up to local discretion. A fair number of parishes choose not to do Lenten baptisms. Canon 856 of the Code of Canon Law says that baptisms should ordinarily be done on Sundays or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil.
This guideline is based on the intimate link between Christian baptism and the saving resurrection of Jesus. Some pastors make the judgment that once Lent has begun, it is reasonable to delay the baptism of a healthy infant until Easter to highlight that connection.
The baptisms of adult converts are almost always done at the Easter Vigil ceremony.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that infants should be baptized “shortly after birth” (No. 1250) and Canon No. 867 is a bit more specific, noting that “parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks” after birth.
“Shortly” and “few” are seen by some pastors as an opportunity to wait until Easter, once Lent has begun. An infant in danger of death should, of course, be baptized immediately, as Canon No. 867 points out.
As for removing the holy water from fonts, I suppose that if baptisms are delayed until Easter, it makes some sense to empty the baptismal font to signify the “dryness” of the Lenten desert experience before the life-giving joy of Easter.
But I would argue against it if the baptismal font doubles as a holy water font where people sign themselves with water when they enter church.
Q. In order to receive the promise of the grace of final penitence, my understanding is that one must attend Mass on the first Friday for nine consecutive months. Recently I was attempting to complete that devotion, but on the ninth first Friday, our parish had a Communion service. Is that considered a Mass, and would the promise be granted? (Hydesville, Calif.)
A. First Friday devotion dates back to the last decades of the 17th century, when Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in France. In a series of conversations, Jesus urged her to make known the deep love symbolized by his sacred heart.
Among the promises made to her by Christ was that “my all-powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the first Fridays for nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my heart will be their secure refuge in the last hour.”
It is important that this devotion not be viewed mechanically, as though in some magical way people could simply “catch Mass” on those nine days and otherwise conduct themselves in utter selfishness and still be guaranteed salvation.
Instead, the presumption is that someone devoted to the frequent Eucharist would try to match that devotion with a virtuous life and that the power of the Eucharist would help them do that.
As to your question, a Communion service is not a Mass; a Mass is a full eucharistic celebration in which the bread and wine are consecrated, offered to God in union with the sacrifice of Jesus and then received.
Did the Communion service “count” as your ninth first Friday? Of course it did. God is not a giant referee in the sky with a whistle in his mouth looking for fouls to call. He is a loving Father seeking to give us the benefit of every doubt.
You wanted to go to Mass on the ninth first Friday and tried to. You did your best and — in my mind and, I think, in God’s — that’s enough.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.