Read ~ Chapter 8: The Sacrament of Baptism
Father Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)
The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Doctors and Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican
The Incarnation of the Son is the Condition of Possibility of all the Sacraments
Definition of Sacraments: The word ‘sacrament’ (mysterion in Greek) means a mystery but not in the sense that it is something that we don’t know or is hidden. It is a mystery in the sense that it has two dimensions: one visible that was created and one invisible that is the divine life of God (this we call God’s grace). The visible dimension is an instrument for the invisible dimension. Behind the visible celebration of the ritual, Christ communicates the divine grace of redemption.
Jesus Christ used his human nature to save us: In his infinite love and wisdom, God wanted to save the human race from sin and death. The Father sent the Son who was conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb and used his human nature as an instrument of salvation. Because God selected that way of redeeming us, the Church is obligated to continue using the same method: the Church must use human created elements (just like Jesus used his human nature) that will confer the divine grace of God. St. Leo the Great explained, “What was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries (sacraments).” (Sermo., 74, 2)
The Sacraments guarantee the communication of God’s grace (ex opere operato): The sacraments are those rituals celebrated in the Catholic Church that use created elements in order to communicate the grace of Christ. Christ’s Incarnation makes it possible for the sacraments to happen. The most important aspect of the effects of the sacrament is, because they are the result of Christ’s Incarnation, the very act of administering them, they confer the grace that is signified by the act just as Christ intends. Communicating the grace of the Incarnation is not compromised by the unworthiness of the celebrant. Just as the light can still penetrate a dirty windo, so also the grace of God can be transmitted through a sinful minister
The Nature and Effects of Baptism
Baptism is the door to the other sacraments: Baptism is the very first step of the Christian life “and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.” (CCC, 1213) It opens the door to a full communion with the Blessed Trinity and to the reception of all the other sacraments. This sacrament is similar to an entrance ticket to Christ’s Church, the beginning and the germ of the Kingdom of God
Baptism has two dimensions: In Baptism we have a human element which is water and a divine element, the grace of the Trinity. Jesus was baptized in the water of the Jordan River thus founding the Sacrament of Baptism (Jesus did not need to be baptized as John the Baptist confirms). At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus sent the Apostles to go to all the nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism cannot be repeated: Once the sacrament of Baptism is performed (whether in the Church or as an emergency), it is valid and cannot be repeated as long as it is done with water and in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism bestows on our character an indelible seal that sin can never erase. This does not mean that the indelible seal will automatically lead the person to salvation because one needs to act on the grace of this seal until the end of one’s life. The catechism teaches: “No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.” (CCC, 1272)
Baptism erases sin in all its forms: The first effect of Baptism takes place on the ontological level, the level of our very being. Baptism erases Original Sin, which was committed by the first parents and transmitted to us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that it will always be a mystery how Original Sin was transmitted from the first parents to all of humanity in the sense that it is not a committed sin, it is a contracted sin. (see CCC 404) Original Sin is not an actual sin but a contracted one, which is a transmitted sin. When a child is born, they have not personally sinned because they can’t exercise their freedom yet to disobey God. But they are still born with Original Sin. The Catechism teaches: “By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.” (CCC, 1263)
Baptism erases sin but not concupiscence: Baptism erases Original Sin once and for all. One might ask “if baptism erases Original Sin, how come people still sin?” Just because Baptism erases Original Sin, it does not mean that it erases the consequences of Original Sin, which we call concupiscence. It is the tendency to sin and does not become sin unless one acts on it.
Baptism does not erase the consequence of original sin, concupiscence: Concupiscence is still in us even though Original Sin is erased by Baptism. Since concupiscence is still in us despite our Baptism, Christ gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In Catholic Theology, unlike reformation theology (Protestant Theology), concupiscence is not already a sin. The tendency to sin in us, because of Original Sin, is not yet a sin. It becomes a sin if we accept it and act on it. In our spiritual journey, we are called to control concupiscence. If we fail to control it because of our weaknesses, we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Catechism teaches: “Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, ‘the tinder for sin’ (fomes peccati); since concupiscence ‘is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.’ Indeed, ‘an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules’.” (CCC, 1264)
Baptism is a personal sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ: On the Christological level, Baptism is a personal sharing in the death and the resurrection of Christ. The death and resurrection of Christ is the most important event in human history: Jesus destroyed death and sin thus redeeming humanity. It restored human nature to its original innocence and brought it to an even higher level of justice. St. Paul said: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
The 3 immersions in the baptismal font symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ: At the beginning of the Church, Baptism was done by immersing children in the water three times or by pouring the baptismal water on their head (See CCC, 1239). Being under water symbolizes the death of Christ; being brought out of water symbolizes his resurrection. Baptism is a personal sacramental sharing in Easter. The Catechism teaches: “Baptism, the original and full sign of which is immersion, efficaciously signifies the descent into the tomb by the Christian who dies to sin with Christ in order to live a new life.” (CCC, 628) In the regard also the Letter to the Romans states:”We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4)
Natural grace and supernatural grace: On the level of creation, God gave us the spark of life at the very moment of our conception in the womb. In the same way on the level of creation God gives us life to begin to exist, on the level of salvation Baptism gives us the very first spark of divine life of the Blessed Trinity. In that sense our physical life is always parallel to our spiritual life because they both complete each other and both have their origin in the One God. In creation we receive God’s ‘natural grace’; in Baptism we receive God’s ‘supernatural grace’ to be immersed in the life of the Blessed Trinity. Baptism is a new birth, a new creation.
Jesus’ Sonship and ours are essentially different: One of the most important aspects of God’s revelation by Jesus is that God is “our Father.” In the Old Testament, prophets, angels, kings, and the people of Israel, were called “the sons of God.” However, the sonship of Jesus Christ is on a different ontological level: Jesus called the Father “Abba,” a word that is used between a child and his father in the Jewish culture. That alone was the most scandalous thing the Jews heard from Jesus. It caused them to want to kill him (nobody among the Jews would ever dare to call the transcendental God “Abba”). Using the word “Abba” made Jesus portray Himself also as being One and on the same level of the Father (John, 1, 8 and 10).
Baptism makes us children of God: Jesus always made a distinction between His sonship to the Father and our sonship to the Father. After His resurrection Jesus said to Mary Magdalene: “Go and tell my brethren that I am going to my Father and to your Father.” (John 20:17) His sonship is ontological; ours is by adoption through Baptism. When one receives the Sacrament of Baptism, one becomes the child of God in Jesus Christ. So, the intimate sonship between us and God the Father acquires its deepest dimension in Baptism. Only because Jesus is The Son, are we able to be called ‘sons and daughters’ in Baptism.
Baptism and the Holy Spirit: The eternal relationship of love between the Father and the Son is a different Person than either: The Holy Spirit. If the Father and the Son relate to each other through the Holy Spirit in Person, the Holy Spirit becomes God in relationship to Himself. God will not change when entering our history: The Holy Spirit is God in relation to our world. Every single time that God relates to the world from the beginning of time until now, He does it through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the same Spirit who relates Father and Son, is present at the old creation where the Holy Spirit hovered over the water, and the new creation descending on Jesus during his baptism (see CCC, 1224).
Baptism happens through the Holy Spirit: Baptism takes place, therefore, through the action of the Holy Spirit who is invoked on the water and the child. The Holy Spirit makes us children of the Father in Jesus the Son. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John went to Samaria when they heard that Samaritans (who are rejected by the traditional Jews of Jerusalem) accepted the word of God. Peter and John “who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for the Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)
The coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the baptized is expressed by the anointing with Chrism. This anointing incorporates the baptized into Christ who was anointed priest, prophet, and king (see CCC, 1241)
Baptism introduces us into the community of the Catholic Church: The last dimension of Baptism is the ecclesiological dimension. Baptism is the entrance “ticket” to the community of the Church, because it gives a share of the common priesthood to all believers. Through Baptism, the child officially becomes part of the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church. Baptism immediately creates among the Church members, the responsibility of interacting, helping, and loving the new born: it makes the child a member of the community of saints. Jesus Christ established a community that has one faith, one Baptism, and one Body of Christ. Some are introduced into the Body of Christ here on earth through Baptism; others are introduced into the eternal Body of Christ in heaven through the Baptism of death (note Jesus called his death ‘Baptism’). Baptism is the beginning of the child’s journey of faith with the earthly Church with the goal to become part of the heavenly Church too.
Baptism of Children and other different types of Baptism
Baptism of Children is in the Bible and has been since the beginning of the Church: The Catholic Church has always baptized infants from the beginning of her public ministry on Pentecost Sunday. On many occasions we read in the Acts of the Apostles when someone converts to Christianity, “He and his whole household were baptized.” (See Acts 16:31-33. See also Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16) Back in those times the concept of household included the entire tribe: patriarch, matriarch, and all the children and grandchildren who lived together in several different tents in the same place. When the Acts of the Apostles mentioned that the ‘entire household’ was baptized, that included children without any doubt. The Catechism teaches: “There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole ‘households’ received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.” (CCC, 1252)
The Logic behind Children’s Baptism: The Catholic Church strongly disagrees with those who advocate that “children need to wait and be baptized when they understand what they are doing.” Sharing the grace of Christ does not depend on someone’s understanding or not understanding it. Do you think you and I can fathom all the logistics of how the divine life of the Trinity works in us? The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this theology by saying: “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.” (CCC, 1250)
Another reason behind Children’s Baptism: Baptism confers God’s grace to the baptized to be spiritually born as a child of God. When the child is already physically born, the mother decides for her child to feed him. Parallel to that in the order of salvation, the Church and the parents assume the responsibility of giving a spiritual birth to the child through Baptism. Those who advocate that “we shouldn’t do Baptism until the baby can decide for himself” don’t understand that creation and salvation always go hand and hand. Parents decide what is right for their children when they are born physically. Spiritually, through Baptism, they should also decide to immerse their child in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. The Catechism teaches that “the faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop.” (CCC, 1253)
Validity of Baptism: For the Sacrament of Baptism to be valid, the minister must use water and the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity. One cannot be baptized “in the name of Jesus.” The fact that the Acts of Apostles mentions Baptism ‘in the name of Jesus’ was just in comparison with the Baptism of John, which was a Baptism of repentance versus the Baptism of Jesus by the Holy Spirit (See Acts 19-1-7). In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ explicitly commanded the Apostles to baptize all nations “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
Baptism in cases of emergency: In case of emergency, we are all allowed to baptize anyone as long as we use water and invoke the name of the Blessed Trinity. Say I am at a hospital and a baby is dying. I find a clear liquid and I use it to baptize the baby thinking it was water. The baby lives but I find out later that the clear liquid was not water. Was the baptism valid? Objectively, no. However, God will give the child the grace as if the child was baptized because it is not the child’s fault.
Different types of Baptism: Baptism is necessary for salvation. Besides water, there are different types of Baptism: Baptism by blood and Baptism by desire. Suppose one lives in a country where Christians are persecuted and are not allowed to practice their Catholic faith. In that case if a person is killed after receiving the instructions for Baptism but before receiving the Sacrament, that person is baptized in their own blood. Objectively, they haven’t been baptized by water; yet because they died for the faith, they are baptized by their own blood. Similarly, if someone desires to be baptized, but right before the Baptism they die. In this case they receive the Baptism of desire (See CCC, 1258-1259). Vatican summarizes this theology by saying: “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” (GS 22, 5) and the Catechism adds: “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” (CCC, 1260)
It is your responsibility to baptize your children: The invitation of Christ to baptize all nations is at the same time an invitation to you personally to baptize your children. It is your responsibility as a parent and a friend to ensure that the grace of the Blessed Trinity is being shared by every child of God, no exception. God will be judging us one day based on whether we allowed His life to be shared with his children or not.
What happens if children die without baptism? If Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, what happens to those children who die without it? The Catechism teaches: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.” (CCC, 1261)