The Baptismal Gown as Old as America

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Meet Sutton Ann Howard and her sister Eleanor (who is hiding in the back). I had the privilege of baptizing her on Saturday, June 6, 2015 at Saint Mary of Sorrows Historic Church. I love this part of my diaconal ministry and this Baptism just blew me away. Why? Glad you asked!

Sutton Ann Baptism

Other loves of mine include Catholic history, popular devotions and family traditions. Sutton’s Baptism was a nexus of all three. See, the Howard family shared with me that they are descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower. And the baptismal gown that Sutton, like her sister Eleanor, wore on her baptismal day was sown by their great, great, great, great… (you get the picture) aunt in the early 1780s. They are the 13th generation of Howards that have entered the Church wearing it. What’s crazy is that our nation is only slightly older than the baptismal gown!

The Howard family has always had a deep connection to the Church and family tradition. They are a great example of how faith is passed on through traditions in the domestic church. And it is these traditions that are so important in our society today. Family traditions can provide a sense of continuity and connection with the past while pointing us to a “future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). These traditions also keep us grounded. Frankly, as Catholics, one of our favorite idioms is “It’s an oldie, but goodie.”

We too, as the Family of God, protect and preserve our history through our customs and traditions. We don’t keep “ancient” traditions because we are sentimental about our past, but because they are expressions of our inherited family faith that continues to nourish and encourage our own. I take great solace in the fact that the practice of the rosary, the Way of the Cross or even the Litany of Loreto has been handed down to me by the saints, canonized or otherwise, and that I may join them in this tried and true practice of popular devotions.

The Holy Father has encouraged us to get back to our family roots and rediscover “[g]enuine forms of popular religiosity”[1] that have inspired our forefathers and “are born of the incarnation of Christian faith in popular culture.”[2] They are meant to bring us into a deeper personal relationship with Jesus through His Church – sounds like Baptism to me. At the same time, these devotions must not become an individualistic and “sentimental faith life which does not in fact correspond to authentic ‘popular piety’.”[3]

Regardless of what society says about our devotions, they are beautiful, proven prayers and practices that draw us closer to our Lord through His Church. Like Sutton this past Saturday her family, for the past 13 generations, has chosen to give her the best by providing that first step in faith – Holy Baptism. Thank you to the Howard family for encouraging us with your faith and enriching us by sharing with us a little American Catholic family history.

What popular devotions have been passed down to you? Please comment below!

[1] Evangelii Gaudium, 90.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Evangelii Gaudium, 70.

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