Irish Baptism Traditions are steeped in history and have special meaning for the family of the new baby. Baptism is the introduction of a new child into the Church community. Some traditions in Ireland call for the Christening garment to be made of pure Irish linen. Other traditions are the prayers or blessings spoken over the child on that day. Catholics believe the holy sacrament of Baptism allows the child into the life of God. The water represents the new life and new spiritual life. Most priests are willing to describe the ceremony beforehand if the parents are not sure of everything it involves. A Baptism is a special time for the parents and the service is fairly informal. The participants are guided by the priest and memorization is not needed and each person involved should feel comfortable to enjoy the moment of Baptism.
Many ways of welcoming new life are practiced throughout the world in the religious, agnostic, or humanistic sense. This is a time to welcome new life into the world. In most Christian faiths, a Baptism involves making promises to bring up the child in a Christian way of life. Another option is the Anglican service of thanksgiving and welcome. This service gives thanks for the new child’s arrival to this world and life ahead. Ceremonies of this type need not be during a church service but can be held in the church at an alternate time.
A naming ceremony is a beautiful way to celebrate the birth of a new child if the parents are not comfortable with a church setting. Sometimes these ceremonies are also called a humanistic naming ceremony or civil christening. Parents can choose any venue comfortable or with special meaning. These ceremonies can include poetry, music, and readings of any nature.
A traditional Christian ceremony includes a more formal outline of symbolic practices. The priest will trace the sign of the cross on the forehead of the child and invite the parents and godparents to do the same. The traditional symbol of Christianity is the cross and is a reminder of the love of Christ. The participants, the parents, and godparents gather around the Baptismal font with the priest. The font varies in each religion and is traditionally represented by a large bowl of water made out of stone or metal. Customarily, the mother will hold the child over the font. The parents and godparents are asked by the priest what they want for the child, and all reply, “Baptism” and then the priest invites all to make the promises of Baptism on behalf of the child. The child will be anointed with oil during the ceremony. Typically, this happens twice, once on the head and chest. With the mother still holding the child over the font, the priest pours water over the child’s head while speaking the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Hold Spirit.” Traditionally, the father of the child or godparent stands next to the child and holds the Baptismal candle. The candle is lit as a sign of new life and the light of Christ.
The equivalent of the traditional godparents can be celebrated by choosing people close to the family to make a promise to be a caring, loving, and supportive person or persons in throughout the child’s life. Families can choose to call the godparent equivalents supporters.
Traditional godparents came from the early Christian church when the adults were converts and did not come from a Christian background. The godparent’s purpose was to provide a Christian mentor to help them in living a life of faith.
Modern-day godparents are supportive adults whom the parents hope will participate in the child’s life. It is usually seen as a great honour to be chosen as a child’s godparent. Some godparents take a special role in the child’s life by always remembering birthdays. The godparent can be family or a close friend and some are equated to legal guardians should the child be orphaned.
The Christening garment can be a gown, a shawl, or any type of garment that is typically white. This garment can be passed down throughout the family or purchased new. The Christening shawl is traditionally placed on the baby after he/she has been baptized. The white is thought to symbolize purity and innocence. Some Irish traditions call for the garment to be made of pure Irish linen, Irish lace, or decorations of Celtic knots. Irish linen is defined as yarn that is spun in Ireland from one hundred percent pure flax fibers. Linen is the oldest fabric known to man. Linen has been discovered in the oldest Egyptian tombs unearthed and is said to have been used throughout all cultures. Linen is thought to become an important fabric in early Christian times. The Patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, is said to be buried in a shroud of Irish linen. Ireland produced Irish linen through the Middle Ages. The reputation of fine Irish linen was made more known around the 17th century when the Huguenots added their expert textile skills to Ireland’s already developed industry. Irish linen in Ireland is seen as part of the lifestyle and touches many aspects of Irish life. For more information on Irish linen go to our Celtic Clothing page.
Baptism reception, like the ceremonies can be as formal or informal as the parents see fit. Some find it easiest to provide tea and cake, or snacks and drinks, or a buffet brunch. These are ways to continue the celebration of the day and spend time with family and friends after the Baptism. Other parents feel it appropriate to put on a formal dinner. This is usually served in courses and can be served by the parents, grandparents, or godparents of the child. Some godparents honour the child by inviting the family and friends to a restaurant or pub for dinner.
Baptism blessings can be said at the ceremony, as a prayer at the reception, or inscribed on a gift for the child. We have listed our favorites below.
A Gaelic Christening Blessing
Dearest Father in Heaven,
Bless this child and bless this day
Of new beginnings.
Smile upon this child
And surround this child, Lord,
With the soft mantle of your love.
Teach this child to follow in your footsteps,
And to live life in the ways of
Love, faith, hope and charity.
An Irish Blessing
For Your Baptism Day
May God grant you always
A sunbeam to warm you
A moonbeam to charm you
A sheltering angel so nothing can harm you
Laughter to cheer you
Faithful friends near you
And whenever you pray
Heaven to hear you.
An Irish Blessing
For Your Baptism Day
May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields and,
until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Mol an ige agus tiocfaidh s.
Gaelic to English: Praise the young and they will blossom.