Every once in a while we have the opportunity to attend the baptism of a niece or nephew, the child of a close friend or perhaps a new addition to our family. It’s a special occasion and one that doesn’t happen every day. It’s an occasion to be celebrated, not only by the family of the child, but by the entire Christian community, the church.
The Rite of Baptism in the Catholic church is a beautiful celebration. It’s one that is rich in symbolism and in the use of sacramentals that call our attention to the saving grace we receive from God. Understanding the basic form and purpose of Baptism helps us better appreciate how important this sacrament is to our salvation. It also helps us recognize the presence of God in and throughout our life.
Baptism is one of the three sacraments of initiation (along with Confirmation and the Eucharist) by which we are brought into the life of the church. It is through Baptism that we are born into a new life in Christ and begin to live a new life with God and his church. But why do we need to be born into this life in Christ? Why is Baptism even necessary for us?
It all goes back to the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. In their temptation by Satan, Adam and Eve succumbed to thinking that they could “be like God” by disobeying the Father’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. By their willful disobedience of God’s will, the harmony of His creation was destroyed and sin entered the world and into our life.
The sin of Adam and Eve is known as “Original Sin.” This sin shattered mankind’s relationship with God and his created harmony. It also entered our lives, as we are the children of Adam and Eve and have inherited this sin from them. That is why it is often so difficult for us to do good, or at least to do what we should.
The sacrament of Baptism was instituted by Jesus in order for us to be reconciled with God and to restore the relationship with Him which was broken through Original Sin. The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River did not purify him (as Our Lord was born without sin). Rather his immersion in the Jordan sanctified the waters of Baptism for us. When Jesus told his disciples to go out and baptize all nations, he gave us the means by which we would die to sin – Original and actual – and be born into a new life with God. The eradication of Original sin from our lives, through the sacrament of Baptism, is the necessary first step in restoring our relationship with God and living as his holy people.
The rite of Baptism is celebrated in two liturgies: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of Baptism. Each has a special role in bringing us into the family of God and his church.
the Liturgy of the Word in the sacrament is very similar to the Liturgy of the Word we celebrate each day at Mass. The liturgy of the word is directed toward stirring up the faith of the parents, godparents and congregation as we pray in common for the fruits of baptism before receiving the sacrament. Upon asking for their children to be baptized into the Christian faith, the priest or deacon asks the parents and godparents to acknowledge the responsibility they are accepting; namely to educate their child in the practice of our faith and to set an example for their child by how they live their faith.
In the liturgy of the word the Word of God is proclaimed to all of His faithful gathered for this celebration, and most especially to the un-baptized children getting ready to receive the sacrament. This indeed is probably the first time these children have head the word of God. The proclamation of the Word of God sheds divine light on the saving grace of baptism and helps build the faith of all present. The children to be baptized, through the acceptance of the Word of God by their parents and godparents, are enriched by the new presence of Our Lord in their life.
The liturgy includes a brief homily which accentuates Jesus’ will for us to be re-united with his Father. We invoke the help of the saints in prayer (especially the patron saints of the children, parents and godparents) asking them to intercede to God on behalf of the children to be baptized and for all of us, his church.
During the liturgy of the word, the location of the children in the church is also significant. As they have not previously heard or accepted the Word of God, this liturgy is celebrated outside the baptistery. Once having received and accepted the Word of God, the children and their parents are invited inside the baptistery to continue with the Liturgy of Baptism.
Jesus himself affirmed the necessity of baptism for our salvation. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5). During the liturgy of Baptism, those who newly received the word of God, are drawn in faith to renounce sin, reject Satan, and profess their belief in God. The entire community present for the liturgy does this on behalf of those who cannot yet speak for themselves.
Gathered around the Baptismal font with the families of the children, the priest or deacon three-times pours the life giving waters of baptism on the child’s head while saying the words: “[Name] I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The ritual of this washing helps us understand that our sins are buried and washed away as we die with Jesus and rise with him in the cleansing water of Baptism, filled with divine life.
Next week I’ll discuss the Liturgy of Baptism along with the meaning and purpose of several of the symbols and sacramentals we encounter throughout this beautiful celebration of the beginning of our life in Christ.
God’s peace and blessing to all.