Continuing our series of ceremony articles written by mothers of faith, Pat shares:
The Sacrament of Baptism is a cause for celebration! It is a grace-filled moment in the life of a child, parents, and the Church. Loving parents seek baptism for their child to share their Christian life, but more important, that their child may enjoy a relationship with God and the people of God.
We can enter that joy more deeply when we understand the grace of baptism, and the rite itself.
The Grace of Baptism
Jesus taught: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20.)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door… to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as [sons and daughters] of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission. [Par. 1213.]
Grace received at baptism transforms a child in many ways.
First, all humans inherit Original Sin through the fall of Adam and Eve. Through Christ, “the New Adam,” Original Sin is forgiven and removed by baptism. How does this happen?
To baptize means to “plunge” or to “immerse”. “Plunging” into the waters of baptism symbolizes the person’s burial into Christ’s death. Their rising out of the water symbolizes their resurrection with him “as a new creature.”
Second, baptism establishes a relationship with the Holy Trinity. A baby may have an earthly mother and father, but now becomes an adoptive son or daughter of the Heavenly Father. Joined to Christ in baptism, they become a temple of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit brings sanctifying grace enabling them to know and love God, prompting them through life to grow in virtue and goodness.
Third, baptism incorporates the child into the Church, the Body of Christ, a source of future grace and blessing. The new Christian is holy, their soul imprinted with a spiritual sign, a character, or “mark” consecrating them for worship. The sign can never be erased. It is the seal of the Lord, the seal of eternal life.
The Rite Of Baptism
Welcome and preparation. On the baptismal day, the child’s family is welcomed and brought into the church, near the baptismal font. The parents express their desire that the child be baptized into the faith of the Church.
The celebrant (a priest or deacon) opens with prayers invoking God and his loving plan of salvation. The water for the baptism is then blessed, if not already.
The parents and godparents renounce Satan and profess the faith of the Church, and give their consent for their child’s baptism.
Parents are instructed of their holy obligation to train their child in the love of God and the practice of the faith, to teach what Jesus commanded. These promises are made on behalf of their child.
The child is signed or marked with the sign of faith — the cross on the forehead.
Baptismal name. A long-standing Christian tradition has been to name the child at baptism with the name of a saint who can be a heavenly patron for the child. Though not a requirement, the benefit of choosing a patron saint provides the child with a lifelong guide and example of holiness and virtue.
Baptismal Sponsors. The sponsors, known as “godparents”, play an important role at baptism and in the child’s life. Canon Law requires sponsors to be baptized Catholics who participate regularly in Church life. One male and one female sponsor should be chosen, at least 16 years of age, having received all the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.) Sponsors should be have no impediments (such as having left the Church.) Non-Catholic Christians may not be sponsors, but may serve as witnesses to the baptism, alongside a Catholic sponsor.
Baptism with Water. The essential rite of baptism consists in immersion in water, or the pouring of water on the head, while pronouncing the invocations of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the moment of regeneration, or rebirth and new life of the child, by water and the Word of God.
Anointing with Chrism Oil. The child is anointed with sacred chrism oil, blessed by the local bishop. Very aromatic, chrism signifies the coming of the Holy Spirit to the child. This makes the child a sharer in the priesthood in the Christ, and in his prophetic and royal mission.
Baptismal Robe. The white baptismal robe or garment symbolizes a person has “put on Christ,” as St. Paul says. It also foreshadows the promise of eternal life.
Baptismal Candle. Every Church has a large Easter Candle, symbolizing Christ as the Light of the World. From it a small candle is lit and presented to the child’s family members or godparents as a symbol of the child’s enlightenment by Christ. That child must also become a light in the world. All are encouraged to keep the flame of faith alive in the heart of the baptized child.
Prayers Over Ears and Mouth. The celebrant touches the ears and mouth with his thumb. His prayer is that the child may hear and receive the Word of God, and someday proclaim the faith with his words and actions.
The Lord’s Prayer and Final Blessing. The assembly prays the Lord’s Prayer, praying “Our Father” with the newly baptized child, now privileged to call on God as Father. Finally, concluding blessings are given for the mother and father, and the assembly.
The more you know about baptism, the greater the rejoicing! It’s a celebration with God’s family both in heaven and on earth!
After the baptism ceremony, be sure to gather with loved ones and friends to celebrate the “new life” of this child. It’s a day worthy of remembrance.
Some families continue to celebrate “baptismal days” annually as their child matures. These become teachable moments in family life recalling the on-going graces of baptism in the life of a child.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic wife, mother, and writer. Her articles and creative work in Catholic media can be found at www.patgohn.com.