The Church has seven sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ which are recognized as mystical channels of grace. Some sacraments are received once, but there are some which requires active ongoing participation of the recipient to encourage the further development of his/her faith.
Baptism, the sacrament of Initiation
This sacrament is called baptism after the rite by which it is celebrated, a Greek word baptizein, which means to “plunge” or “immerse”. Baptism is seen as the sacrament of admission into the faith, which grants sanctifying grace to the recipient. “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (CCC 1213), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. This means the reception of other sacraments depends on it. As Baptism is the first sacrament to be administered, it can be seen as an initiation. Indeed, the theologian and author Tertullian observed that much like the oath taken by a soldier, which begins the soldier’s life in the military, so too the sacrament of baptism initiates the Christian into the mystical body of Christ, the Catholic Church. In John 3:3, we read, “Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. This forms the basis for baptism as it relates to salvation. To be “born anew” is to die to the flesh, which is infected with original sin, and be born into the spirit, the effect of which is to restore the grace lost by original sin. So while baptism is defined as a sacrament that takes away sin, it should also be understood it does more than take away sins, that it also restores the Grace that was lost by original sin. This explains the necessity of baptism. It becomes clear that the cleansing of original sin makes baptism necessary for salvation since original sin would act as a barrier to entry into heaven. It is in baptism that one dies, but it is also in baptism that one begins anew Death and Rebirth Within the context of the New Testament, baptism symbolizes the death of the old self and the rebirth of a new life, reinstating our status as adopted children of God and heirs of heaven, a status lost at the fall. Saint Paul in his letter articulates this principle, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4). It is in and through baptism that this new birth, this being born again makes those baptized to become adopted children of God and members of the body of Christ which is the Catholic Church. It is in baptism that one dies, but it is also in baptism that one begins anew
Three Types of Baptism
The mention of the word baptism often brings to mind the image of a priest pouring water from a baptismal font onto the head of an infant which is the most common form, invoking the Trinity with the phrase, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit”. However, the Catholic Church distinguishes between three types of baptism. The first is the most common, that of baptism by water, which could be for an infant, unbaptized children or adults who wish to become Catholics. The second type of baptism is that of the baptism of blood (martyrdom). This is a baptism of one who dies for the faith before he has had a chance to be baptized by water. This was a common occurrence in the early Church. The third type is the baptism of desire. It is a baptism of an individual who expresses a sincere desire to be baptized but dies before he is provided with an opportunity to be baptized by water. Matter and Form of Baptism and Minister Sacraments take place with many prayers and rituals, but these rituals must include these two elements for the sacrament to be valid. Also, it must be noted that Faith in God the Blessed Trinity and willingness to accept all that the Catholic Church teaches is required. Matter which is the material or tangible element is the substance through which the sacramental act takes place. It could also be a spiritual act or acts; in essence, it is something real, the means by which the sacramental action takes place. The Form which is the formula, words or prayers, and actions while performing the sacrament. Let us look at the Matter and Form, as well as the minister of Baptism
• Matter: Natural water poured on the head of the baptized
• Form: the words spoken while water is poured: “N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.
• Ordinary Minister: Bishop / Priest / Deacon
• Extraordinary Minister: anyone can baptize in danger of death or extreme circumstances where the ordinary minister cannot be reached.
Why is Baptism important?
Baptism is necessary for salvation and these Jesus affirms in his words to the Apostles – “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk16: 15-16). Jesus gave a command to His disciples to proclaim the Good News and baptize all who accept the message of the Gospel. This mission the Church continues till today. He also affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation in his encounter with Nicodemus in Jn.3:5 “…no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”. Let us look at some effects of Baptism which are supernatural graces:
• By Baptism all sins are forgiven, that is original sin and in the case of an adult, personal sins (mortal and venial) and the punishment due for them is forgiven.
• Baptism gives new life as adopted sons / daughters of God and heirs of heaven. The baptized becomes a sharer of divine life and lives a life of grace, renouncing those choices that are opposed to Christ. Baptism is an invitation to reject death and embrace life, new life in Christ.
• The Catholic Church recognizes the validity of Baptism in other Church as long as the rite involved the pouring of water, a Trinitarian formula. Thus, it creates a common foundation among all Christians.
• Baptism imparts to the soul of the Christian a permanent and distinctive quality which is the indelible spiritual mark, this mark is also called character. The baptized is incorporated into Christ, he/she permanently belongs to Christ, whose image he/she bears.
• By baptism, he/she becomes member of the body of Christ, the Church. The “mark” of baptism distinguishes them as members of the Church, the mystical body of Christ. They also profess commitment to the Church’s beliefs, values, and vision.
• Baptism reveals the equality and dignity of each member of the community, because all are baptized/initiated in the one Body of Christ. So there is no difference arising from race, nationality, sex or social condition.
• Baptism makes us disciples/ witness to the society. Because of the one dignity flowing from Baptism, every baptized person shares a responsibility for the Church’s mission (Christifideles laici, 15). The baptized accepts the call to take part in, and identify with its mission to discipleship
• After the baptism, a lighted candle, which symbolizes the light of Christ, and that the baptized is now enlightened by Christ. He/she can now be identified among these “For you are all children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness” (1Thes. 5:5). They are now called to journey in that light and extend it to others. For all Catholics, the sacrament of baptism is not just a formality, it is an essential act for our salvation instituted by Christ Himself. It is the new divine way of entering God’s kingdom. This marks the beginning of a journey of faith that will hopefully lead all to behold God the Father face to face, which is the essence of our being.