The Bishop’s E-pistle: I Baptize

I remember greeting parishioners one Christmas Eve at the afternoon service in New York City. “Lovely service!” “Merry Christmas!” said everyone on their way out. 

My mother approached. “So are you going to bless the wine, too, at the next service?” 

Evidently, I had just skipped over blessing the cup. No one else told me…  I guess that’s what mothers are for, holding us to account for our actions.  I had no memory of skipping that paragraph. It was definitely not intentional, but it happened. 

And yet: everyone who came to church that day received their Christmas Eucharist. It was a valid sacrament, even with my error, because the Holy Spirit makes up for our shortcomings, and covers our mistakes with grace. 

I have had many people ask me what I think about the news from Phoenix this week of the Roman Catholic priest who had been saying “We baptize….” Rather than “I baptize….” for 20 years, and that all those baptisms have been declared invalid. 

I believe this is sad, and not a good example of the grace of the church, both for those directly affected and for those who look at the church from the outside and are baffled by what they see.   I believe those who came to be baptized in good faith and were baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, making promises to follow Jesus, should be assured of the validity of the sacrament. It is irregular. But we do not believe in a punishing God, one who would unravel the sacraments for thousands of people, some of whom have now died, because of even an intentional error on the part of the priest. 

The priest should use the licensed forms and words for sacraments—in our own church as well.  But we should never believe that our errors are greater than God’s capacity to bless, join, and sanctify.