ON THE CELEBRATION OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
My dear, I have gotten a good number of queries this morning on why I should base my reflection on the Baptism when its celebration is suppressed in the Nigerian Church. I decided to take this pain in talking about it because over 90% of the replies I got this morning from the over 1,600 capacity audience I have on WhatsApp expressed this confusion and wants an explanation.
One of them said, “Good morning Fr. Nigerian Church didn’t celebrate baptism this year.”
Another said, “My dear Fr Jb you need to consult the Roman Ordo also, the feast of baptism is equally suppressed.”
Yet, another said, “Fine morning my dear Fr and how are you doing? Pls my bro it’s like we having some contradictions about todays readings.In our parish this morning I expected the reading of 9th Jan.but we read Monday first week year A. Pls why is it so?”
I chose only these three so that they can moderate my response. Let me state from the onset that I am not an authority in Church liturgy but I am a proud student of liturgy and ecclesiology. Even with this reflection, I still want to learn more about it.
To start with, unlike the Anglican Church where we have the Church in Nigeria which can be independent of the universal Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church is one and is guided by the universal Law applicable to all the Local Churches. The term ‘Local Church’ or as sometimes called, ‘Particular Church’ is not used to mean an Independent Church. It is rather a small nucleus of the universal Church under the leadership of a Bishop, created for the effective pastoral charge of the faithful. So what is obtainable in Rome is also obtainable here.
However, due to the importance of some celebrations like the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, there can be variation in the dates for the celebrations but with permission from the Holy See (Rome). That is why Rome celebrated The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord yesterday and we are celebrating today.
Secondly, the Code of Canon Law, #144, 1 says, “In factual or legal common error and in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and internal forum.” By this law, the Church supplies for errors which might have been due to ignorance or doubt so that the good of the faithful is not jeopardized. Therefore, while it would be said to be an error to omit the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord this year, another celebration which was done in its place would not be considered a waste. One who attended such a celebration would still receive the blessings and graces attached to the day.
Now, why did consider it an error to omit the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord this year? It is because the rubrics ask us to celebrate it. The ‘rubrics’ is the technical term for the Liturgical Laws. In most liturgical books, these are written with red ink or in some special characters. They instruct us on what to do at Liturgy.
Let us note at this point that we have many liturgical books but there is something called the ‘hierarchy of liturgical books’. When two liturgical books give two opposing instructions, that of the higher in the hierarchy is considered higher than the other one. The hierarchy of the liturgical books were given in this order by Rev. Jovian P. Lang in the Dictionary of the Liturgy:
2⃣The Roman Pontifical
3⃣The Roman Ritual
4⃣The Roman Breviary, etc.
*The Roman Calendar, otherwise known as the Roman Ordo is also seen as a liturgical book but lower than the above ones in hierarchy.
Again, the ecclesial and liturgical laws often get reviewed with time. Recent liturgical books often come with the current liturgical laws in practice.
Having made those two points on the hierarchy and time, let us now try to see what the liturgical laws tell us about this celebration.
The Liturgical Law in the Roman Missal says, “Where the Solemnity of Epiphany is transferred to Sunday, if this Sunday occurs on January 7 or 8, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the following Monday.”
The Roman Breviary seems to have a contrary view. It says, “When the Sunday is the 7 or 8 January, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is omitted…” For many, that omission is one which it inherited from giving up its place to the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. This act of giving up its place does not imply an obliteration but a change in line with the dictates of the Roman Missal.
As a matter of fact, some academic works on Liturgy support our positions above. Again, the Dictionary of the Liturgy by Rev. Jovian P. Lang says that the liturgical celebration of the Baptism of the Lord takes place “on the Sunday after the Epiphany unless the week of the Epiphany is omitted that year; if so, it is celebrated on the Monday after Epiphany (Feast).”
Ignatius Puthiadam has the same view in his book, Christian Liturgy. He says, “If Epiphany is not celebrated on January 6, then it falls on the Sunday between 2nd and 8th January and so the Baptism of Jesus Christ is to be celebrated on the Monday following.”
In summary, the Roman Missal enjoys the prime position in the hierarchy and is the most recently revised of the two. In that hierarchy, the Roman Ordo occupies a very low place in relation to the Roman Missal, and CANNOT therefore be the Supreme Judge of what should happen in our liturgy. The Breviary also cannot take precedence over the Roman Missal when in doubt.
Let me end with a comment from an authority in Liturgy when reviewing the current situation:
“Ephiphany has been accepted by the CBCN to be celebrated on Sunday. The provision in the Roman Missal states that when it is celebrated on the 7th or 8th of January and it falls on Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord should be celebrated on Monday. There is no confusion on this. The publishers of the Nigerian Ordo have mistaken on this by suppressing the feast of the baptism of the Lord which goes against the provision of the Roman Missal. Kindly take the correction and celebrate the Baptism of the Lord on Monday 9th January. Thank you Fathers. I am not regulating the liturgy but making correction on the right interpretation of the provisions of the liturgy.”
Thank you for your attention. It well with you.