Baptism, Part II

In our last column, I began going step by step through the Rite of Baptism. In this column, I will continue through the remainder of the rite.

Once the child has received Baptism (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) he is considered to be beginning a new life in Christ. As a result of this new status and new dignity, four specific actions follow:

 

  • Royal Crown. The child is anointed on the crown of the head with the Sacred Chrism (a holy oil used in Baptism, Confirmation and on the hands of a priest at Ordination). Chrism – applied with the reminder that Christ was “anointed Priest, Prophet and King” – marks that child as regally sacred in sense of being priestly (offering prayer), prophetic (evangelizing) and kingly (sharing in his mystical body).
  • The Great White Way. The child is then clothed in a white garment (baptismal gown) as a sign of his spiffy newness of life and Christian dignity. I have to mention here a pet peeve of mine: Many parents today bring their child to Baptism already dressed in a baptismal gown. It is common practice, but nonetheless incorrect. The baptismal gown is not to be worn until after the actual Baptismal – hence it is called a “baptismal gown.” A woman would not wear an evening gown in the daytime, you don’t get a gold medal before winning the Olympic event, and so, in a similar way, neither should a child wear a baptismal gown before he is baptized.
  • Shedding Some Light. A candle is lit from the Paschal (Easter) Candle and handed to the Godfather, by custom, or to the father of the child, with the pointed reminder that this child has been “enlightened by Christ” and that the job of the parents and Godparents is to keep that light burning brightly! Hence, one should be sure to pick Godparents that can do that!
  • Tommy, Can You Hear Me? The baptized child’s ears and mouth are blessed in an ancient rite called Ephphetha (meaning “Be opened”, from Mark 7:34). This is to serve as a reminder that as a member of the Baptized, this child has a call to use his ears to hear the word of God and his mouth to speak the word of God to others.

 

Rite to the End

Following the completion of the Ephphetha, all present pray the Lord’s Prayer; this is done because the child is now a son of “Our Father.” At the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, the mother, father and all who were gathered to witness this Sacrament are blessed by the minister of the Sacrament and sent forth. A tradition in many cultures has the mother and father, at the conclusion of the rite, bringing their child before an image of the Blessed Mother and offering the child in her honor by praying a Hail Mary.

Once the rite of Baptism is complete, an un-Godly amount of cameras and camera-phones are pulled out and some 1,679 photos are taken with every possible combination of relatives imaginable.

 

The Meaning and Effects of Baptism

If you speak to folks about Baptism – and what it is – you will hear them say things like: it’s a blessing of a child, it’s a Christening, or it marks the birth of a child. These are sweet; but sweetest of thoughts do not wash the sourness of falsity from one’s mind. And these ideas are, all of them, false. Using Aquinas’ via negativa (learning what something is by first learning what it isn’t) can be helpful here. Let me clarify what Baptism isn’t before talking about what it is:

  • The idea that Baptism is the blessing of child is false; a child can be blessed the day it is born and similarly that child, when grown, can receive blessings throughout life. At the end of every Mass we receive a blessing, and that is certainly not a baptism (and I can prove it, because at the end of Mass people don’t pull out cameras and camera phones takes 1,679 photos as explained above).
  • The idea that Baptism is a Christening is false; inanimate objects are Christened (dedicated to Christ) – boats, cars, buildings, etc. C’mon, you’ve seen it. When a ship is christened, a bottle of bubbly is smashed against its hull and it is named. I have seen a lot of things at Baptism, but I have never seen the child smashed with a bottle of champagne. Baptism is more than a mere dedication ceremony.
  • And finally, as we walk down the exciting via negativa, Baptism is not the demarcation of the addition of a child to the family – that is usually demarcated by birth announcements, and the purchase of Pampers.

 

So then what does Baptism do for the baptized person? Well it has six specific effects.

  1. Wipeout! In movie franchises today, like Spiderman and Star Trek, the origin of the characters or the storyline is not merely retold, but reimagined or rebooted – and that usually makes scads of money. In Baptism our life with God is reimagined for what it can be at its best and purest; and our human nature is rebooted. In Baptism, all sins (original and extra crispy, as I like to say) are forgiven. Original sin, personal sins, and punishment due for those sins are wiped away. Thus Baptism gives a rebirth, a reboot, and nothing remains that would impede one’s entry into heaven.  For all this talk of newness, however, the consequences of original sin (given to us by Adam and Eve’s disobedience) remain for all of us, especially concupiscence (an inclination to sin) which we all wrestle with throughout life, but can resist by God’s grace. (CCC 1262-1264)

  2. Connections. There’s an old saying in business and politics: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That is true also in the ecclesial realm of the faithful. A baptized person has connections – big connections! Yeah, those connections may not get you into Harvard, but they’ll get you into heaven. You see, in Baptism one is made a new creature – an adopted son of God and that baptized person shares in God’s divine life. The baptized person becomes claimed by and connected to Christ and a co-heir with him, as well as becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit. (CCC1265)

  3. Grace-fullness. In Baptism one receives “Sanctifying grace” (a.k.a. a share in God’s Divine Life). In life, this enables one to believe in God with faith, hope and love; it enables one to be guided by the Holy Spirit; it enables one to grow in goodness and virtue. (CCC 1266)

  4. Catholic Church, Inc. In Baptism one becomes incorporated as a member of the body of Christ, and shares in Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly mission. This membership as a part of Christ’s mystical (supernatural) body, makes one a member of the Catholic Church and calls for that baptized person to serve others and to obey and submit to the authority of the Church in faith. (CCC 1267-1270)

  5. A “Bunch” of Christian. Just as TV’s Marcia, Jan and Cindy (and their mother Carol) became Brady family members with Greg, Peter and Bobby because of their new relationship to the father (Mike Brady), so, too, in Baptism one becomes connected by Sacramental bond to all baptized Christians. We all become brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, Baptism is important, as it connects all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. (CCC 1271)

  6. Stain Alive, Stain Alive. Did you ever have a Sharpie Marker (a.k.a. laundry marker) in your pants or shirt pocket without the lid on it? Embarrassingly, I can say that I have. And it makes a terrible mess; it makes a stain that cannot be removed! Hence, that type of marker it is oft referred to as an “indelible marker.” In Baptism, an indelible spiritual mark is made upon one’s soul which can never be removed, not even by sin. It impresses upon the soul a character (often referred to as seal or mark), by which we are incorporated into Christ and made members of the Catholic Church. That mark on our soul is kind of like a branding mark put on cattle; it permanently marks the ownership of the creature no matter where it may wander. So, too, no matter where we wander in life, Christ still calls us his own, and we can always come back to him. (CCC 1272-1273)

 

So, Baptism, the first Sacrament, is the beginning of our life with Christ and it paves the way to the other Sacraments. Speaking of other Sacraments, in the next column, we will examine the Sacrament of Confirmation.