I remember about 5 years ago when we went to the Easter Vigil Mass for the first time in about 12 years (that’s what happens when you have kids) how amazed I was at the beauty and meaning behind this the greatest of all liturgies. I guess I'd forgotten; or never realized it. In particular, I was moved by the Baptism rite.
It made me think of one of my friends whose parents chose not to baptise him as an infant, instead giving him the choice to do so on his own, if he wished to, as an adult. The thinking is that it’s not fair that we are baptised as infants without our consent. At the same time, we’re born into our family without our consent. I was born in Panama without consent. So why not be “born” into the family of God without our consent?
Still, I wonder if Baptism made more sense in the early days of Christianity, when people were baptised as adults.
From the very day of Pentecost the Church has celebrated and administered Holy Baptism. At Pentecost, St. Peter in his first sermon said to the crowd: "Repent, and be baptised 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."
(Acts 2:38) Then, the Apostles offered Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus. After all, after the “love God and your neighbour” and the “do this in memory of me” commands, the only other command Jesus left his disciples was to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
(Matthew 28:19) Baptism has always been connected with accepting the faith: "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,"
St. Paul told his jailer in Philippi. And then, the jailer "was baptised at once, with all his family." (Acts 16:31-33) Baptism has also always been a sign of belief in Jesus Christ, a sign of faith.
But in order to understand Baptism, we need to remember some basics on all the Sacraments (read my previous posts What is a Sacrament? Parts 1-3
). For me, the most important thing to remember is that all Sacraments point to particular mysteries. Baptism points to two: The mystery that the person now belongs to Christ and the mystery that the person is washed clean from original sin (and all sin). Those are the two “metaphysical occurrences” that take place.
So I guess we should briefly talk about original sin.
Original sin is the sin that caused our current human condition when Adam and Eve chose to ignore God’s request not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Goodness and Evil (Genesis 3). This is when death entered the world. Before that, Adam and Eve were in Communion with God. They had original holiness and justice. Since then, human beings are born deprived of this original holiness and justice (Catechism of the Catholic Church
paragraphs 404, 419). That’s original sin. So I guess using the word “cleansing” is a bit confusing. When we say that Baptism “cleanses us” of original sin, we mean that Baptism “restores” our access to holiness and justice.
But, original sin also has consequences. The consequence of original sin is that “human nature is wounded in its natural powers”. Not to say that it is completely corrupted, but it is “subject to ignorance, to suffering and to the dominion of death” (CCC 405-409, 418). Though God took our place, so that we would not have to die (how’s that for an abbreviation of the Good News?), the tendency to sin is still very strong. This is what the Church calls concupiscence. (A word I had never heard until 10 years ago. Go figure!)
At Baptism we are "cleansed" of original sin (the fact that we are born without original holiness and justice), but Baptism doesn’t take away the tendency towards sin. It only restores our ability to have access to holiness and justice.
Does this mean that those who are not baptised cannot be saved?
There are those who will argue that. Not the Catholic Church; all she says is that Baptism gives us the guarantee that we will be saved (“saved” meaning “get to Heaven”). But it also means that Baptism is not enough for salvation (unless you died immediately after your Baptism). Because we still have a tendency to sin, chances are we need a bit more than just Baptism.
And that’s where this whole idea of the Kingdom of Heaven being given to us as a little seed comes into play. If we don’t water the seed and take care of it, nurture it, it won’t grow. That’s why we have a ton of adult Christians who are still spiritual babies.
After Jesus was resurrected, he appeared and said to the disciples, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew: 28:19-20) So, it’s pretty clear that not only did Jesus command his disciples to go and make more disciples, but to do so, they had to baptise them and then, not just leave them like that, but after baptism they had to be taught.
Next time let’s look at why today we baptise infants. Remember to send in your comments, love to read them.
*Read other posts on the Sacraments:
What is a Sacrament? part one, part two and part three
Deacon-structing Reconciliation part one, part two and part three
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:firstname.lastname@example.org @deaconpedrogm