Baptism, the sacrament of initiation of the Catholic Church, makes an indelible mark on the soul and brings us into a new life in Christ. The sacrament has priority, because we cannot receive another sacrament before Baptism. Christ was baptized by John the Baptist in the river Jordan and ordered His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations and to baptize the faithful. “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” told Jesus to Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).
The Church has always recognized two alternatives to the Baptism of water: the Baptism of desire and the Baptism of blood. The Baptism of desire applies both to those who, while wishing to be baptized, die before receiving the sacrament and those who do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but seek God with a sincere heart and to do His will as they know it through the dictates of conscience (Constitution on the Church, Second Vatican Council). The baptism of blood refers to the martyrdom for the faith before a chance of baptism.
Baptism grants five supernatural graces:
1. The removal of the guilt of both original sin and personal sin.
2. The remission of all punishment we owe because of sin. The punishment is temporal, on earth and in Purgatory, or eternal, in hell.
3. The infusion of sanctifying grace, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the three Theological Virtues.
4. Becoming a part of Christ and the Church, His Mystical Body on earth.
5. Enabling participation in the other sacraments and the growth in grace.
The pouring of water over the head of the person to be baptized, or the immersion of the person in water, while pronouncing the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” are the baptismal essentials. When the life of a person is in danger, even a non-baptized person or a nonbeliever of Christ can baptize, if the person follows the baptismal form and intends to bring the baptized into the fullness of the Church. A priest or a deacon may perform a conditional baptism later.
Only one baptism is valid. The sacrament disposes Catholics for the Grace of God, grant us a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and a vocation to divine worship which may include the service of the Church. A conditional Baptism may be performed when the validity of a baptism is in doubt. Such uncertainty may result from the failure to pronounce the Holy Trinity by the person administering the baptism. In some cases, there is the validity of the sacrament administered by the previous religion or the use of impure water in an emergency baptism.
In a typical Catholic baptism, the minister pours water upon the head or immerses the person in water while saying the following formula:
I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In a conditional baptism, the minister of the sacrament says the adapted form:
If you are not yet baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic Church typically baptizes infants. Adult converts to Catholicism also receive the sacrament, unless they have already received a Christian baptism. If there is any doubt about whether an adult has already been baptized, the priest will perform a conditional baptism. An adult is baptized after proper instruction in the Faith in a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), which includes Confirmation and Eucharist.
The matter of baptism is water and oil. Water is a sign of pardon of sins and of spiritual life. Baptism cleanses us of original sin, and in the baptism of adults, of every sin committed prior to Baptism. The minister rubs olive oil on the breast of the baby to symbolize strengthening the baby for the struggles of life ahead caused by the devil, the world and the flesh. The profession of faith we make on behalf of a child at baptism will later be confirmed by the child in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Parents are the main educators of the Faith. Godparents take over or assist in the development in the Faith of the godchild if the parents cannot perform the role or if they neglect the child, to ensure the promise of raising the child in the Catholic faith. It is only necessary a godparent of any sex, but the child may have a couple of godparents. In the case of an emergency, such as imminent death, no sponsor is required.
Parents must find practicing Catholics for godparents. The best avenue is to invite relatives, even grandparents, who have kept the Faith. A child must have at least a Catholic godparent to represent the Catholic Church. A godparent should be a devout Catholic who will help the godchild to attain salvation.
“I am the light of the world,” affirmed Christ (John 8:12). Baptism represents the coming from darkness into the light. The baptismal candle is lit using the flame from the Easter Candle which symbolizes the light of Christ that darkness cannot overcome.
The celebrant traces the cross on the forehead of the baby and invites the parents and the godparents to imitate him. The cross means that “the child belongs to Christ.” The minister, the parents and the godparents gather around the baptismal font and the celebrant asks the parents what they want for the child. They reply: “Baptism.” Then parents and godparents make the baptismal promises, based on the Apostles Creed, on behalf of the child. The baby’s white garment is also part of the ceremony to symbolize the child’s new life in Christ. The color white speaks of life, purity, and innocence, and it is a sign of Christ’s Resurrection.
The parish gives to the parents a baptismal certificate, and records the baptism in the Parish Baptismal Register. Parents may need the certificate when they enroll their child in a catholic school or before he or she receives the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation.