Baptism: A Spiritual Rebirth
The Church teaches that Baptism is the portal to spiritual life and the gateway to other sacraments, a sacrament of purification and rebirth. Through Baptism, Catholics become members of the Church to share in the Church's mission.
Baptism, from the Greek
Many stories in the Old Testament seem to prefigure Baptism: the story of the Great Flood, when the water drowned the wicked; the crossing of the Red Sea, which freed the Israelites from bondage; the crossing of the River Jordan into the Promised Land. In the New Testament, Jesus himself is baptized before beginning his mission. After Pentecost, the apostles began to baptize new converts to the faith.
In the early Church, Baptism was part of the Sacraments of Initiation, which also involved Proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel, profession of faith, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, and admission to Eucharistic Communion.The Baptismal Ceremony
Today, the ceremony of Baptism must include the following steps:
The sign of the cross
The proclamation of the Word of God to enlighten all those gathered
Exorcisms pronounced over the candidate, laying on of hands, renunciation of Satan, and confession of faith
Consecration of baptismal water (either then or at the Easter Vigil)
Baptism proper, including pouring of or immersion in water, and the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
Anointing with the sacred chrism (special oil)
Wearing of a white garment, to symbolize that the person has “put on Christ,” and the lighting of a candle from the Easter candle, to symbolize enlightenment
Post-baptismal anointing as a forerunner of Confirmation
Sacrament of the Eucharist for adult candidates
Ordinarily, bishops, priests, and deacons are the only ones who have the privilege to baptize. However, the Church considers Baptism so crucial to salvation that anyone, even an unbaptized person, can perform the baptismal ceremony in an emergency — as long as the minister of Baptism follows the ceremony and has the right intentions.Baptism for Children and Adults
Today, the Church practices both infant and adult Baptism. Adult Baptism hearkens back to the days of the early Church, with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). As catechumens, adults prepare to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion. They learn about the mystery of salvation, the virtues, and the life of faith, liturgy, and charity.
Following practices that began in the second century
Whether child or adult, all the newly baptized need help to grow in the faith. Every baptized person has a godfather and a godmother, who act as the baptized person's sponsors and must therefore be firm believers. The task of the godparents is to help the newly baptized grow in the faith.
The Church extends the saving benefits of Baptism to people who die for the faith without having been baptized and to catechumens who died before being baptized. The Church also teaches that anyone who seeks truth and does God's will insofar as he or she understands it can be saved, despite ignorance of the Gospels and of the Church.
The effects of Baptism include the following:
The forgiveness of all sins, personal as well as inherited (including the original sin)
Justification that allows the sinner to believe in, hope in, and love God; to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit; and to grow in the moral virtues
Inclusion in the Church and a membership in the common priesthood of all believers
An indelible spiritual mark that demonstrates the baptized person's dedication to Christ