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Questions & Answers About Baptism (in General)

What is the importance of the baptismal ritual?

The various rituals that surround and precede the baptism amplify and signify the whole meaning of the sacrament. The candidate is given a saint’s name so that he will have a special patron before God and a particular model of holiness. He is asked if he desires baptism to insure that such is his own choice and that the conversion is not coerced. There is a brief exorcism rite, especially if the person has been involved in New Age cults or various Eastern religions. Of course, given the perplexing times, it is also possible that a person has actively engaged in witchcraft and Satanic practices. The words of the priest and his very breath in saying them signify the protecting presence of the Holy Spirit against evil and anything diabolic. Any enslavement to Satan is broken. The sign of the cross, made many times in the ritual, and upon the head of the candidate, marks the person as the property of God and as a disciple of the crucified Christ. He is to nurture in his heart and practice in his life the dictates of the Christian calling.

The imposition of hands is a further symbol of divine protection. Retained, at least as an option for children, the priest touches the ears and mouth of the candidate with the words, “Be opened” or Ephpheta! After the example of Jesus with spittle in Mark 7:33, his eyes are given spiritual sight and his mouth and actions are opened to the truth of the Word of God.

The person being baptized proclaims the faith and renounces Satan and all his works. Unless accomplished earlier, as with the exorcism rites, the candidate is anointed with the oil of baptism, also called the oil of catechumens. A child is anointed upon the breast. An adult is anointed upon the palms of the hands. It is still another sign of protection. Just as one might use lotion to protect from the damaging rays of the sun, here the oil is to act like armor against the assault of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

How is baptism performed?

There are several ways that water might be used:  immersion, sprinkling, and pouring. Pouring is still the most common. The priest or deacon pours water over the head of the catechumen while saying: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

What are some of the ceremonies that follow the act of baptism?

There is a second anointing, upon the forehead (upon the crown of the head for children). The oil used is a sacred chrism (slightly perfumed). The initiate is confirmed with this anointing, or if it is delayed, he is anointed priest, prophet, and king. He is the anointed of God, specially chosen to be among his elect. Such is our hope and the reasoning behind the white garment that might be used at this point. The book of Revelation asserts that the elect will be attired in gowns of white. It is a special sign of purity. We pray that they might bring it (figuratively) unstained before the judgment-seat of Christ. A lighted candle is presented to the person, or to a godparent in the case of children, lit from the Paschal or Easter Candle. Christ is the Light of the world and his is the fire that brings warmth to a world ever so cold. We pray that the one baptized into Christ will witness to this light and warmth. This is only made possible if one avoids sin, keeps the commandments, and loves both God and neighbor. If such is accomplished, then he can be confident in coming to the marriage banquet of heaven with all the saints. While the candle represents the newly baptized as a new Christ, the fire is the flame of everlasting life.

Why do we have sponsors or godparents?

They stand by the adult as supports and friends in the journey of faith. They stand by the child as one who professes faith and makes a solemn vow on the child’s behalf. They will support parents in raising the child in the Catholic faith. They will remain a model of Christian discipleship to the adult. We are a family. We do not come to God alone. A spiritual relationship is forged.

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.

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4 Responses

  1. When John the Baptist was baptizing was it the ritual of the Hebrews at the time of going to the temple to be purified? Did Jesus get baptized to institute the sacrement of Baptizim? I know John said, “I baptize with water, but one who comes after me will baptize … So what was baptizing to John, who was Jewish as well as Jesus Christ. Someone told me that Jesus name was quite common in his time. Christ I understand has a different meaning tho.

    FATHER JOE:

    The baptisms of John were akin to traditional Hebrew ablutions. The believer would go into a pool or the water, imploring God for moral cleansing and healing. It sought to do what it could not fully realize, the forgiveness of sins. It is for this reason that the baptisms of John are regarded as a preparation for the coming of Christ. The baptism of Jesus by John constitutes a singular type of baptism, a revelatory moment or theophany. Jesus is revealed as God come down from heaven to save us. There is the dove and the voice where he is announced as God’s Son. The third type of baptism is Christian initiation. All three involve water but here we have the triune formula. This baptism in faith makes possible a spiritual rebirth and the real forgiveness of sins. We are made adopted sons and daughters to the father and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. We enter into the saving paschal mystery of Christ. Thus there are three types of baptism:

    1. John’s baptism of preparation;
    2. The baptism of Christ in the Jordan, a baptism of revelation; and
    3. The baptism instituted by Christ for our rebirth or regeneration.

    When John baptized Jesus, our Lord’s identity is revealed. When we were baptized into Christ as believers, our identities were changed.

  2. I am Catholic and was baptized as an infant, but as such by my mother who was neither baptized nor Catholic.

    In her elderly and infirmed years, my mother seeks to be baptized; however she does not wish to become a member of a specific church. She chooses to be Christian, but of no specific order.

    She is too infirmed to attend church regularly. Because of this I am unable to find a church willing to baptize her. I find it appalling that a good, Christian-living, elderly person, who seeks the baptism of salvation is denied such due to her inability and choice not to attend or belong to a specific church.

    My heart is breaking for her situation, what can I do?

    FATHER JOE:

    Short of changing her mind, there is little you can do. There is no such thing as generic baptism. This brings up confusing elements in your comment.

    First, you write that you are Catholic but that such was by your mother. Are you meaning that she allowed a priest or deacon to baptize you? Or are you saying that she directly baptized you? The latter is permitted only in dire emergencies when a child is in danger of death. Baptism must be done with the intention of the Church, with the proper Trinitarian formula and with water. A Catholic is fully initiated through three sacraments: Baptism, reception of Holy Communion and Confirmation. Are you a Catholic in the true and full sense? Were you later received into the Catholic Church?

    Second, the fault here is not the Church but your mother. She does not appreciate or understand the meaning of baptism. It is certainly demanded by Christ along with faith for salvation. It is also the doorway to the other sacraments. What else does baptism accomplish? The person is given sanctifying grace. The person becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. The person is born again or becomes a new creation in Christ. The person is washed clean of sin (original and personal). The person is incorporated in the mystical body of Christ, the Church. The profession of the Catholic faith is part of the baptismal ritual. If she cannot make the profession then in all honesty, she cannot be baptized a Catholic. All true baptism, even in non-Catholic settings, creates an attachment or tie, no matter how flimsy, with the one true Church, the Catholic Church. There is no such thing as non-denominational or impartial Christianity as ordinarily understood. There are the Orthodox churches, breakaway Protestant ecclesial communities, cults and the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is technically NOT a denomination, but the Mother Church. This view would be contested by non-Catholics, but it is what it is.

    Third, what do I recommend? I would suggest that you contact a Catholic church in your area and have a priest or ministerial team visit. She could be given whatever catechesis she needs and can handle toward baptism. If she is willing to be baptized a Catholic, as someone who is home-bound, she would not be required to make Sunday Mass. She could watch Mass on TV and have a priest or extraordinary minister regularly visit her with Holy Communion in her home. She might be baptized in the church, or if she is too ill, a priest can get permission to do so in her home at her sick bed. Indeed, he would give her all three sacraments of initiation. If her health further declines, she could then also receive the Anointing of the Sick (Oil) or Extreme Unction.

  3. Dear Father, why can’t I find a priest who will baptise me? I’ve been through an RICIA course overseas and was told, although welcome to complete the course, I should enter the Church upon returning home. five years on, back home, I’ve attended my local parish church for most of the year, and have contacted the parish priest several times about my hopes of entering the Church. With Christmas rushing on, and no sign of a cathecism class or anything in the parish that would suggest any means by which an adult may enter the Church, I was wondering if there are times, for some reason, a priest simply feels it is inappropriate to baptise someone? Thank you for your time. God Bless, S

    FATHER JOE: Given that there is no missing factor in this equation, I would urge you to find another priest.

  4. Good day Sir! Is this cited in the Bible? What verse? Thank You.

    FATHER JOE: Please see the next post on baptism. The Catholic Church is faithful to the two fonts of revelation: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Remember, that while the Church today is enriched and informed by Scripture, the Church is the source for the Bible, albeit guided by almighty God, not the other way around.

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