Baptismal promises: Preparation and renewal


Lent is a preparation time for baptism, first for the catechumens and the elect who will receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, and secondly and equally for the rest of us, because we ourselves are preparing for the climactic renewal of our own baptismal promises at Easter. Throughout the world, in every Catholic church, all Catholics are asked to stand up and renew their baptismal promises by renouncing sin and professing their faith in God, Father, Son and Spirit. Following that renewal is the sprinkling of the baptismal water.

This 40-day journey of Lent — this Lenten retreat, this time of conversion and transformation — prepares all of us for that most solemn renewal, that confession of faith that saves. Think for a moment what those promises are. They are a rejection and renunciation of sin and evil. As we turn away from sin, we believe in the Good News and profess our faith in the Triune God. For infant and adult baptism, that is precisely what is done before the sacramental action. There must be faith, expressed and represented, before baptism can take place. We cannot have baptism without faith.

Every Catholic renews this profession of faith at Easter. As for the candidates for full communion and the catechumens/elect, it takes 40 days for them to prepare in a final and formal way to make that profession with real depth, because this cannot be done perfunctorily. As we walk with the elect, let us imagine how it would be if all of us were to spend the 40 days of Lent in intense preparation, thinking about and praying about the meaning of those promises we made or that were made for us in our original baptism, before the time comes to make those promises again at Easter. We would then be able to speak those promises with profound conviction.

All three of the readings on the First Sunday of Lent in the Lucan Cycle say, “Get ready to profess your faith.” In the first reading, from Deuteronomy, we find the most ancient credal statement in the Bible. Scripture scholars say that is Israel’s first creed. Moses is telling his people to make their profession of faith, and they do it in a ritual and in a liturgical context. It is really a liturgy of thanksgiving in which there is a recitation of the creed. It is a “mini-Easter” that is being described here.

Paul, in the second reading, the famous text from Romans, talks about the public confession of faith. What is at stake here is everything: it is salvation. “Are you going to stand up and be counted?” he basically asks. There must not be just a recitation of a formula. We must put our life on the line as we profess our faith.

In the Gospel, the Lucan version of the temptation account, there is a liturgical rhythm to the threefold temptation scene with Jesus. Jesus is responding almost as if he is making his baptismal promises just after his baptism in the Jordan. In fact, the threefold renunciation of evil in the baptismal liturgy seems to have its origins in this Gospel story. Jesus responds to each of the questions and renounces the temptations that Satan places before him, the perennial temptations of us all.”

From the beginning to the end of Lent, we have the whole season framed around the profession of faith. To the extent to which this Lenten period of retreat converts us and transforms us, to this extent will our profession of faith at Easter be of real substance and depth for us all.

Msgr. Sam Miglarese, pastor of the Cathedral Parish of St. John the Baptist and former vicar general of the Diocese of Charleston, is on sabbatical.