Wednesday, 29 July 2015

epiclesis: a voyage of Epic proportions

I have a feeling this will be a rather long blog entry worthy of liturgical anorak status, but I do think that this is an important issue - so here goes:

Having raised the issue of baptism in my 'church growth strategies' I have found myself engaged with, and by, a number of people regarding three main issues (but here we deal with but two):

1. Who can do the baptism service - laity, deacon or priest?

2. Something even more passionately taken up - the place of the epiclesis, and

3. The 'overly long' prayer over water (their words, not mine) - outside the remit of this blog entry - perhaps another day..

1. Who can do it? 
In some dioceses the view is taken that a deacon*  can conduct a baptism (and I have even heard of weddings too, but that is for another day) whilst in another diocese the person 'doing' the service needs to be a priest (one who has been priested - that is become presbyteros). 

My training, and personal choice (mine, not the choice I would impose that means) was that the epiclesis was something I didn't do until priested. Others may hold a different view of course.

2. The epiclesis

The reason that whoever does the epiclesis needs to be a priest finds its focus in the understanding of the word: (Gk: ἐπίκλησις) - a most wonderful word indeed that relates to the 'invocation' or 'calling down' in the form of transformation or blessing by God's Holy Spirit.  One of the keys to recognising this in a service is that it is often accompanied by priest making the sign of the cross**  

The discussion surrounding epiclesis has been lively - and not without passion and fire - which coming from clergy surely merits a 'Hallelujah'!

In the discourse which follows, the [+] denotes the place where the sign of the cross (and therefore the epiclesis) are (according to popular view) generally to be found.

In the baptism service it has been argued (politely) yea we find an epiclesis occurring during the exorcism (the bit after the sign of the cross has been made on the candidate's head using oil - the chrismation):

May almighty God [+] deliver you from the powers of darkness, restore in you the image of his glory, and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ. 

An epiclesis appears to occur again during the prayer over water::

Now sanctify [+] this water that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, they may be cleansed from sin and born again.

And, of course, at the end with the sending out and the blessing itself:

The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, 
establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith; 
and the blessing of God almighty, [+] the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

The three epicleses lead me to the position whereby the person doing that part of the service should be a priest, BUT, I have always tried to ensure that the person preparing candidates is involved in the service and so have tried to do the baptism in partnership with them - and 'them' being a licenced lay minister means that they can tog up too (bargain!). 

Now although I know that some are happy to have a lay member or deacon do the service, I am happy to give my time to do another service ('Oh no!,' said a colleague, 'Not another one!'). The question here has to be do we let lay ministers or deacons do the service so that we can be doing less or are we letting others do it because we have a theological reason (and a collegial outworking too perhaps)?

The ASB (p,163) tells us: If the ministry of a bishop or priest cannot be obtained, a deacon may preside at a public baptism. 

It gives us the Exorcism as: 'May almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness, and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ.'
and the 'prayer over water: [+] Bless this water, that your servants who are washed in it may be made one with Christ in his death and in his resurrection, to be cleansed and delivered from all sin.

Common worship gives us the following notes (p.101) to savour:

Holy Baptism is normally administered by the parish priest in the course of public worship on Sunday ‘when the most number of people come together’ (Canon B 21).
  1. 1  Minister of Baptism
    Where rubrics speak of ‘the president’, this indicates the parish priest or other minister authorised to administer Holy Baptism. When the bishop is present he normally presides over the whole service. Parts of the service not assigned to the president may be delegated to others. 

(Canon B21 Indicates desirability of Baptism taking place on Sunday in the context of public worship.)

So is the ASB the root of our epiclesis saga? 
Let's have a quick look at baptism pre 1980  (after a squint at emergency baptism that is).

The 'emergency' baptism

When it comes to baptism, it is obvious that without the three epicleses being present the necessity of a priest is removed. One of the most popular reasons people have given for the validity of lay administered baptism comes in the form of the 'emergency' baptism. 'After all,' they say, 'If baptism is valid in an emergency, why does it become invalid when the service is planned and in calmer conditions?

The reason for this is the epiclesis of course - and if there isn't one, then it is obvious that anyone can conduct the service. Simple stuff this - all about what we say and don't say!

Emergency Baptism (ASB p.164)
In case of emergency, any person present may administer baptism according to the following form.
Using the given name of the one to be baptised (if known), pour water on him or her, saying,

I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer is then said.
Other prayers, such as the following, may be added.

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin and have raised him/her to the new life of grace. Strengthen him/her, O Lord, with your presence, enfold him/her in the arms of your mercy, and keep him/her safe for ever. Amen.

The person who administers emergency baptism should inform the priest of the appropriate parish, so that the baptism may be properly registered.
If the baptised person recovers, the baptism shall be recognised at a public celebration of the sacrament. The person baptised under emergency conditions and his or her sponsors shall take part in all parts of the baptismal liturgy, except for the baptism in water itself. 

Emergency Baptism (CW p.105)

In an emergency, a lay person may be the minister of baptism, and should subsequently inform those who have the pastoral responsibility for the person so baptised.

2 Parents are responsible for requesting emergency baptism for an infant. They should be assured that questions of ultimate salvation or of the provision of a Christian funeral for an infant who dies do not depend upon whether or not the child has been baptised.

3 Before baptising, the minister should ask the name of the person to be baptised. When, through the absence of parents or for some other reason, there is uncertainty as to the name of the person, the baptism can be properly administered without a name (so long as the identity of the person baptised can be duly recorded). 

Let's visit the BCP and the:

The 'traditional' view
I have been told by those who are old enough to have been conducting baptisms using the Book of Common Prayer (i.e. before the 1980 Alternative Service Book - The ASB - came into being) that they do not recall an epiclesis ever being part of the service - this is supported by the tone taken in Canon xxx. Mind you, I don't know anyone who has been around any later than the fifties with regard to ministry!!!

Not only was there no place for apparent epiclesis in the BCP baptism but I am also led to believe that the font would have been filled and used for more than one baptismal service over a period of weeks rather than refilled each and every service.

It seems that things changed quite markedly in the ASB (but the notes and references in it show it to more than a kneekerk or ill-considered (theologically or otherwise) document despite the critics of it). Common Worship continues along the path set by ASB to the place we find ourselves today.

A Conclusion of sorts
Were the epicleses removed form the service I cannot see any reason why a deacon or lay person (licensed or otherwise) cannot conduct a baptism service. The words would have to be tinkered with a little to tie up the liturgical and theological ends but that would be relatively simple I imaging.

But of course there is the requirement for a subsequent 'public celebration' - but this could be satisfied by a thanksgiving in the next Sunday service after the event. 

Regardless - I am not sure that the epicleses need to be in the service (but I'd very much like to keep them) but if they are retained then they need to be the province of the priest - but doing the service with two (or more) voices would be rather nice I reckon, so why not?

This has been quite a ramble for me as I've considered the liturgy, rubric and experiences of some of my colleagues in my desire to have a fuller understanding of who might conduct baptisms and how, should we return to the BCP approach for instance, the epiclesis did not feature as it does now. Is this a sign of clericalism or the current trend towards lay ministers doing the service a reflection of anticlericalism (or just being too skint to pay a stipend perhaps?).

Thanks for your perseverance (if you have persevered) and if you didn't, my apologies for this snaking consideration of epiclesis and baptism. I hope it has been of some use.



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