You don’t have to have a party following a baptism, but it is a good excuse to have one. If you are too stressed or if your finances do not allow it, do not have one. Occasionally I hear of someone not doing something in the Church because it is so expensive (then you have to rent a hall and feed the people and hire a band . . .) No you don’t. You can. And it is nice for your guests if you can and want to do it. But nothing is as important as the sacrament itself. The party is a second desert. Completely unnecessary but great none-the-less.
So who do you invite if you are thinking of having a gathering? The only ones that must be invited are the godparents and the officiating priest, but do not expect the priest to be in attendance. As our hostess for this series, Mrs. Fenner, states, “The priest is seldom free at such a time to accept the invitation, but it must always be proffered.” It is a courtesy. Unlike many non-Catholic Churches, the priest is not simply the hired minister for the community (as close as he may be to his people), the priest is the spiritual father for the congregation, given by the Church to the local parish family. As a spiritual father he has just brought your child into the Christian family and made him a child of God and will hopefully have a relationship with him in his spiritual life. After that you may add who you will: grandparents, aunts and uncles and so forth.
Many have chosen to take the baptismal gathering to a restaurant, which is understandable, for it saves the new mother (and father) much trouble. But a traditional baptismal party is really not much. Here is what Mrs. Fenner has to say:
“To the guests the parents serve a small, white cake, iced like a bridal cake . . . and champagne or champagne punch to toast the health of the little new Christian. This is all that is required and if kept to this minimum, it is really not much trouble or expense.”
Of course you can raise the bar from there. But at all times it must be remembered that a sacrament is being celebrated. So “the service of intoxicants is held to a strict minimum.”
There is no requirement for anybody to give a gift to the baby (and it is really to the baby, not the parents.) It is customary for godparents to offer a present, often grandparents, and after that, only those who feel so moved. In any event, like all celebrations, this is not an opportunity to get things. Gifts are graciously accepted on behalf of the baby with appropriate surprise that someone should be so thoughtful. Presents should not be expected or worse yet, requested.
One may give whatever one wishes. A baby’ sized, silver spoon, knife, and fork are relatively inexpensive presents that can be put to immediate use. (Monsignor Manners still has his silver spoon and his medal of St. John the Evangelist which were given to him at his christening.) Other suitable gifts and ones that might stay with the child through his adult years might be a statue of the Blessed Virgin, an infant of Prague, or some such thing. If you are of a mind, it might be a savings account (Monsignor Manner’s father’s friends did that for me at the Barb-O-Brass Savings and Loan. It was a very modest amount but none-the-less a reminder of the day and the importance of the event in the life of the community.) Savings bonds and stocks are also appropriate. Practicality is great. If it has a religious connotation it is all the better. Prayers and your presence are the true present.
Next week: Penance