The Sacrament of Baptism: Door of
It all began with John the Baptist and Jesus. Water was an
important element, for it had the power of cleansing. The ancient
Jewish people were meticulous in their cleansing habits and water
is what they used. In an arid terrain, water was both valuable and
John the Baptist went about baptizing all whom he encountered.
In many cases, he used river water. John the Baptist also baptized
Jesus in the River Jordan. The people came to know from John the
Baptist the powerful experience of turning away from sin and being
cleansed by the mercy of God that was symbolized by immersion in
The early Church realized that a ceremony of initiation into the
faith community was needed. For Catholics, the sacrament of Baptism
is the first step in a lifelong journey and a commitment to serve
God, and of faith and love of neighbor.
Baptism is the Church's way of celebration and of believers'
acceptance of God's loving embrace. Baptism is the first of the
three sacraments of initiation. It is also the first of seven
sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. It removes the guilt and
effects of original sin.
It incorporates the baptized individual into the Church that is
the Mystical Body of Christ on earth. It is the door to a new and
supernatural life on earth. It is considered the door of the
History of Baptism
Baptism has been a part of Christianity from the very beginning,
as demonstrated many times in the Acts of the Apostles. Christians
believe that Jesus instituted the sacrament of Baptism. Scholars
are not in agreement as to Jesus' intentions and whether he had
envisioned an organized and long continuing Church. This is merely
a matter of dispute among scholars.
By the 12th century, the word "sacrament" was pared down and
referenced to seven rites, including that of Baptism. The span
between the 12th and the 14th centuries witnessed infusion (pouring
of water) as the common method of administering baptism in Western
Europe. Immersion occurred in some places as late as the 16th
During the Middle Ages, there was great variation as to the type
of facility required for baptism. Some were large enough to immerse
two adults at the same time. The 13th-century baptistery at Pisa
was an example of a large baptism pool.
An example of a smaller pool was the shallow one in the
sixth-century baptistery in the Cathedral of Cologne. For
immersion, the pool could be as small as to allow the crown of the
head to be immersed.
In the year 416, the Roman Empire made infant baptism
compulsory. The Roman Catholic Church, for centuries, taught that
if a baby died without being baptized, he or she would go to a
place of natural happiness called limbo.
Pope Benedict XVI, in April 2007, reversed this teaching of
limbo. He did not agree with St. Augustine, who taught that all
non-baptized infants would go straight to hell. Pope Benedict
created a doctrine stipulating that all infants who died would go
to heaven whether they were baptized or not.
The question raised by other Christian faiths was: is it right
to baptize infants even if they are not capable of renouncing
Satan? The Catholic Church teaches that Baptism should be
administered even to infants, who are not yet guilty of personal
It believes that they may be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit
to divine life in Jesus Christ. The wonderful benefits of baptism
are the same for infants as for adults.
The Rite of Baptism
Baptism is a joyous celebration. It is held on a Sunday whenever
possible. Parents are present with the sponsors. Relatives and
friends may also be in attendance. The rite of Baptism includes one
or more readings from Scripture, a prayer of the faithful, the
litany of the saints and other prayers.
The individual is anointed with oil and then, at the moment of
Baptism, water is poured on the head. The administrator of the
baptismal rite then says the necessary words.
In case of impending death, a non-baptized individual can be
baptized at the scene by a layperson who is a believer in a
Christian religion. Baptism administered by a layperson, if done
correctly, is as valid as Baptism given by a priest. If the person
recovers and is alive, then a church ceremony is conducted in order
that other rites associated with Baptism may be given.
Water and words make up the sign of baptism. The water is a sign
that sin is destroyed and that the life of grace is given. The
words said represent the beginning of a new and lasting
relationship with the Holy Trinity.
There is also baptism by desire. The non-baptized person
receives the Baptism of Desire by making an Act of Contrition or by
expressing sorrow for all serious sins, professing love for God
above all things, and desiring to do His will and all that is
necessary for salvation.
The newly baptized is also anointed with sacred chrism (oil) to
demonstrate a new relationship with Christ. This is the oil of the
catechumens that represents strength to battle all evil. The
anointing symbolizes the imprinting of a special action that took
place moments earlier in the Baptism by water. The newly baptized
receives a white garment representing innocence.
Effects of Baptism
In Baptism, we become free of original sin and are made children
of God with the opportunity for eternal life. Baptism makes us
members of Christ's Mystical Body, which is the Church. When we
become members of the Church, we are eligible to receive other
sacraments. If adults who are baptized demonstrate genuine sorrow
for sins, they are cleansed of all personal sin.
Some frequently asked questions about Baptism are:
Is Baptism necessary for salvation? The answer
to this is found in John 3:5: Jesus said: "I solemnly assure you,
no can enter into God's kingdom without being begotten of water and
Spirit." Here in direct terms He affirms the necessity of the
Church, for it is through Baptism that we can enter the door to the
Does Baptism guarantee entry to heaven? The
answer is no, unless we die as an infant without personal sin.
While Baptism removes all sin, we are still human and subject to a
Can you be baptized more than once? The answer
to this is no. The effects of Baptism are long lasting. The
baptized individual is a Christian forever. The relationship with
Christ is permanent and refers to the seal or character of this
sacrament. There is no need for re-baptism, even if the individual
has been baptized in another Christian faith.
What are baptismal promises? Baptismal promises
are promises that the individual makes to renounce the devil and
live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ and His
Church. We renew these promises at Easter Mass. As individuals, we
can renew these promises at any time during the year and are
encouraged to do so.
Can more than one individual be baptized at the same
time? Yes, provided all parents are in accord with it.
However, each individual undergoes the Rite of Baptism in turn.
Only the baptismal promises can be made simultaneously in
Thomas J. Rillo, oblate