Last night I had the privilege of listening to my eight year old daughter try to explain to her cousins what was going to happen to her sister and brother tomorrow at their baptism,
“Well,” she said, “It is like making a friendship bracelet with God, you have all your beads on a string but you just need one more to finish it off and make it complete. So Baptism is like the final bead on the bracelet. Once you have it, then you can tie up the bracelet and always have a friendship with God.”
No wonder God wants us to be like “little children”! Since going through my conversion process, the baptism of my children is a moment I have long-awaited. Last night I was also asked what it means to be baptized Catholic, and I realized my daughter had a much better answer than I did. Even though it seems like the simplest of ideas for someone of faith it is actually a somewhat complex event of the soul so I foraged a bit for a deeper understanding of Catholic Baptism:
What Happens When Catholic’s are Baptized?
Contemporary Catholics spend a great deal of time preparing for their own or their child’s Baptism. There are new clothes to buy, and classes to take, and godparents to select, all leading up to that moment at Mass when the waters of Baptism touch the new initiate. But Baptism-and all sacraments, for that matter-are much more than the moment of celebration.
The ritual of Baptism does not bring God’s love into being as if that love did not exist before the ceremony. Baptism is the Church’s way of celebrating and enacting the embrace of God who first loved us from the moment of our conception. Baptism celebrates a family’s and a community’s experience of that love in the baptized.
There are other life experiences-birth, death, washing, growing and so forth-that are celebrated in Baptism. The water represents life, death, cleansing and growth, and it recalls the flood waters of Noah’s day and the saving waters of the Red Sea parted by Moses. The candle symbolizes our status as an “easter people” and signifies the way that the Church “passes the torch” of Christian commitment to those being baptized. The white garment represents the Church’s belief that Baptism sets us free from Original Sin.
Baptism happens not only to the individual, but also to Christ’s body, the Church. That’s why the rite insists that we celebrate Baptism in the Christian assembly, with the community present and actively participating. It is the community, after all, who is welcoming the new members, journeying with them, providing models for them, supporting and nourishing them. Baptism begins with God’s love and care revealed to us through Christ. It continues with us, the Church, living and enacting God’s love and care through Christ to the world. That’s a serious commitment. via American Catholic | Update Your Faith.
Baptism: The Door of the Church:
The Sacrament of Baptism is often called “The door of the Church,” because it is the first of the seven sacraments not only in time (since most Catholics receive it as infants) but in priority, since the reception of the other sacraments depends on it. It is the first of the three Sacraments of Initiation, the other two being the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Once baptized, a person becomes a member of the Church. Traditionally, the rite (or ceremony) of baptism was held outside the doors of the main part of the church, to signify this fact.
The Necessity of Baptism:
Christ Himself ordered His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations and to baptize those who accept the message of the Gospel. In His encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Christ made it clear that baptism was necessary for salvation: “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” For Catholics, the sacrament is not a mere formality; it is the very mark of a Christian, because it brings us into new life in Christ. via The Sacrament of Baptism – Roman Catholic Baptism – The Sacrament of Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Effects of the Sacrament of Baptism:
Baptism has six primary effects, which are all supernatural graces:
- The removal of the guilt of both Original Sin (the sin imparted to all mankind by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) and personal sin (the sins that we have committed ourselves).
- The remission of all punishment that we owe because of sin, both temporal (in this world and in Purgatory) and eternal (the punishment that we would suffer in hell).
- The infusion of grace in the form of sanctifying grace (the life of God within us); the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; and the three theological virtues.
- Becoming a part of Christ.
- Becoming a part of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.
- Enabling participation in the sacraments, the priesthood of all believers, and the growth in grace. via The Sacrament of Baptism – Roman Catholic Baptism – The Sacrament of Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church.
Why Infant Baptism?
Fundamentalists often criticize the Catholic Church’s practice of baptizing infants. According to them, baptism is for adults and older children, because it is to be administered only after one has undergone a “born again” experience—that is, after one has “accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.” At the instant of acceptance, when he is “born again,” the adult becomes a Christian, and his salvation is assured forever. Baptism follows, though it has no actual salvific value. In fact, one who dies before being baptized, but after “being saved,” goes to heaven anyway.
As Fundamentalists see it, baptism is not a sacrament (in the true sense of the word), but an ordinance. It does not in any way convey the grace it symbolizes; rather, it is merely a public manifestation of the person’s conversion. Since only an adult or older child can be converted, baptism is inappropriate for infants or for children who have not yet reached the age of reason (generally considered to be age seven). Most Fundamentalists say that during the years before they reach the age of reason infants and young children are automatically saved. Only once a person reaches the age of reason does he need to “accept Jesus” in order to reach heaven.
Since the New Testament era, the Catholic Church has always understood baptism differently, teaching that it is a sacrament which accomplishes several things, the first of which is the remission of sin, both original sin and actual sin—only original sin in the case of infants and young children, since they are incapable of actual sin; and both original and actual sin in the case of older persons.
Peter explained what happens at baptism when he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). But he did not restrict this teaching to adults. He added, “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (2:39). We also read: “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). These commands are universal, not restricted to adults. Further, these commands make clear the necessary connection between baptism and salvation, a connection explicitly stated in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” via Infant Baptism | Catholic Answers.
Once baptized Catholic, are you Catholic forever?
Once someone is validly baptized, Catholic or otherwise, he is baptized forever (CIC 845). One can never lose baptism or become “unbaptized,” although one might lose the benefits of baptism by personal sin. But as to whether someone baptized Catholic is thereafter always Catholic, that’s a slightly different question.
In most cases, the answer will be that someone baptized Catholic remains Catholic (see CIC 111, 205). But, by implication of canon 205–which requires, to be considered in full communion with the Church, a basic profession of the faith, some level of sacramental participation, and some degree of submission to ecclesiastical governance–one can imagine circumstances under which someone who was baptized Catholic might reject any or all of these elements to the point at which he could not be considered fully Catholic anymore, nothwithstanding the fact that he remained baptized. via If I’m baptized as a Catholic, does that mean I’m Catholic forever, even if I marry outside the Church? | Catholic Answer