It’s not unusual for at least 100 babies to be baptized at St. Mary Parish in Auburn during any given year, according to Father Frank Lioi, pastor. The priest doesn’t believe, however, that he has to wait until a baby’s baptism to start ministering to an infant and new parents.
In May, Father Lioi and Kathy Lipfert, pastoral minister, began holding a monthly blessing for expectant parents. On the second Sunday of each month, the pair stay after Mass to administer a special blessing to soon-to-be mothers and fathers.
“We do so many baptisms historically that we thought it would be nice,” Father Lioi said. “I think it kind of highlights the sacredness of what’s happening.”
After Mass, Father Lioi, Lipfert and expectant couples who wish to be blessed gather near the church’s Marian statue. After Father Lioi makes the sign of the cross over the couples, he begins the blessing, which is taken from the Church’s Book of Blessings.
“As you await your child’s birth in faith, partners in God’s own love, may you already cherish the child you have conceived,” the blessing reads.
Lipfert then reads a passage from Luke’s Gospel, which details Mary’s trip to greet a pregnant Elizabeth. Father Lioi then resumes blessing the couple, asking God to hear the prayers of the expectant parents: “Calm their fears when they are anxious. Watch over and support these parents and bring their child into this world safely and in good health, so that as members of your family they may praise you and glorify you through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, now and forever.”
Through the blessing, Father Lioi also asks God to send the blessings of eternal salvation to the couple through the motherhood of Mary and the protection of St. Joseph.
The blessing is intended for couples in all stages of pregnancy, and it may be received by the couple each month throughout the woman’s pregnancy, Lipfert said. Lipfert and Father Lioi also give each expectant couple a packet of information, which includes a booklet about the sacrament of baptism and several other relevant blessings and prayers, including a prayer of thanksgiving for a newborn child, a prayer for the time of the child’s birth, and a prayer for mothers to pray while nursing or feeding newborns.
The blessing has only been offered twice thus far, but the couples who have participated have told Lipfert they really appreciated the blessing, she said. One couple came to be blessed in May and June, and plans to be blessed each month until their child is born, she added.
The monthly blessing provides a way for the parish to reach out to couples and show them they’re a welcome and important part of the parish family, Lipfert said. The blessing also will hopefully help the parish strengthen its baptismal program, and it should give the parish staff an idea of how many baptisms will be coming up, Father Lioi said.
After blessing the expectant parents, Father Lioi or Lipfert will ask them for their names and the expected due date of their child. This will help the parish keep track of the family, which can be difficult in a large parish, Father Lioi said.
The parish will then send cards to the child each year on the first three anniversaries of that child’s birth and baptism, he added. This is one way of keeping that child and family involved with the parish until the child is 3 years old and can begin to participate in the parish’s weekly toddler program, which keeps 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds constructively occupied during the parish’s 9:45 a.m. Mass.
“By the time they’re 5 or 6, then they start getting enrolled in faith formation,” Father Lioi said.
The parish also hopes to hold an annual get-together for parents who have had children baptized within the last year, he added.