When it comes to birthdays, we can rattle off the date without thinking. Most birthdays are marked with some celebration, too, whether simple or elaborate.
But how many of us can recite off the top of our heads the date of our baptism?
Msgr. Ernest Esposito, director of the Respect Life Office for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., can. And he enthusiastically promotes the importance of celebrating baptismal anniversaries.
“Children and adults love to celebrate anniversaries of personal significant events,” he says, listing personal ones like birthdays and marriages, and civil ones such as Independence Day and New Year’s Day. All somehow mark new beginnings. But one tops them all: our baptism.
“In similar manner, and even more so,” he affirms, “on the anniversary of our baptism we should celebrate accordingly with deepest joy, gratitude and renewal the reality of our baptism — the event that established our life in Christ and which is the seed of eternal glory.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that baptism marks the beginning of life in Our Lord: “Holy baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit” (No. 1213). “Thus the whole organism of the Christian’s supernatural life has its roots in baptism” (No. 1266).
On Jan. 10 we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and we can use it as a reminder for us to do the same. Christ’s baptism was the first act of his public life, so Pope Benedict XVI reminded the audience during his Angelus address on this feast in January 2009.
“This is a stupendous thing,” Benedict said, speaking of baptism. “Through baptism the human person is brought into Jesus’ unique and singular relationship with the Father, in such a way that the words that are spoken from heaven about the only begotten Son become true for every man and woman who is reborn from the water of the Holy Spirit: You are my sons and daughters, my beloved.”
Reason aplenty to celebrate. Msgr. Esposito does so in specific ways and recommends practices Catholics can easily adopt and adapt.
First, on his baptismal day anniversary, he makes a Holy Hour either at the church in New York where he was baptized or at a local church. He also renews his baptismal promises.
We can do likewise. And attend Mass, too.
Sometimes Msgr. Esposito gathers with friends in a local church or home for a prayer service, where everyone joins him in renewing their baptismal promises.
Then he continues celebrating by enjoying a meal. Even if he goes alone to his out-of-state baptismal church, he often returns home to meet with friends that night for dinner at a restaurant. If they can’t make it, he goes by himself in honor of this special anniversary.
Some families already celebrate baptismal days. Mark and Martina Erste do with their two teenage sons in their Bloomingdale, Ohio, home. “We always strive to make celebrations simple but profound,” Martina says. “We do a simple thing. We light their baptismal candles, and then they’ll renew their baptismal promises at dinner.”
Martina says there’s great benefit in celebrating this anniversary. She explains that with the renewal of the baptismal vows you’re saying, “I am continuing my faith each year. I agree to this. I will fight against Satan and do what it takes to live my faith.”
“We see that as a grace to continue their faith in a personal way,” she continues. “It’s personal, but also communal, because they say this at the table in front of everyone.”
The Erstes also talk about what happened at each son’s baptism and the celebrations that followed. For instance, one son was fully immersed, but at a different parish, the other wasn’t. Every few years the family watches videotapes of the two baptisms, which leads to talking about what baptism means.
Younger children are also able to recognize the specialness of the day.
Already, David and Jennifer
Miller in Manassas, Va., celebrate withtheir two children,
who are 2 and 6. The family, who enjoys living the liturgical year in their home, goes out
to celebrate with family on baptismal anniversary days.
The Millers display and light their child’s baptismal candle — and that’s not the only day. “I bring out the baptismal candle on the birthdays, too,” says Jennifer, the founder/writer of the website FamilyFeastandFeria.wordpress.com. “The baptismal candle goes next to the birthday cake.”
“It’s your birthday,” she explains. “But more important is your birthday into the Church. That’s a more important occasion I want to remind them of on their birthday.”
Once the children make their first Communion, the Millers plan to add the renewal of the baptismal vows.
Already benefits shine. Jennifer describes how the boys, although very young, want to hear all about their baptisms. They ask questions like: “Who was there? What did you do? What did I do? Who was the ‘father,’ and what did he do?” The children see the priest who baptized them regularly at Mass, and they like to see the baptismal font.
“They’re very interested,” emphasizes Jennifer. “It has made a main impression on them, and it’s making an imprint of memories with them.”
It’s never too early, or too late, to learn the importance of recalling this sacrament. “ Dear friends,” said the Holy Father, “how great is the gift of baptism! If we make ourselves fully aware of it, our life will become a continual ‘grace.’”
That’s why Msgr. Esposito strongly encourages celebrating baptismal anniversaries. “If anything should be celebrated,” he says, “it should be that: eternal glory!”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.