November 16, 2004

Catechism Quiz
What Is the Sacrament of Baptism?

by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F. M.

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What is Baptism?
What are the effects of Baptism?
What else is notable about Baptism?

Friar Jack’s Inbox:

Readers reflect on Friar Jack’s musings

What is Baptism?

Baptism is the first sacrament received and it is called, along with Confirmation and Eucharist, a Sacrament of Christian Initiation. This sacrament lays the very foundation of the Christian life. Baptism means a “plunging or immersion into the water symbolizing a burial into Christ’s death and arising as a new creature as in Christ’s resurrection” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1214). It is also called the washing of regeneration and renewal, because in the case of adults, not only original sin but also personal sins are removed completely through the sacrament (Catechism, #1215).

The trinitarian formula is used for the sacrament while the water is poured over the person’s head or during his immersion into water: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” It should be noted that when Baptism is administered in any other Christian denomination using the pouring of water and the trinitarian formula, the Church considers that Baptism valid and will not baptize that person again if he or she becomes Catholic.

At the Easter Vigil, those who were already validly baptized in the past make a profession of faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church, which they are now embracing. Those who are baptized at this service need not receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation since all sins were forgiven. Those baptized earlier will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation prior to the Vigil Service to prepare themselves for their first Holy Communion.

What are the effects of Baptism?

The effects of Baptism are truly monumental: The individual is filled with the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because all sin—original and personal, if any—is taken away completely, the individual has a complete and fresh start in his or her spiritual life. Also, the person becomes an adoptive child of God, a member of the Body of Christ and a Temple of the Holy Spirit. By this fact, he or she is incorporated in the Church, the Body of Christ, and is made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ. Finally, Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible sign, the character (a kind of identity) that consecrates a person for Christian worship (thus, Baptism is never repeated).

It is significant that the Church sees Baptism as a gift of God, as is faith. That is why we have no hesitation in baptizing infants though they may not be conscious of what is happening. As they grow, they will make many acts of faith in God, in the Eucharist and more, and respond to the gift of God’s life they received as infants.

What else is notable about Baptism?

We believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation because of Jesus’ own words: “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit ” (Jn 3:5). However, the Church also rightly teaches that while God binds salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, he himself is not bound by the sacraments (Catechism, #1257). The reason for this is that God would never bind anyone to do what is impossible. For example, infants who die in the womb or at birth before Baptism, aborted and miscarried fetuses, all of whom never had a chance to fulfill Jesus’ command, the Church confidently places in God’s mercy and love. Remember Jesus’ own words, “Let the children come to me, do not prevent them” (Mk 10:14).

There are also those who, while not baptized in water, suffer death for the faith and receive the Baptism of Blood. And even those who, through no fault of their own, cannot come to know Christ, but seek the truth and do the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved (Catechism, #1258-1260). This is called Baptism of Desire. It is important to note that the Church sees salvation open to all by means of one of these three forms of Baptism.

Some Christian denominations by their doctrines indicate salvation for very few people. Our faith opens the possibility of salvation to all. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17 ff). John speaks of the whole world. God wants everyone saved! It is, after all, the reason for which he created every person.

The Sacrament of Baptism initiates us into our journey of life with God. It is God who leads and God who guides, and God who waits to embrace us for all eternity.

Next month: Confirmation

Friar Jack’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack’s musings on “Did the Saints Fall From Favor After Vatican II?”

Dear Friar Jack: With due respect, it seems the Church is trying to put Pandora back in the box. Since it destroyed pieces of 2,000 years of Christian tradition, now the modernists and liberals can reform our services and traditions of honoring God, the angels and saints. If the plan was to put more emphasis on the Eucharist, why have we taken reverence our of the pricipal parts of the Mass and replaced it with a party? Why can we not pray and kneel anymore? Why can we disrespect the sacred blood of our Lord by passing by and not receiving? Why must we have all the confusion and noise during Mass? Vatican II has taken Christ our of the Church and replaced him with lay people.

It is so hard to remember during Mass that this is the unbloody sacrifice of Christ for the world. It appears to be an event with music; now all we need is a little dancing. I so long for the quiet, peaceful Mass with reverent words and music. The dark, quiet place to bring your cares and joys to God before Mass, the Communion where you can peacefully kneel and give thanks for Christ’s love.

Our churches have dishonored our early Christian heritage. The next thing to go will be the stations. It’s hard to find them now. With sincere respect, Joyce

Dear Joyce: I agree that a number of good things in the Church fell out of favor unnecessarily after Vatican II. Like you, many feel an understandable pain and anger about this. But studies have also shown that the majority of Catholics are generally happy with the changes of Vatican II.
Friar Jack

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for the musings and articles you have written about pets and the presence of pets in heaven. What you’ve written has given me great comfort and a sense of purpose. I have not thought about the immortality of pets until my pet, Tobi, died 2 years ago. I was highly distraught because I read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that animal souls cease to exist once they die. However, after reading your articles and your quotes on Scripture, I realized that everything is possible with God that our human intellect cannot quite grasp. Sincerely, Celeste

Dear Celeste: I think the main article of mine you are referring to is the article that appeared in St. Anthony Messenger: “Will I See My Little Doggy in Heaven?” Yes, I know that the traditional belief has been that animal souls are not immortal. But when people explore the Scripture passages referred to in my article, and the example of St. Francis, they begin to believe another view is possible, a view that gives animal lovers hope. Friar Jack


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