Drowning at Fenway Park

Reporting on the Red Sox trouncing the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the World Series, the Boston Globe's Gordon Edes writes, "The Rockies' baptism onto baseball's biggest stage instead resembled a ritual drowning on a misty night in Fenway Park..."

I'm not a regular reader of that section at the back of the newspaper and I'd generally hesitate to question any reporter's take on a ballgame. But I do know something about baptism and I can't let that baptismal reference pass without comment.

Edes sets up a contrast between baptism and ritual drowning as if the latter is the former somehow gone wrong. Three texts not often quoted in the sports section might set us straight here.

Consider the blessing of the water for baptism:
At the very dawn of creation
your Spirit breathed on the waters

making them the wellspring of all holiness.
The waters of the great flood
you made a sign of the waters of baptism,

that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.
Through the waters of the Red Sea you led Israel out of slavery
to be an image of God's holy people, set free from sin in baptism...
May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism
rise also with him to newness of life.
(Blessing of Water at the Easter Vigil in the Roman Missal)

And from the Rite of the Christian Initiation:
Those who are baptized are united to Christ in a death like his;
buried with him in death, they are given life again with him,
and with him they rise again...
in baptism we pass from the death of sin into live.
(General Introduction to the RCIA, no. 6)

And from St. Paul's letter to the Romans:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized in Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
(Romans 6:11-13)

What Gordon Edes does not understand is that baptism is a ritual drowning, a ritual death and it is meant to appear as one. Sacraments are, after all, signs of the reality being celebrated. That is why the Rites of Initiation in the Catholic Church indicate a preference for baptism by immersion. Like many others, Edes may be so familiar with baptism done by pouring a bit of water over a forehead that the notion of baptism as a spiritual drowning or death has never crossed his imagination. That is not his fault. The responsibility for this misunderstanding belongs to church practice which, over centuries, has minimized sacramental signs. We are blessed to live in an age which is recovering those same signs and restoring them to a robust fullness.

OK! I admit it! Only a liturgy geek would go off like this just after the Sox won Game 2 in the World Series! It was just too great a catechetical opportunity for me to pass up.

Only through the waters of chaos,
the waters of the flood,

the waters of the Sea,

can we come to life.

Only through the waters of baptism
can we become a new people.
Only through baptism into Christ's death

can we hope for a share in the resurrection.

Water is a symbol death; water is a symbol of life.

Water has become our way through death to life.
(Irene Nowell, in Liturgy, Summer 1987,
The Liturgical Conference, Washington, DC)


  1. Liturgy geek?? I think NOT...a teacher, I think SO! We all know that the best teachers are those that can find the teachable moments and help us to grow and understand...

  2. Thanks, Ned! I know you're a fine teacher yourself, so I'm grateful for your words.


Please THINK before you write
and PRAY before you think!