The term “baptism” can be referred to as immersion and so, this sacrament “immerses” us into the Death and Resurrection of Christ (cf. Rom 6:3-4, Col 2:12). As Catholics, we believe that the sacraments are not simply signs, but are efficacious symbols that make present the reality they represent. Therefore, when an individual is baptized, original and actual sin is forgiven, liberation from evil takes place, sanctifying grace which is necessary for salvation is bestowed and there is incorporation into the Church. It literally makes one a new person, adopted child of God, a temple of God indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and raises us up to divine life. Hence, we can refer to our baptismal date as our spiritual birthday for that mark the day we were born into the light of Christ. The Sacrament of Baptism is an important necessity for salvation because grace is necessary for salvation.
For it is that grace made possible by Jesus’ redemptive suffering and death on the cross that allows us to be born again at the font, and sustains us on our daily Christian journey. By the virtue of original sin, we are born of Adam’s body into condemnation but by the sacrament of Baptism, we are born of Christ’s body into Salvation (John 3:3). Baptism becomes for us the ordinary means through which this extraordinary gift of grace is effected, sacramentalized, and celebrated for the baptized and original sin of Adam washed away. Paying attention to this, the Church has not only baptized adults from the earliest times, but also children, who need the “new birth in Baptism” to free them from darkness and bring them into the freedom of God’s children. Infant Baptism particularly manifests the overflowing abundance of God’s grace, since infants clearly do nothing to seek or earn it.
Many Catholics believe the primary reason for baptizing infants is to free the child from original sin—that sin by which Adam, “… as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings” (CCC, 416). One might ask if the Bible ever said that infant or young children can be baptized? The indications are clear in the Baptism of Lydia in Acts 16:15, Baptism of the Philippian Jailer in Acts 16:33, Baptism of Stephanas in 1 Cor 1:16. In all these cases, the entire families and households were baptized. The first explicit evidence of children of believing households being baptized comes from the early church where infant baptism was uniformly upheld and regarded as apostolic. In fact, the only controversy on the issue was the debate on whether to delay baptism until the eighth day after birth or not.
In the words of Hippolytus of Rome, “Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them” (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D. 215]). Bearing in mind the words of Our Lord to Nicodemus, “Amen Amen, I say to you no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit” (John 3:5) and to the disciples, “Let the children come to me, do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mk 10:14), the Church insists that “children are not deprived from the benefit of the sacrament, that baptismal grace is not withheld from them but they are able to come to Christ through the gift of Baptism”.(CCC, 1261) The Church does not only teach the necessity of baptism, but also legislates the urgency of infant baptism, hence the Code of Canon Law stipulates in Canon 867,§1 that “parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks”.
As regards infants who have died without Baptism, the Church entrusts them to the mercy of God and the reassurance of baptism by desire to their parents. 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) When a child is born, he is born into a family and is given an identity in the society. The Sacrament of Baptism in like manner, welcomes the child into the life of the Church, granting the infant a place amongst the community of believers. With the newly acquired baptismal name and the white clothing, a Christian identity is created. At tracing of the Sign of the Cross on the child’s forehead, that child is claimed as being owned by God against the powers of Satan, this is further validated by the prayer of exorcism and the anointing with the oil of catechumens. Scott Hahn narrating his conversion story in his book, Rome Sweet Home expounded that from his study of covenant, it was clear that God has always wanted babies to be in covenant with him and so, he gave them the first sign of the covenant which was circumcision in the Old Testament whereas Christ changed it to baptism in the New Testament.
And at Pentecost, we hear Peter in Acts 2:38-39 saying “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children…” For misguided reasons, there are many different sects of Christians that withhold baptism from their children springing from the secular belief that sees the baptism of infants as tantamount to forcing one’s religion on a child before the age of reason. Given the Church’s teaching and the inestimable benefits of the sacrament of Baptism, it becomes baffling why anyone would wait or not make that advantageous and securing decision for their child. In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus says ‘Do you have an infant child? Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood. From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Do you fear the seal of baptism because of the weakness of nature? Oh, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!” (Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7 [A.D. 388]). It becomes imperative therefore to baptize infants quickly, placing them within God’s sacramental grace and chose certainty of the grace received at baptism over the hope that they would be saved if they die.