It is easy to attend the baptism of a brother, sister or cousin and not really understand what is happening to the baby being baptised. You probably remember the party afterwards with the sandwiches, crisps and the chocolate cakes but it’s what happens during the Church service that make it one of the most important events in that child’s life. Through baptism they become a child of God through all eternity, in this life and in the one to come. You probably don’t remember your baptism but it was part of God’s plan from the very beginning of time.
Water is the Sign of Life
Every living creature needs water or it will die. It has been calculated that about sixty percent of our body weight is made up of water. Water has always been the source of life and fruitfulness. The first words of the Bible Genesis 1: 1-2 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Right from the dawn of time, water existed and God used it in the Creation of all living things. He also used water to form the greatest and best loved of all his creation – mankind.
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
In the New Testament, John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus, was calling the Jews to a baptism of repentance. He immersed them in the waters of the River Jordan as a sign that their sins were washed away so that they could have a clean start and turn away from sin. Jesus himself was baptised by John and significantly, when he was baptised, the Holy Spirit, who had been hovering over the waters since the beginning of time came down upon him and God declared that Jesus was his Beloved Son. In the same way, through our baptism God declares that we are his beloved child.
We Die with Christ and are Reborn into New Life
Water can also be dangerous, we can drown in it and so it is equally a sign of death. Jesus referred to his death as a baptism. When James and John asked if they could have the places of honour next to him in heaven he said, “You don’t know what you are asking, can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?” (Mark 10:38)
But for Jesus, death was not the end and in baptism we share in his death and resurrection.
We die with Christ, are freed from our sins and are reborn into a new life in the Spirit as children of God. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did at his baptism and become members of Christ’s Body on earth, His Church.
Baptism is the Sign of a True Disciple
The final words that Jesus spoke to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 were “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He could have given them any final message so this must have been a very important instruction as he sent them out on their own to spread his gospel message. He was saying that he wanted them to evangelise the whole world and that baptism was the sign of a true disciple of Christ.
Baptism is a Life-Long Mission
Baptism is not a ‘one off’ event that may have happened to us as babies, but it is a life-long mission and calling. We should live our baptism every day. When we make the sign of the cross we are remembering that through our baptism we are protected by Christ. We believe that baptism leaves a spiritual mark on our souls that cannot be removed. This mark shows that we belong to Christ and for this reason baptism cannot be repeated, it has been called the seal of eternal life.
In the baptism service for children we see many outward signs and symbols, each one of these points to something that is happening to the baby through their baptism. Running water is poured over the baby’s head three times, once in the name of each person of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The parents are given a lighted candle for the child to symbolise the light of Christ. They will be responsible for ensuring that the light of faith burns brightly in that child’s life until they are old enough to own it for themselves. The child is anointed with sacred Chrism, oil that has been blessed by the bishop, and this signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to the child. They are anointed, as priest, prophet, and king as in the Old Testament. They are also anointed on their chests with oil to strengthen them in the fight against evil. The child is also given a white garment to signify the new life and purity that they have been given.
When an adult asks for baptism in the Catholic Church they must first profess the faith for themselves. They usually undergo a process of instruction and growing in faith within the parish community. Adult baptisms are often held during the Easter Vigil Service. This is a wonderful celebration of new life held in most parishes on Easter Saturday night. The service starts outside the darkened church where a fire is lit. After blessing the new Pascal (Easter) candle, from which all the baptismal candles during the year will take their light, it is lit from the fire, then all the people take a light from the Pascal candle and process into the darkened church singing, “Christ our Light”. The whole service is a celebration of baptism and the Resurrection of Christ.
A Child of God
The church encourages the baptism of infants because Jesus called the children to come to him and the grace of baptism helps to strengthen us as we grow up. Infant baptism has been practised since the very beginning of the church. In the Acts of the Apostles it tells how whole households were baptised and this would have included the children. When a child is baptised it is the parents and god parents who profess their faith and promise to bring up the child in the Christian faith. As the child grows they will have to make their own profession of faith for themselves. Maybe this is the time for us to ask ourselves whether we have committed ourselves to Christ rather than relying on the faith of our parents. Have we said “Yes Lord, I believe, I want to live like a child of God. I want to live that resurrection faith that you promised to your believers. Come Holy Spirit afresh into my life today. ” “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)
Written by June Palmer