Episco-Fact #79
Februart 1, 2018

This past Sunday at the baptisms, I noticed that the hangings and vestments were green. I thought that the color for baptism was white. Is there a color for baptisms?

There was a time when baptisms in the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and other Mainline Protestant Denominations were often held outside of the weekly service, administered as separate rites. So, baptism has not always been administered the same way in all times and in all places.

That variety of settings can be discerned even in the Bible. During this developmental period of the church, it seems that baptisms were held whenever people were ready to become part of the Christian Community. See Acts of the Apostles (2.41), (8.14-8.17), (8.26-38), (8.36-40), (9.16), (10.47-48), (16.15), (16.33), and (18.8). Only in the first instance (2.41), that of the first Christian Pentecost, is it noted that the baptisms occurred on a special day.

By the middle of the second century, however, it was becoming the custom to set aside time when the community was gathered to do baptisms, often just once per year. In a community What is unique about this change to baptisms at the weekly gatherings, is that this had become the time of sharing the Eucharist. Therefore, the pattern of using the structure of the Eucharist to guide the actions of the service, was coming into usage.

The normative practice of the early church early on became baptism with the gathered community and baptism by immersion. Once legalized and elevated to the state religion, Christianity was adopted by adults rather in large numbers. Once the easily converted candidates were baptized, Christians turned to questions about children and their salvation. In this period of high infant mortality, that concern influenced the practice of baptizing infants and doing so at the earliest possible date, regardless of when the community could be gathered. Therefore, baptism eventually became a separate service, detached from the Eucharist and as a separate service it was designated that the color of the service was white.

However, the governing rubric for baptism in the BCP 1979 is, "Holy Baptism is appropriately administered within the Eucharist as the chief service on a Sunday or other feast (BCP Page 298)." That means that the color for the service is the color of the day. The BCP also has additional directions concerning the service of Baptism found on page 312 and 313. That is where one finds the direction that "Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the day of Pentecost, on All Saints Day or the Sunday after All Saints Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the First Sunday after Epiphany)." The colors of the day for all but the Day of Pentecost are white, and the color for the Pentecost is red.

For a great many practical reasons, the color of the day for baptism is white, but not always.