Perhaps the most radical and noticeable change in our parish church will be the relocation of the baptismal font from its present position to the entryway of the church. The purpose of this change is theological.
This change finds its roots in the practices of the Early Church. The intent of the Church has always been to recognize the Sacrament of Baptism as the entrance into the community of faith that leads to the Eucharist and other sacraments, and ultimately to the gift of the Resurrection. The small bowls of water at the doors of churches are “mini-reminders” of baptism as our entry into the Church.
Many churches that you may have visited even have two separate buildings – one the church and one the baptistery. This is true at the Cathedral in Florence, Italy as well as St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, Italy. This intention is reflected in the renovation of our own Cathedral of the Madeleine where a beautiful baptismal font has been placed very close to the doors of the church. Most Roman Catholic churches built in the past 40 years follow this practice. The recent changes at St. Ambrose Parish also reflect this desired change.
The water in the new font will always be accessible and we will bless ourselves upon entering the church directly from the font. The smaller bowls attached to the wall at the main entrance will be removed. While it may be a longer reach for children, they should be encouraged to enter into this important symbol.
In our planning, we spent more than a year investigating the possibility of having both fresh and running water in the font at all times. I was hopeful to have the fullness of the symbol of life-giving water. After broad and extensive consultation and research, we discovered that it was virtually impossible to deal with issues of cost, maintenance, chemicals, purity, health, sound, installation and practicality. We will have a simple bowl that will always be filled with fresh water.
We have enlisted the talent of local artists in the design of the font. We hope to use some of the marble from the present font in the new design. The pews near the font will be shortened to allow for the easy passing of a casket and pallbearers during parish funerals. The pews will also be shortened at the front of the church to allow easy passage at t he sides of the casket for those using walkers and wheelchairs at the time of communion. At present, there is not enough room for this needed movement.
The main aisle of the church leading from the doors, surrounding the baptismal font and leading to the altar will be an oak wood floor. The wood will match the wood that will be used in the entire sanctuary surrounding the altar. We will be visually reminded of the passage from Baptism to the Eucharist by the dignity and beauty of the wooden flooring. The rest of the church will receive new carpet.
When baptisms take place during mass, we will need to turn our attention to the new font. Those seated in the rear of the church will probably remain seated, while those in the front of the church will stand in order to see the font clearly. Remember that a baptism does not take much time. There will be plenty of room for family and friends to gather at the font.