Baptism is ‘spiritual rebirth’ in ChristBy: Fr. David J. Dohogne
As Catholics, the Sacraments of our Faith are very important to us, not only in our prayer and spirituality, but above all in our salvation. The sacraments are the greatest and most powerful way in which God shares the gift of Divine Grace with us and helps us to become more like Christ. These sacred actions are not “magical moments” or “empty rituals.” The Church teaches us that the celebration of each sacrament is an encounter with the Risen Lord. Something supernatural and divine occurs with their celebration. In this week’s article, I would like for us to reflect upon the Sacrament of Baptism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (CCC #1213). Baptism, as a Sacrament of Initiation, is the first sacrament we receive and thus enables us to receive and celebrate the other sacraments. What happens at Baptism? Actually, quite a lot.
A person who is baptized is freed from original sin and, if of the age of reason, is also freed from any personal sin he or she may have chosen to commit. The baptized person also becomes a child of God and is incorporated into the life of the Church. The baptized person is thus a temple and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
The elements used in this sacrament help us better understand what Baptism is all about. The most important and necessary element for this sacrament is water. What are the practical day-to-day uses of water? Normally, we use water to cleanse and purify, as well as to sustain life. Whenever we need to wash or cleanse something, water is an essential element. Water is also needed to sustain all life. Many areas in our diocese are currently experiencing a severe drought, so many prayers for much-needed rain for the land and crops are being sent “heavenward.” The anointing with holy oils in the celebration of Baptism emphasizes that we have been incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ and now share in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly work of Christ. The white garment received in Baptism symbolizes our new life in Christ, that we have “put on Christ” and are clothed in His glory (the placing of the white pall/cloth on the casket of a deceased loved one at the Funeral Liturgy serves as a beautiful reminder of this action that takes place in Baptism). Receiving the baptismal candle is a visual reminder that we are now “children of the Light” and are to walk not only in the light of the Risen Savior, but to share that light.
There is more to Baptism than “meets the eye”. As we witness these sacred actions with our eyes, we know that something powerful and profound is happening before us. As with all of the sacraments, some type of preparation and formation is required for Baptism. In the case of an adult, he or she would participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). In the case of an infant, his or her parents, and oftentimes the godparents, are required to participate in some type of baptismal preparation session. It is the expectation of the Church that the parents and godparents are living and practicing their Catholic Faith. The promises that parents and godparents make at Baptism are on an equal par to the many other promises and commitments we make to God, and should not be taken lightly. Regarding infant baptism, the Code of Canon Law (#868) clearly reminds pastors and parents that it is necessary that there be a well-founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Faith of the Church after Baptism. If such a hope is altogether lacking, the Baptism is to be delayed until there is some hope and certainty that the child will be supported and encouraged in living out the Faith. The one exception to this, of course, would be the danger of death.
Being a godparent is not merely an ‘honorary role.” It is the desire and intention of the Church that godparents take an active role throughout the entire spiritual life and faith formation of the child in addition to supporting and assisting the parents of the child in their role as “the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith.”
Baptism is our “spiritual rebirth” in Jesus Christ. It marks the beginning of our “journey of faith” and our walk with the Lord, a walk which is meant to lead us to eternal life. St. Paul uses the image of death and resurrection regarding Baptism, proclaiming that in the waters of Baptism, we die to our old life of sin and are buried with Christ, so that we may rise with Him to newness of life. The next time you have the opportunity to attend and participate in the celebration of Baptism, listen closely to the prayers and instructions. Many of us probably do not remember the celebration of our Baptism, especially if we were infants at the time, but it was truly a moment of rejoicing and blessing for our parents and families, and especially for God Himself, as we became His children. For all who have been baptized, may we never forget the work Christ entrusted to us as we became a member of His Body. What was that work? To share His life, love, and truth with the world. By fully living out our baptismal call, may we pass on the gift of Faith to generations to come!
In addition to his position as diocesan Director of Worship, Fr. Dohogne serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Dexter, MO; St. Teresa Church, Glennonville; and St. Ann Church, in Malden.