What we believe by Baptising – Cathal Barry

by | Jan 5, 2013 | Faith Archive, Faith B, ZZ_All

What we believe by Baptising

Cathal Barry

source – www.irishcatholic.ie

There has been growing concern in recent years that the current process for Christian initiation is not best practice. At the International Eucharistic Congress 2012 Theology Symposium, Cardinal Marc Ouellet called for “a deeper reflection on the theology of Christian initiation, and on the relationship of the three sacraments that constitute this initiation”.

So, let’s start at the beginning– with baptism.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Baptism is “the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments”.

By baptism, the believer is freed from sin, reborn as a child of God, made a member of Christ and of the Church, and given a share in the Church’s mission.

Baptism means to plunge or immerse. This emersion into water symbolises the believers burial with Christ, followed by their rising up as a “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17).

The Catechism also calls the sacrament “the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” which refers to the birth by water and the Spirit which is needed to “enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5).


The Scriptures tell us that Jesus submitted to John’s baptism to “fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). At that moment, the Spirit came upon Christ and the Father revealed that he was his beloved Son (Mt 3:16-17).

Jesus also spoke of his Passion as a ‘baptism’ which he had to receive (Mk 10:38). The water and blood flowing from his side symbolise baptism and Eucharist. After Jesus’ death, men could “be born of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5).

We know on the day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowd: “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). After Pentecost, the apostles provided baptism for anyone who believed in Jesus.

Paul teaches that the believer, through baptism, enters into Christ’s death, burial and Resurrection. Just “as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3-4).

Although becoming a Christian is a journey with several stages, there are always six essential elements: The Word is proclaimed; the Gospel is accepted; the Faith is professed; the person is baptised; the Spirit is given; and the believer is admitted to Eucharistic communion.


Over the centuries, this initiation rite has varied greatly. Originally, a lengthy catechumenate culminated in the three sacraments of initiation. However, when infant baptism became common, the preparatory rites were to a large extent condensed. Therefore, infant baptism demands post-baptismal teaching and formation.

The Second Vatican Council restored the catechumenate for adults with several stages in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. In mission countries, initiation rites already in use were allowed, if adapted to the ritual.

Today, adults enter a catechumenate and then receive the three initiation sacraments at once. In the East, infants also receive Confirmation and Eucharist with their baptism. In the Roman rite, infants receive Confirmation and Eucharist many years later.

The rite of baptism shows clearly the sacrament’s meaning and graces. The anointing with sacred chrism signifies that the newly baptised has received the Holy Spirit. The white garment worn symbolises the person’s sharing in Christ’s new life, while the candle symbolises the inner enlightenment by Christ, the light of the world.

Baptism is the sacrament of faith. However, faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” The response is simply: “Faith!”


The role of the parents is particularly important in this respect. Godparents must also be firm believers and ready to help the child in the development of their faith. In fact, the whole Church bears responsibility for developing the grace of Baptism.

The ordinary ministers of the sacrament are the bishop, the priest, and in the Latin Church, the deacon. However, in a case of necessity, anyone, even someone not baptised, can do so. They must have the intention to will what the Church does when She baptises and use the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The Church recognises this possibility for others to baptise because baptism is necessary for Salvation.

We are told Jesus instructed the apostles to baptise their disciples (Mt 28:19). “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk 16:16).

However, some people, although not baptised, have suffered death because of faith in Christ. The catechism states that this ‘baptism of blood’, much like baptism of desire, brings about the fruits of the sacrament. Catechumens who die before baptism are assured of eternal salvation by their desire for baptism and their repentance for sins.

The Church recognises that God wants everyone to be saved, while the Spirit gives everyone a chance to share in Christ’s death and rising. Those, to whom the Gospel is unknown, yet who seek the truth and do God’s will can be saved. It is supposed that such persons would desire baptism explicitly if they knew its necessity.

Concerning children who have died without baptism, the mercy of God and Jesus’ tenderness toward the children, allow the Church to hope that these children are saved.

The baptised belong to Christ and have the duty to serve others in the Church and to obey Church leaders. They have a right to the sacraments and to the nourishment of God’s Word. They are also required to participate in the Church’s missionary activity.

Baptism seals the Christian with an indelible spiritual mark which sin cannot erase. Therefore, baptism cannot be repeated. This sacramental seal consecrates the person for Christian religious worship and requires them to participate in the Church’s liturgy and to bear witness by their holy lives. According to the catechism, this “seal of the Lord” is for “the day of redemption.” The Christian who is faithful to this seal will die “marked for eternal life” and with hope in seeing God.

In the words of St Irenaeus – “baptism is the seal of eternal life”.