Singing the Baptismal Service

This article covers the practical aspects of singing the services for the Mysteries of Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation in the Byzantine Catholic Church, when they are celebrated on a single day, without the Divine Liturgy.

You will need a copy of the baptismal service as used in your parish, and this leaflet with propers for the baptismal service.

The baptismal service

The service begins in the narthex (porch or vestibule) of the church with the reception into the catechumenate, the exorcisms, and the profession of the faith. For this part of the service, the cantor's role is to lead the singing of the ordinary responses, "Amen" and "Lord, have mercy"; the usual melodies can be taken. Be careful not to say the candidates' or sponsors' responses, including the Symbol of Faith (the Creed).

Exception: some pastors may use the baptismal service as an opportunity for the congregation to renew their own baptismal vows. If this is the case, then of course the cantor should make the responses as well.

After the profession of faith, the clergy, candidates and sponsors go in procession to the baptistery (if there is one) or to the middle of the church. Again, the cantor's job is to lead the singing of "Amen" and the responses at the "Litany of Peace": there are additional petitions for the blessing of water, and for the candidates for baptism. If this part of the service takes place in a separate baptistery, at least one cantor should go with the clergy and candidates in procession.

The responses at the blessing of water are simply, "Amen", "And with your spirit", "To you, O Lord", sung as usual.

After the priest blesses water and oil, he pours some of the oil upon the water in the form of the cross, "singing Alleluia three times with the people." Neither the Slavonic nor the English service book appoints a tone for this Alleluia. If the priest begins singing Alleluia, follow his lead and use the same melody. If the priest expects you to begin the singing of the Alleluia, you may use any of the ordinary Alleluia melodies — but it would be best to discuss this with him beforehand!

After the candidates have been baptized, the priest will wash his hands and clothe the candidates in white garments, saying

The servant of God N. is clothed in a robe of righteousness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then the cantor immediately sings the following troparion in Tone 8 (on the propers leaflet):

* Note that the Passaic book for baptism has the word "grant" in place of "give" in this troparion, but the melody is otherwise unchanged.

The priest proceeds with the chrismation of the candidates. When the words "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen" have been said over all the candidates, the cantor leads the singing of "All you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!", three times.

Note 1: Decide with the priest whether to use the text in the baptism book ("have put on Christ") or in the Divine Liturgies book ("have been clothed with Christ"), and what melody to use.

Note 2: When this hymn is sung outside of the Divine Liturgy, it is only sung three times; "Glory... now and ever...." and the final repetition of "All you who have been baptized" are not added.

The service continues with Epistle and Gospel readings, so after "Peace be with all! Wisdom! Be attentive!", the cantor leads the singing of the following prokeimenon in Tone 3 (on the propers leaflet):

Note that this is the same prokeimenon as sung on Bright Saturday and Lazarus Saturday (page 174 in the Divine Liturgies book; listen), but here we follow the text in the baptism service book. This is a good general rule: sing the text that is in front of the people, unless what they are singing is SO familiar from the Divine Liturgy or Vespers that they are likely to just ignore the book entirely. (And in that case, check with your priest first before singing a different text than is in the book being used!)

The Epistle reading is Romans 6:3-11, which can be found on page 202 of the 1979 Epistle book (page 198 in the 2011 revised version).

The Alleluia is appointed to be sung three times before the Gospel, but no tone is indicated and no verses are provided. The cantor can use any Alleluia melody, as long as it is familiar to the faithful; the MCI leaflet for baptism gives the Alleluia in Tone 8 with appropriate psalm verses to use during the incensing. The Gospel responses are the same as for the Divine Liturgy.

After the Gospel, there is a final Litany of Fervent Supplication, the response being "Lord, have mercy", three times, and then Holy Communion is given to the newly baptized. There is no Communion hymn.

The dismissal can be sung using either the melody from the Divine Liturgy (page 89 in the Divine Liturgies book; listen) or the dismissal melody for the General Moleben (page 447; listen; same as the usual psalm tone).

Depending on local custom, the priest may conclude the baptismal service of an infant with the rite of churching, at the end of which the priest says or sings the Prayer of Simeon ("Now you may dismiss your servant, O Lord") before the Royal Doors, while holding the newly baptized child. In rare occasions, the priest may want the cantor to sing this; music can be found on page 452 of the Divine Liturgies book (listen).