Fra Angelico's Baptism of Jesus
USA Today has an article which reveals some disturbing trends. Baptisms are way down eventhough the total number of Catholics has almost doubled since 1954.
From the article:
For Christians of all denominations, "even if they never darkened the door of a church any other time in their life ... there's a tendency to hold onto this life-cycle marker," says the Rev. Paul Sullins, a sociologist at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Could it possibly be diminishing in significance because of the attitude of the clergy to Baptism? I mean really- "life-cycle marker"? I guess that was the sociologist in him talking but what is wrong with the word Sacrament?
The reasons why?
Behind the drop, experts see pressures ranging from fewer babies since the postwar boom, to increased secularization and interfaith marriage, to more "seeker churches" that downplay tradition.
Among Catholics, Sullins says, the rate of baptisms has fallen faster than the rate of decline in births.
Baptism isn't the only source of new members. The church's U.S. numbers — up from 31.6 million in 1954 to 67.8 million last year — also have grown through immigration. And at Saturday's Easter vigil, the church will receive tens of thousands of adult converts.
The sociologist also links fewer infant baptisms to two trends involving marriage. Fewer Catholics are choosing to marry in the church, and Sullins says they may be less "attached to the sacraments." And, since a change in church law in 1983, Catholics who marry non-Catholics no longer must promise to baptize and rear their children as Catholics.
Oh yes 1983, a watershed year when the Code of Canon law was watered down, err changed.
Now the church requires only "a general recognition by the couple that the Catholic partner's faith will be respected."
"The more you see more inter-faith marriages or couples where one partner is lukewarm or hostile to organized religion, the more you will see baptism taper off," says the Rev. James Martin, associate editor of the Jesuit magazine America and author of My Life with the Saints
"I know friends who themselves are strongly Catholic but who married people inimical to the church, and it's hard to agree on what they should do with their baby. At the very least, it delays baptism. The more delayed, the less likely it is to happen at all," he says.
All the denominations that emphasize infant baptism, such as Catholics, Methodists and Lutherans, struggle with a contemporary culture that rejects the very idea that humanity is born into sin or that parents should steer children's spiritual development, says the Rev. Gayle Carlton Felton, author of the United Methodist Church's statement on baptism theology and practice, This Gift of Water.
The Modern parents' approach:
There are now baptism-style ceremonies where God is never mentioned by parents seeking to initiate their children into a world of all faiths, says Ema Drouillard of San Francisco, who runs the website Ceremonyway.com.
She conducted such an event for Kirsten and Farnum Alston of Marin County, Calif., for their baby, Greer, in 1998. "We just wanted a larger spirit to guide our daughter, but we didn't want to get specific. I wanted all her bases covered," says Kirsten Alston. The couple grew up Presbyterian, but now "we just do Christianity L-I-T-E" for Greer, who "believes in angels and fairies, leprechauns and Santa Claus."
Even if baptisms aren't rising in numbers, they're on the rise in significance, McLaren says.
And the final conclusion which makes no sense at all- fewer Baptisms but the ones taking place have greater importance. You know what it's Holy Thursday so don't even bother trying to figure it out.