by Paul Turner

The baptismal font is the womb from which Christians are born. As physical birth happens only once, so does our spiritual birth. Although fonts originated as part of the furnishings for cathedrals, today virtually every Christian church building maintains a font to facilitate the welcome of new members.

Fonts have many traditional shapes. Some are round, recalling a mother's womb. Some are cruciform, showing our sharing in the death of Christ. Others are tomb-shaped for the same reason. Still others form an octagon, reminding us that Christ rose on the "eight day" of the week, a day outside normal time, like the eternity we will share with him through our baptism.

The font may be placed in one of many traditional locations. Some are in a room to themselves. Originally, fonts were in separate buildings. At the Easter Vigil, the assembly would go out to the font to attend the baptisms, then bring the newly baptized into the church for the eucharist. Some of our fonts, in rooms by themselves, keep this tradition, but small rooms make it difficult for the assembly to celebrate with the newly baptized. For this reason, other fonts are placed in or near the sanctuary, for better visibility, or near the door of the church, to symbolize our entry into the Christian community. In churches where the faithful enter each Sunday past the baptistery, they may use it to sign themselves with holy water. We remind ourselves of our baptism in Christ each time we enter our churches. Some parishes have a movable font -- they wheel it in for baptisms and wheel it out afterwards. It helps visibility but lacks the reverence of a stable place.

Many fonts are large enough for full immersion of the candidate. Others are small to accommodate pouring water over the head of an infant. Both forms of baptism are permitted, but a renewed interest in immersion in the universal church is introducing larger fonts in full view of the assembly, suitable for fully symbolizing our death and rising in Christ.

Some fonts resemble fountains, with flowing water even when baptisms are not celebrated. The running water symbolizes life in Christ.

The font is one of the most sacred areas of our churches. It deserves the reverence of the faithful, for it is there where we are reborn, where our family grows, and where we first meet Christ, whose resurrection is our destiny.

(This bulletin insert originally appeared in MODERN LITURGY, copyright (c) 1996, Resource Publications, Inc. It may not be reproduced without permission. Send permission requests to

(Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University.)