For many Catholics, myself included, our baptisms often involve big parties and celebrations. But outside the food, music, guests, and the whole shebang, what does baptism really mean to us? Let me explain in this article.
Baptism is the “basis of the whole Christian life” because, without it, one cannot be a member of the Church and share in its mission: to spread the kingdom of God. It is the door to the other sacraments and is a gift offered by God to cleanse us of original sin, which is essential to our salvation.
That said, the sacrament of baptism is essential to Catholics. Let’s discuss why and what it means in more depth below. Let me also explain what goes on in a Catholic baptism.
What is the Meaning of Catholic Baptism?
The sacrament of baptism is called after how it is carried out. From the Greek term “baptizein” or “to baptize” in English, it means to “plunge” or “immerse”. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1214), plunging into the water symbolizes the person’s “burial into Christ’s death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as a new creature.”
Section #1215 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church also states that the sacrament of baptism is also called “the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one “can enter the kingdom of God”.
Additionally, from the Code of Canon Law (#849): “Through baptism, men and women are freed from sin, are reborn as children of God, and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church.”
So what does this all mean? Well, first, baptism is a sacrament and a gift. It’s one of the many ways that God grants us his grace and shows us his love and mercy. Secondly, it is a rite of passage not only to receive the other sacraments but also to the Body of Christ – the Church. For it is only through baptism that we can become Christians. Lastly, it’s a gateway to a new life in Christ.
Why is Catholic Baptism Important?
Baptism is vital to Catholics as it is the “basis of the whole Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1213). This is because it is through this sacrament that we are brought together with other Christians in the world, including those who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church itself. Now, by being in unity with all the Christians, we can share in the same mission and practices. And it is with our faith and the grace of God through baptism that we can be saved.
Aside from that, Catholic baptism is also important as it accomplishes the following:
- Forgive our sins, including the original sin, mortal sins, and venial sins. At the same time, relieving the punishment for such sins.
- Allows us to be reborn in Christ, making us a “new creature” and being.
- Makes us a child of God, granting us access to His kingdom. Through it, we become a part of the Church.
- Leaves us with an indelible mark, proving that our soul belongs to Jesus Christ. This is permanent and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do to remove it, even if you sin many times over.
What Happens in Catholic Baptism?
In a Catholic baptism, there’s the one getting baptized, his/her parent/s or guardian/s, and the sponsors. Then, it is ministered by a priest, bishop, or deacon. It can be celebrated on any day, however, the Church recommends that it be held ordinarily on Sunday or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil. (Code of Canon Law #856)
As for the ceremony itself, a Catholic baptism can last around 30 minutes to an hour. It’s an elaborate process, involving highly liturgical rites. To understand what these are, here’s a brief list of what you can expect on such an important day:
1. Blessing of the Baptismal Water
The baptismal water is a crucial element in a Catholic baptism. But before it can be used, it needs to be blessed first. To do that, the priest states the prayer of epiclesis where “the Church asks God that through his Son the power of the Holy Spirit may be sent upon the water, so that those who will be baptized in it may be born of water and the Spirit.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1238)
2. Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith
Those who will be baptized will be asked to reject sin and satan. They will also need to profess their faith in the Holy Trinity – that there is one God manifested in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As for babies and those who cannot speak for themselves, their parents, sponsors, and everyone present will do this on their behalf.
3. Central Rite
In this part, the bishop, priest, or deacon will pour water on the head of the person being baptized. The priest may also immerse him/her in water. For the Catholic Church in the Latin rite, the priest will need to accompany such an act with the words: “(Name of candidate), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
This ritual of pouring or immersing in water signifies that our sins are washed away as we die in Jesus. As we rise, we are then cleansed, allowing His divine light and life to fill us.
The central rite of baptism is almost the same for Eastern Catholic Churches. However, the words spoken along with water immersion are a bit different. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1240), the minister says: “The servant of God, (name of candidate), is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
4. Anointing with Sacred Chrism
The priest will then anoint the person with sacred chrism, which is a “perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop”. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1241), this “signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one ‘anointed’ by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king.”
5. Reception of the White Garment and Candle
Finally, the newly baptized individual will be presented by the priest with a white cloth and a candle. As explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1243): “The white garment symbolizes that the person baptized has put on Christ, has risen with Christ. The candle, lit from the Easter candle, signifies that Christ has enlightened the neophyte. In him, the baptized are ‘the light of the world.” In this rite, it is urged that the garment is kept unstained by sin.