"My husband and I are preparing to baptize our newborn in the Catholic Church. My husband is Protestant, and is okay with this, other than he is unsure if his family will be comfortable at the ceremony. How can we make this a united family event?"

The key to making your husband’s family comfortable at the Catholic baptismal ceremony often rests with the welcome that the Protestant family receives in the Catholic Church, especially when they arrive. Their knowledge of what is happening during the ceremony is also important. Hence, several suggestions might help. The first suggestion deals with helping the Protestant guests understand what happens at a Catholic baptism and the second pertains to the reception they receive as guests in a Catholic Church.

First: Protestants often get confused with what they regard as complex Catholic rituals. The first suggestion is for you to answer any questions they may have about the baptism and then make clear ahead of time that the heart of the ceremony is the baptism of the child in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, while water is poured on the child’s forehead (or sometimes immersed in the water). All other ritual acts (initiatory actions, readings, anointings, giving the white garment, lighting the candle) are related to this central action of the baptism itself. To explain what goes on at the ceremony, it helps to get several small pamphlets describing the Rite of Baptism from the parish or a Catholic bookstore. If you read the Rite of Baptism and give one to Protestant family members, briefly explaining it to them, they will be able to better follow the ceremony, know what is going on, and feel more at home. The parish may already have these booklets, so it is worth checking. These Rite of Baptism booklets contain all the essential elements of the baptism. If baptism takes place during Mass, explain that for Catholics baptism is closely associated with the Eucharist.

Second: When entering the Catholic Church, the Catholics present need to make the Protestant family members feel welcome. This applies to all Catholics in attendance, especially the priest or deacon who will baptize the child. If possible, contact him by phone, email, letter, or in person, and give the circumstance. Suggest that it will be appreciated if he can meet the members of your husband’s family right before the ceremony and welcome them, especially his parents. This will make him more mindful of their presence during the ceremony itself. Before beginning or during his homily, if it seems appropriate, you might suggest also that he say a few words about the significance of baptism for all Christian churches, Catholic and Protestant. If he cannot be reached, you could contact the baptismal coordinator or parish secretary or leave a message on the celebrant’s voicemail or e-mail, making the same suggestion that he acknowledge the non-Catholic family members. If only one child is baptized, it’s easier to personalize this child’s celebration and the family and guests present, but if there are more, or if it happens at Mass, it is still helpful for the person conferring baptism to know the denominational family backgrounds of those attending who are deeply bonded with the child to be baptized, like grandparents. If Catholics who know your husband’s parents and other family members attend the service, you might encourage them to go out of their way to welcome Protestant family members. Finally, try to have your husband’s family seat in prominent places near you, your husband, the baby to be baptized, and sponsors. If they are close to other Catholic members they can guide them through the ceremony. Personal contact and welcome are essential to achieve the goal of your question. Try your best to help them understand the ritual and encourage others to extend a deep sense of Catholic hospitality to your husband’s family. Hopefully, this will help make the baptism a united family event.