The Ephphatha Rite in Baptism
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks the word “Ephphatha” to the deaf and mute man. Hearing this word is particularly striking as it is one of the few words or phrases in the New Testament where the writer chose to retain the original Aramaic rather than translate it into Greek. Because of the word’s power in Aramaic, to this day all translations of the Bible continue to use Jesus’s native tongue for this passage.
Did you know that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the Order of Baptism of Children both have a ritual called “The Ephphatha Rite” which use Jesus’s words and actions from this very Gospel?
On Holy Saturday during the Preparation Rites for their upcoming baptism that night at the Easter Vigil, the Elect may celebrate the following rituals: ephphatha, recitation of the Creed, choosing of a baptismal name, praying of the Lord’s Prayer, and anointing with the Oil of Catechumens. During the Ephphatha Rite, the priest, using his right thumb, touches the ears and the lips of each of the Elect and says: “Ephphatha, that is be opened, that you may profess the faith you hear, to the praise and glory of God” (RCIA, 199). With the Ephphatha Rite celebrated pre-baptism, it prepares the Elect to profess the faith for the first time in the Creed which immediately follows.
In the Order of Baptism of Children, the Ephphetha Rite follows the child’s baptism. After the white garment and candle have been presented, the priest or deacon using his right thumb, touches the child’s ears and lips while saying: “May the Lord Jesus, who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, grant that you may soon receive his word with your ears and profess the faith with your lips, to the glory and praise of God the Father” (OBC, 65). With the Ephphatha Rite post-baptism, it points to the future day where the child will profess his or her own faith.
Jesus’s actions and his own word in his native tongue can be seen and heard in our churches to this very day in Word and Sacrament! “Ephphatha! — that is, “Be opened!” (Mark 7:34). May Christ continue to touch us so that our ears are open to hear his word and our lips are emboldened to “profess the faith… to the glory and praise of God the Father.”