WDTPRS Baptism of the Lord – He must increase, we must decrease.

Last week … well… actually the SIXTH of January… we saw that Epiphany traditionally observes three mysteries of the Lord’s life revealing Him as divine: the adoration of Jesus by the Magi, the changing water to wine at Cana, and His baptism by John in the Jordan River.

In the reform after the Council greater emphasis was given the Lord’s baptism as a model for our own baptism.

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which closes the Christmas season, is now placed on a Sunday whereas in the pre-Conciliar calendar it had with some exceptions a commemoration on 13 January.

John the Baptist helped us into our Advent preparation for Christmas by reminding us to straighten the paths of our lives for the coming of the Lord.  We fittingly meet the Baptist again at the end of the Christmas season.  He announced the coming of the Messiah and now he points us to the Messiah.  This was when the Baptist told his disciples to follow Jesus, saying “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).

In His baptism by John, Christ foreshadows what He would do later: He descends into the waters of the Jordan (death and the tomb) and rises out of them again (resurrection).

Christ had no need of John’s baptism.  Being perfect and sinless Jesus had nothing to repent.  Instead, His submission to baptism shows all humanity the way to our salvation.  Christ’s baptism reveals how we must die and rise to our sins in the sacrament He instituted at the Jordan.   By receiving John’s baptism the Lord was solemnly revealed to be divine by the Father’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit, and He sanctified the waters for our baptisms.  Baptism in the starting point of all saving and actual graces we receive as Christians.  Baptism confers on us an indelible character, almost like a branding mark of Christ’s Lordship in and over us.  This is the foundation of our spiritual lives.  Christ’s humility orients us in the right direction for our lives as baptized Christians.

He must increase, we must decrease.

We find two collects for today in the 2002 Missale Romanum.  The first is of new composition for the post-Conciliar Novus Ordo and the second is from the 1962MR on 13 January, the Commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord.

Omnipotens sempiternae Deus,
qui Christum, in Iordane flumine baptizatum,
Spiritu Sancto super eum descendente,
dilectum Filium tuum sollemniter declarasti,
concede filiis adoptionis tuae, ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto renatis,
ut in beneplacito tuo iugiter perseverent.

Apart from the obvious references to the events at the Jordan, there are echoes of Scripture here (cf. Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Is 61:1-2; Rom 8:15; Eph 1:3. 5-6). According to the illuminating Lewis & Short Dictionary the later Latin adverb sollemniter, from the adjective sollemnis, refers to all that which is performed according to the proper customs and forms usually in a ritual religious context.  Thus, it mostly means grand and “ceremoniously” but also in an ordinary way, so long as it is the “customary” way.  The form of the verb declarasti is again “syncopated” (declaravisti).  Spiritu…descendente is our old friend the ablative absolute and it takes its time from the perfect declarasti.   Iugiter, ultimately from iugum (a “yoke” for horses or cattle), means “continuously” as if one moment in time is being “yoked together” with the next, and so on.  The substantive beneplacitum is from the late, ecclesiastical verb beneplaceo (“to please”), found in the Latin Vulgate and in authors such as St. Ambrose of Milan (+397).


Almighty, eternal God,
when the Spirit descended upon Jesus
at his baptism in the Jordan,
you revealed him as your own beloved Son.
Keep us, your children born of water and the Spirit,
faithful to our calling.

Almighty eternal God,
who as the Holy Spirit was descending upon Him,
solemnly declared Christ, baptized in the Jordan river,
to be Your beloved Son,
grant that the children of Your adopting, reborn from water and the Holy Spirit,
may continually persevere in your good pleasure.

Almighty everlasting God,
you solemnly declared the Christ
to be your beloved Son
as the Holy Spirit descended upon him
after his Baptism in the River Jordan;
grant that your children of adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may continue always
to be those in whom you are well pleased

Almighty ever-living God,
who when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan,
and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him,
solemnly declared him your beloved Son,
grant that your children by adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may always be well pleasing to you

The ICEL version isn’t too far off the mark today, probably because this rather chatty prayer pretty much tells a story and the syntax is fairly straight forward.   It is no surprise that they chose to break the Collect into two sentences, rather than maintain the classic one sentence structure which has so much more elegance, significance and impact.

COLLECT 2 (2002MR):
Deus, cuius Unigenitus
in substantia nostrae carnis apparuit, praesta, quaesumus,
ut, per eum, quem similem nobis foris agnovimus,
intus reformari mereamur.

This prayer is far less wordy than the newly composed collect.  The language here is denser and more “theological”.   Note the contrast between two pairs of words.  First, the adverbs intus, “on the inside, within”, contrasted with foris, “from without” (this is literally, “outside the doors”, so it refers to what you see from the outside).  Next, the noun substantia, a theological word “substance”, that which we really are in and of ourselves apart, or “beneath” in a sense our outward appearances or “accidents”, contrasts with the adjective similis, “like, resembling, similar”.  There is another theological concept, “form”, contained within the passive infinitive reformari.  Human beings are composed of “matter” (our fleshly bodies) and “form” (our immortal, rational souls).  The sacraments have matter and form: for example, in baptism water (matter) and the Trinitarian words spoken while pouring the water (form), in the Eucharist bread and wine (matter) and the words of consecration by an ordained priest (form), in penance the confession of sins (matter) and the absolution from the priest (form).

O God, whose Only-begotten,
appeared in the substance of our flesh, grant, we beg,
that we may merit to be reshaped inwardly
through Him, whom we recognize is like us outwardly.

ICEL’s so-called “Alternative Opening Prayer” inserted into the Sacramentary, and therefore your missalettes at church, has nothing to do with the actual alternate Collect in the Latin Missal, so I will not burden you with it.

O God,
whose Only Begotten Son has appeared in the substance of our flesh,
grant, we pray, that through him
whom outwardly we recognize to be like us
we may merit to be inwardly changed

O God, whose Only Begotten Son
has appeared in our very flesh,
grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed
through him whom we recognize as outwardly like us

The Latin prayer’s meaning hinges on the effects of baptism.  Through the words of the formula for baptism and the outward pouring of sensible, visible water, there is an invisible and inward effect of grace in the soul.  By baptism we are inwardly conformed or “shaped” so that we can be a proper temple of the Holy Spirit and recipient of graces as holy member of the Body of Christ, the Church.  By taking up our human nature, our “flesh”, into an indestructible bond with His divinity, the Second Person became one like us in all things but sin.

Our baptism is the first step of being more and more reformed and shaped according to His image, a process which will continue for eternity in heaven.  In this life it is our task to make sure that our outward life, our words and actions, are fully consistent with and show forth clearly the inward reality of Christ in us.  This but one of the lessons we receive from Jesus’ humble submission to a baptism at the hands of John in the Jordan for which He had absolutely no need.

The main concept underlying the primary Collect, and this feast, would have to be our spiritual adoption and new status in the Holy Spirit as the children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ having the same heavenly Father.  In our baptism and by living the faith we profess we enjoy the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, indeed the indwelling of the Triune God (cf. John 14:23).  This indwelling begins with the humble reception of a “character” or “owner’s mark” on our souls, which although it is a sign of God’s Lordship over us actually sets us free from the bondage of sin.   He adopts us as His own making us sons and daughters, not slaves.  When the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we can address God with reverential awe intimately as “Abba” (“Daddy” cf. Mark 14:36), rather than with the abject fear of a slave for a hard master.

God does more for us than freeing us from sin and making us His adopted children.

He also makes us co-heirs with His eternally Only-Begotten to a divine inheritance.

As co-heirs we can be admitted also to the joys of heaven which Christ, our brother in our humanity, has in perfect possession with His resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand (cf. Romans 8:34).  Once we were slaves of sin and the enemies of God (Romans 5:10-11).  Now we are sons and daughters with a (re)birthright to inherit.  Our humanity, in Christ, already enjoys this while all of humanity still awaits the fulfillment of this promise.

God now hears our prayers as He hears His confident children, not fearful strangers.

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6 Responses to WDTPRS Baptism of the Lord – He must increase, we must decrease.

  1. Peter from Jersey says:

    I wonder why the current ICEL version leaves untranslated the word “adopted”. Is there something unsatisfactory with adoption?
    Adopted children and their adoptive parents might feel slighted by this.
    Am I getting hot upset for nothing here?

  2. Sid says:

    Thank you, Father, for exploring the richness of this Feast of Our Lord! May I add additional reflections on that richness?

    1. He needed no baptism of John, the baptism of remission of sins. Yet He does what sinners need to do, because He takes the side of sinners; He Who knows no sin shows solidarity with sinners.

    2. The quote from the 2nd Psalm confirms that this Baptism of Our Lord is also His coronation as Christ the King.

    3. The Pascal Mystery is revealed to us for the first time, His going down into the water His death, His coming out of the water His resurrection.

    4. And The Most Holy Trinity in Its fullness is revealed to us for the first time. When did we first know the Person The SON? The SON was always there, 1 Corinthians 10:4. Yet we came to know Him as The SON on 1st Christmas. When did we first come to know the Person The HOLY SPIRIT? I once thought “at Pentecost”. Yet rather it is on this Feast, as the Dove descending out of the ripped open sky. And when did we first come to know the Person The FATHER? Also at this Feast, as the Voice. Yet one could also argue that this Person we now know only because The SON and The HOLY SPIRIT have told us about Him, that we will come to know, to witness, The FATHER first in Heaven, as is the privilege now of Blessed Souls.

  3. Jayna says:

    Ever noticed how many times the ICEL saw fit to say “Jesus” instead of “Christ” (even when the Latin did not)? I guess it’s because we’re all supposed to be BFF’s now. But I am glad to see that they’ve learned in the interim that “Christum” does not translate to “Jesus.”

  4. Tom in NY says:

    “Abba” may not resonate clearly unless (a) you’ve studied Hebrew (ab, father) or (b) until you’ve heard a boy holding his father’s hand, address him as “ab.”
    Ad quaerendum: Following Jayna a little farther in translation of Christum, could we say, “…solemnly declared your beloved (chosen) Son, baptized in the River Jordan…as the Anointed…”? How much does that change the sense in English?
    Ut semper, causa sapientiae RP Moderatoris gratias agamus.
    Salutationes omnibus

  5. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    So what’s up with having two collects? I notice that in my breviary I have only one oration, the “Omnipotens sempiternae Deus”. I was surprised to see two in my missal.

  6. Robertus: So what’s up with having two collects?

    You tell us. What’s up with two collects?