Whenever I watch this scene from the Godfather, I always am asked questions about what the Baptism rubrics actually mean.
Firstly, this baptism is done in the Traditional Latin Mass which was the Mass that was used in the Roman Catholic Church from the Council of Trent to the Second Vatican Council, a period of about 500 years. Today, we would call this Mass the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite. Most Catholics in the western world attend the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite, in the vernacular.
The priest opens by breathing on the child, harkening back to when Jesus breathed on the disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22)” You will also see the priest touch his stole to the child later, just as the woman with the hemorrhage touched Jesus’ garment and was healed in Mark 5:29-31.
The priest uses two types of substances to signal sanctification. He first puts salt on the lips of the boy. This is an ancient practice which has roots in the biblical story of Elisha. Elisha sprinkled salt over water to ward off evil. Of course, salt was used as a preservative in ancient times (and still is), and the image of salt is seen as preserving one from the evil of satan and the demons. St. Augustine, also, in the third century reports that he frequently received a blessing of salt on his forehead to help him stay away from evil. The second substance used is holy oil, which also has biblical roots. You remember that Mary Magdalene poured oil over Christ’s head and was used as a perfume; it was quite the luxury. This is also a sign of sanctification. These substances have no power in themselves, but serve as a sign or reminder of the holiness that is being conferred upon the infant at baptism, or wherever these substances are used in a liturgical setting.
Michael is asked questions concerning his faith. These clauses are first written by St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century, and they quickly become a measure used for true belief and faith in God. Much of the early Councils focused on these clauses and developed them into the creeds we say today – the Apostle’s creed and the Nicene creed.
The Nicene Creed was codified at the Council of Nicea, and then again added on to at the Council of Constantinople. The Apostle’s Creed is a later development, which is basically a shortened Nicene Creed. The priest asks Michael to renew his declaration of faith by asking him if he believes in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith:
“Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?”
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord?”
“Do you believe in Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church?”
Those questions are pretty simple, but then there are additions to the normal creed that is added to the declaration of faith:
“Michael Francis Rizzi, do you renounce Satan?
“And all his works”
“And all his pomps”?
Michael, of course, says he renounces them, but obviously the juxtaposition of his words with the effects of his actions as portrayed in the movie, makes his hypocrisy even more evil. His renunciation of Satan’s works is simply a renunciation of all evil in the world. As Tradition holds, Satan was cast into Hell, along with other angels that we now call demons, when Satan revolted against God. Many theologians believe he revolted because he foresaw Jesus’ incarnation, and Satan – the most powerful of all angels – chose to never serve a man, even though he was also God.
Satan’s pomps are uniquely distinct from his works. Pomps are generally seen as the attractive lure of evil. We have all wanted things we know we shouldn’t want – billions of dollars at the expense of others, supermodels for wives rather than our current wife, power and authority over other people, etc. Those are Satan’s pomps, which must be renounced lest we fall into the evil snares of the devil and his demons, and ultimately, into hell itself.
Enough talking, here is the clip. I must say it’s pretty badass, even though it shows the depths of Michael’s evil and hypocrisy, something we all struggle with (or at least should be, but that’s another discussion). Michael, obviously, doesn’t exactly renounce Satan ,all his works, all his pomps. If one possesses a rightly ordered spiritual life, acts, words and beliefs should all be in conformity with each other.