Some years ago I went to Tunisia in search of winter sun. I fulfilled an ambition not only to ride a camel, but to do so on the Feast of the Epiphany. And on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord I went to Sunday Mass in the local church. The parish was run by French Dominicans. Appropriately, a child was baptised during Mass. At the final blessing the priest took the child in his arms, held it aloft, and blessed the congregation with the baby.
It was as if the infant Jesus had risen from the Christmas crib. The priest became Simeon all over again. There was no introduction or commentary or explanation. The gesture spoke for itself. I shall never forget it. Needless to say, I have added it to my own liturgical repertoire. Mothers have been known to cry. Its power is not confined to the theologically literate. It evokes a reaction from the most cynical of Baptism guests.
Symbols speak for themselves, yet unpacking the significance of this gesture could fill volumes. The priest pronounces the words of blessing but it is the child in his arms, not yet able to speak, who blesses us. In Baptism we celebrate the fact that a baby is a child of God. Blessing the congregation with the child is a reminder that both the child, and we the congregation, are the body of Christ. The child – so recently baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – blesses us in the name of the same three persons of the Trinity.
It might be said that only an innocent child could bless. But all of us, sinners that we are, have the power to bless each other. We can also bless ourselves.