- The Catholic Church has seven Sacraments. (C.C.C. # 1113) Of the seven Sacraments of the Church, three of them are Sacraments of initiation to introduce a new convert into the Catholic Church. These are the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. (C.C.C. # 1212)
- The Sacrament of Baptism gives birth to the Christian’s life of faith. (C.C.C. # 1210) The Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens him. In the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the faithful receives food for eternal life. (C.C.C. # 1212)
The Baptism of Jesus:
- When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, a beautiful thing happened. God showed to everyone who were present that ‘Jesus’ was ‘the One Who is anointed by God’. That means that Jesus was God the Father’s Chosen One, the One Who God had promised to send to save the people He loved. When Jesus was anointed, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and the power of God. This anointing proved that Jesus was God! [Mt. 3:16-7; Mk. 1:24; Jn. 6:69; Acts 3:14] (C.C.C. # 438)
- The public life of Jesus began with His Baptism on the shore of the Jordan River. It ended with Jesus commanding the Apostles to “go and make disciples of all, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded them.” [Mt. 28:19-20] (C.C.C. # 1223) These Words of Jesus from the Holy Bible teach the Christians the great importance of the Sacrament of Baptism.
- The word ‘Baptism‘ comes from a Greek word bapto, or baptizo that means to ‘plunge‘ or ‘immerse‘. To ‘plunge‘ someone in water represents the person dying, being buried and resurrecting with Christ as a ‘new creature.’ (C.C.C. # 1214) Some call this Sacrament ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit‘ because Baptism results in a new birth of water and the Spirit. Without it, no one can enter the Kingdom of God. [Jn. 3:5] (C.C.C. # 1215)
- This ‘bath‘ is called ‘enlightenment‘. That is because those who are preparing to receive this Church Sacrament will receive spiritual teachings from the Holy Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Enlightened by Jesus Who is the Light of the world [Jn. 1:9], the new Christians now have the potential of becoming ‘children of light‘. [1 Thess. 5:5; Heb. 10:32; Eph. 5:8] (C.C.C. # 1216, 1228)
- The Roman Catechism (Ad parochos, De bapt., 2, 2, 5) defines baptism thus: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration by water in the word (per aquam in verbo). St. Thomas Aquinas (III:66:1) gives this definition: “Baptism is the external ablution of the body, performed with the prescribed form of words.”
- Later theologians generally distinguish formally between the physical and the metaphysical defining of this sacrament. By the former they understand the formula expressing the action of ablution and the utterance of the invocation of the Trinity; by the latter, the definition: “Sacrament of regeneration” or that institution of Christ by which we are reborn to spiritual life.
- The term “regeneration” distinguishes baptism from every other sacrament, for although penance revivifies men spiritually, yet this is rather a resuscitation, a bringing back from the dead, than a rebirth. Penance does not make us Christians; on the contrary, it presupposes that we have already been born of water and the Holy Ghost to the life of grace, while baptism on the other hand was instituted to confer upon men the very beginnings of the spiritual life, to transfer them from the state of enemies of God to the state of adoption, as sons of God.
- The definition of the Roman Catechism combines the physical and metaphysical definitions of baptism. “The sacrament of regeneration” is the metaphysical essence of the sacrament, while the physical essence is expressed by the second part of the definition, i.e. the washing with water (matter), accompanied by the invocation of the Holy Trinity (form). Baptism is, therefore, the sacrament by which we are born again of water and the Holy Ghost, that is, by which we receive in a new and spiritual life, the dignity of adoption as sons of God and heirs of God’s kingdom.
The Sacrament of Forgiveness:
- As previously said, the Christian who has been baptised has received by the grace of God the indwelling Holy Spirit, a new heart and a new spirit. He is now equipped with the necessary spiritual tools that qualifies him to enter into the Kingdom of God. At the same time, because the new spiritual inclination does not have full control over the worldly ways of the body, the Christian will always battle against evil and sin.
- To spiritually grow in the likeness of Christ, the Christian must confess his weaknesses of the body. Otherwise, he will not be in harmony with the new heart and spirit that he has received during the Sacrament of Baptism through faith in Christ. consequently his soul will not be pleasing to the Lord. God is jealous of His creations in which His Spirit lives. [Jas. 4:5] He desires that they grow spiritually by loving Him first and then others. God expects the Christians to forgive one another when the spiritual law demands an act of forgiveness. He also expects His children to ask for His forgiveness when they neglect self-control over their bodies through self-abuses and other worldly pleasures that displease Him.
- Through the Sacrament of Confession, the Christian regains the state of grace that he previously enjoyed when he received the Sacrament of Baptism but which he loss in the eyes of God because of sin. (C.C.C. # 1446) His soul once more becomes stainless, having been sprinkled by the Blood of Christ. [Heb. 9:13-4]
Baptism: The Door of the Church:
- The “door of the Church” because it is the first of the seven sacraments not only in time but in priority, since the reception of the other sacraments depends on it. It is the first of the three Sacraments of Initiation, the other two being the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
- Baptism is considered the gateway for all other sacraments. It marks the beginning of our Christian ministry as it frees us from original sin and makes us members in Christ and his Church. Baptism is most often conferred on infants and children too young to understand this important ritual. Therefore, our best option for evangelization is the parents.
- Once baptized, a person becomes a member of the Church. Traditionally, the rite (or ceremony) of baptism was held outside the doors of the main part of the church, to signify this fact.
Institution of the Sacrament:
- That Christ instituted the Sacrament of Baptism is unquestionable. Rationalists, like Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, I, 68), dispute it, only by arbitrarily ruling out the texts which prove it. Christ not only commands His Disciples (Matthew 28:19) to baptize and gives them the form to be used, but He also declares explicitly the absolute necessity of baptism (John 3): “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God.” Moreover, from the general doctrine of the Church on the sacraments, we know that the efficacy attached to them is derivable only from the institution of the Redeemer.
- When, however, we come to the question as to when precisely Christ instituted baptism, we find that ecclesiastical writers are not agreed. The Scriptures themselves are silent upon the subject. Various occasions have been pointed out as the probable time of institution, as when Christ was Himself baptized in the Jordan, when He declared the necessity of the rebirth to Nicodemus, when He sent His Apostles and Disciples to preach and baptize.
- The first opinion was quite a favorite with many of the Fathers and Schoolmen, and they are fond of referring to the sanctification of the baptismal water by contact with the flesh of the God-man. Others, as St. Jerome and St. Maximus, appear to assume that Christ baptized John on this occasion and thus instituted the sacrament. There is nothing, however, in the Gospels to indicate that Christ baptized the Precursor at the time of His own baptism. As to the opinion that it was in the colloquy with Nicodemus that the sacrament was instituted, it is not surprising that it has found few adherents. Christ’s words indeed declare the necessity of such an institution, but no more. It seems also very unlikely that Christ would have instituted the sacrament in a secret conference with one who was not to be a herald of its institution.
The Necessity of Baptism:
- Christ Himself ordered His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations and to baptize those who accept the message of the Gospel (Mt 28:19)
- In His encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Christ made it clear that baptism was necessary for salvation: “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
- For Catholics, the sacrament is not a mere formality; it is the very mark of a Christian, because it brings us into new life in Christ.
Baptism of Desire:
- From very early on, the Church recognized that there are two other types of baptism besides the baptism of water.
- This applies both to those who, while wishing to be baptized, die before receiving the sacrament and “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of conscience” (Constitution on the Church, Second Vatican Council).
- Some people die while being ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and His Church. In such cases, it can be presumed that they have received the Baptism of desire and were saved if they truly searched for the truth and lived righteous lives by the will of God in accordance with their understanding. “It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” (C.C.C. # 1260, 1281)
Baptism of Blood:
- This is similar to the baptism of desire. It refers to the martyrdom of those believers who were killed for the faith before they had a chance to be baptized. This was a common occurrence in the early centuries of the Church, but also in later times in missionary lands. The baptism of blood has the same effects as the baptism of water.
- In a situation where someone endures death for the sake of his faith without having received the Sacrament of Baptism, he is baptized by death for and with Christ. The Church recognizes that in such a case, he has received the Baptism of blood, this being like a baptism of desire. Although not a Sacrament, the Baptism of blood reflects the fruit of the Holy Spirit which shines forth. (C.C.C. # 1258)
Matter (or Symbols) of Baptism:
- Water is used during the Sacrament of Baptism because it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It shows the actions of the Holy Spirit during the rebirth of Baptism in God. (C.C.C. # 1213) From the believer’s heart will flow rivers of living water. [Jn. 4:10; 7:38-9]
- From the Holy Spirit flows all the blessings [Rev. 21:6] of Jesus Who was crucified. The Sacrament of Baptism allows the new Christian to drink of the Holy Spirit, (C.C.C. # 694) to be sanctified so he may inherit the Kingdom of God.
- During the ceremony of Baptism, the priest says a prayer of blessing, asking that the water within the baptismal basin be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Touching the water with his right hand, he asks the Heavenly Father to send the Holy Spirit upon the water that will be used for the baptism of the child (or adult).
- THE PRAYERS OF EXORCISM
- During the Sacrament of Baptism, the Priest says two prayers of Exorcism.
- The first one is said after the reading of the Gospel. During that prayer, the Priest commands any impure spirits who might be present to depart from the person to be baptised. This process is to purify the physical body of the believer. The spiritual body does not need purification because a new creation will be born when the sinful one dies.
- The second prayer of Exorcism is called “Ephpheta.” (Ephpheta means ‘Be opened’) After the prayer, the Priest touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb. He then says, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His Word, and your mouth to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”
- THE OIL OF CATECHUMENS
- Before anointing the child with the oil of catechumens, the priest proceeds to invoke God to set the child free of original sin, to become a Temple of His glory in which will dwell the Holy Spirit.
- THE OIL OF CHRISM
- The Sacred Chrism is a perfumed oil that has been consecrated by the Bishop. (C.C.C. # 1241) When the Priest anoints the one to be baptised, he asks God to bless the believer with all the necessary graces to achieve a Christian life. The Word ‘Christian’ comes from the name of ‘Christ’ which means ‘Anointed One’. The baptised person is admitted into the common priesthood of which Jesus is the High Priest.
- THE WHITE GARMENT
- The white garment represents putting on Christ. Announcing that the believer has become a new creature, having been clothed with Christ, the Priest places the white garment on the new Christian. He then proclaims that this garment is the outward sign of the believer’s Christian dignity. In the case of infants, with the help of the parents, godparents and friend, by their words and examples, it is proclaimed that the newly baptised child be allowed to bring that dignity unstained into the Heavenly eternal life.
- THE CANDLE
- Taking the Easter candle, the priest says, “Receive the light of Christ.”Then, when an infant is involved, the father or the godfather lights the child’s candle from the Easter candle. The priest tells the parents and godparents that they have been entrusted with this light so it will be kept burning brightly. Having been enlightened by Christ, the child is to always walk as a child of the light. The flame of faith which is in his heart is to be kept alive at all time so when the Lord comes, he will go out to meet Him with all the saints of the Heavenly Kingdom.
The Form of the Sacrament of Baptism:
- The essentials of that rite are two: the pouring of water over the head of the person to be baptized (or the immersion of the person in water); and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The Minister of the Sacrament of Baptism:
- The ordinary minister of solemn baptism is first the bishop and second the priest. By delegation, a deacon may confer the sacrament solemnly as an extraordinary minister. but any baptized person can baptize another. In fact, when the life of a person is in danger, even a non-baptized person, including someone who does not himself believe in Christ, can baptize, provided that the person performing the baptism follows the form of baptism and intends, by the baptism, to do what the Church does, in other words, to bring the person being baptized into the fullness of the Church.
- In case of necessity, baptism can be administered lawfully and validly by any person whatsoever who observes the essential conditions, whether this person be a Catholic layman or any other man or woman, heretic or schismatic, infidel or Jew.
- In the case of an emergency, anyone can baptise another person as long as he has the intention of doing so and says the proper words. He is only required to pour water over the person’s head and say the words, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (C.C.C. # 1284)
- In both cases, a priest may later perform a conditional baptism.
- Baptism by Lay Persons: When the Catholic Church finds it necessary to do so because of a shortage of ministers, it can appoint properly trained lay persons to assist the priests in the ministering of the religious Sacraments of Baptism and the distribution of Holy Communion. (CCC # 903)
- In the Catholic Church today, baptism is most commonly administered to infants. While some other Christians strenuously object to infant baptism, believing that baptism requires assent on the part of the person being baptized, the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and other mainline Protestants also practice infant baptism, and there is evidence that it was practiced from the earliest days of the Church.
- Because of the greatness of the eternal gift that is received during the Sacrament of Baptism, the Church does not desire to see anyone die without receiving this Sacrament. (C.C.C. # 1250) The Church also realizes that the Sacrament of Baptism requires a Profession of faith, something that infants and younger children cannot profess.
- Since baptism removes both the guilt and the punishment due to Original Sin, delaying baptism until a child can understand the sacrament may put the child’s salvation in danger, should he die unbaptized.
- Knowing that it had this power, the Catholic Church determined in its spiritual wisdom to baptise infants as soon as they were born. This would ensure that infants would also receive their new heart and spirit to guide them in life. This would be their guarantee of salvation as children of God should they die before reaching the age of reason.
- Because of this decision, the Church also realized that infants must be educated later on after their Baptism, this being a parental role. This is where the catechism serves a great purpose in the Church. (C.C.C. # 1231)
- The history of infant Baptism has been traced to the second century and could have also existed during the days of apostolic preaching when entire ‘households’ were baptized. (CCC # 1252, 1282)
- In situations where infants die without being baptised, the Church can only rely on the mercy of God to invite them in His Kingdom. The Church is fully aware that Jesus wanted the children to come to Him while He lived on earth. [Mk. 10:14]
- When infants are baptised, the Christian parents who have given birth to this newborn soul, a gift of God, have an obligation to nurture its new life in the light of God. (CCC # 1251)
The Importance of Godparents:
- Because Baptism is the Sacrament of faith, when godparents speak on behalf of infants, they are asked what do they ask of God’s Church? To this question, they answer, “Faith”. (C.C.C. # 1253)
- After Baptism, faith must grow within the child. For this reason, the renewal of baptismal promises are made each year at the Easter Vigil. (C.C.C. # 1254)
- The parents and godparents of newly baptised infants bear the main responsibility for their spiritual growth and the safeguarding of the grace that the infants receive during the Sacrament of Baptism. (C.C.C. # 1255)
- In new areas where the Gospel is being preached, the Baptism of adults is very common. In such cases, the catechism serves the purpose of preparing the adult into the Christian faith and life to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. (C.C.C. # 1247-9)
- Adult converts to Catholicism also receive the sacrament, unless they have already received a Christian baptism. (If there is any doubt about whether an adult has already been baptized, the priest will perform a conditional baptism.) A person can only be baptized once as a Christian if, say, he was baptized as a Lutheran, he cannot be rebaptized when he converts to Catholicism.
- While an adult can be baptized after proper instruction in the Faith, adult baptism normally occurs today as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and is immediately followed by Confirmation and Communion.
- When a child is baptized, the parents, godparents (sponsors) and pastor should work together to ensure that the child receives a Christian name that expresses a Christian mystery or virtue. Names that express Christian mysteries can be the name of a saint who lived a great spiritual life and who enjoyed a very special relationship with the Lord Jesus. (C.C.C. # 2156, 2165)
The Effects of the Sacrament of Baptism:
Baptism has six primary effects, which are all supernatural graces:
- The removal of the guilt of both Original Sin (the sin imparted to all mankind by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) and personal sin (the sins that we have committed ourselves).
- The remission of all punishment that we owe because of sin, both temporal (in this world and in Purgatory) and eternal (the punishment that we would suffer in hell).
- The infusion of grace in the form of sanctifying grace (the life of God within us); the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; and the three theological virtues.
- Becoming a part of Christ.
- Becoming a part of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.
- Enabling participation in the sacraments, the priesthood of all believers, and the growth in grace.
Rights and Duties:
- Once baptized and belonging to the Body of Christ, the new Christian belongs to Christ. He is subject to others and required to obey and serve the Church leadership in sincere submission for the successful growth of the Body of Christ. While the Christian has duties to perform towards the Church, he also enjoys the Church Sacraments. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments help the Christian to grow in his spiritual life to become more like Christ. (C.C.C. # 1269)
- Couple Prayer.Encouraging parents to pray together for the sake of the child they are about to baptize is an intimate and powerful experience that can truly unify a couple. Praying together for a tiny infant provides a great foundation and will segue easily and naturally to deeper prayer as the child grows and needs those prayers all the more.
- Letter to Baby.Invite parents to write a letter to their child about the hopes they have for their son or daughter as he or she grows to follow God. This is an excellent opportunity for a parent to ponder their role in the spiritual life of their child. By putting their hopes and desires in writing, it deepens the commitment and can become a treasured keepsake.
- Discernment of the Baptismal Name.The naming of a child has great significance and requires prayerful discernment. As Catholics, we have a wonderful tradition of naming our children after great saints. These holy individuals can provide our children with a strong and virtuous role model and a spiritual companion for life.
- Choice of Godparents.Godparents are not a figure head in the Catholic Church, but a vital player in the spiritual life of the child being baptized. A carefully discerned Godparent will be convicted in their Catholic faith and committed to see that the child is raised as promised.
- Easter Vigil.Easter Vigil is the Church’s grand celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, with the blessing of the paschal candle and the entrance of all the catechumens and candidates into the Church. Yet many Catholics have never experienced it. Enthusiastically andpersonally invite families to attend!
- Baptismal Anniversaries.Mark the anniversary dates of each family member of the calendar. Celebrate those special days by reminiscing over photos or lighting the baptismal candle. This is a wonderful opportunity for the family to recite together the baptismal vows.
- On-Going Catechesis.Even though most children will have already been baptized by the time they begin to understand this sacrament, it doesn’t mean there can’t be on-going catechesis. Choose biblical “water stories” (i.e. Noah and the flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, Jesus’ baptism, etc.) as a teaching tool for explaining the sacrament, since each of these events pre-figure baptism in some way. If a baptism is going to take place during a Mass you are attending, give your children seats with a good view of all the action, while quietly pointing out symbols such as the chrism oil, the candle, and the white garment. And remember, when it’s time to renew the vows, do it loudly and proudly!
Back to: Basics of Catholicism