The Catholic Church defines baptism as a sacrament that cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, Children of God, and members of the church. Being the first out of the three sacraments of initiation, baptism opens the door for the reception of other sacraments and is a requirement for fully becoming part of the body of Christ. Therefore, baptism is referred to as “the door of the church.”
However, there has been some misunderstanding about this sacrament of Christian initiation, with many downplaying its importance. Let us take a look at this sacrament and some key facts about it
1. Baptism is a requirement for salvation
The Bible says expressly in John 3:3-5 that for anyone to enter the kingdom of God, he has to be born of water and the Holy Spirit. Being born of water and the Spirit here translates to baptism by water and the Holy Spirit as we have it today.
During baptism, the Spirit of God descends upon the person being baptized just like He came down on Jesus during His baptism at the river Jordan. Thus, completing the equation of being born of water and the Spirit.
Also, in Acts 10, the Bible speaks of a devout and God-fearing man, Cornelius, who despite his good works and fear of God, was still not fulfilling the requirements to be saved. His prayers and good works had been “received”, yet something was still lacking in him. As such, he was directed by an Angel to Peter, who would later baptize him after he had received the gospel of Christ.
Even our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ had to be baptized, though he had no sin in Him and had no particular need for baptism. The baptism of Jesus Christ sets the standard for us and teaches us to do what God requires (Matthew 3:15).
As such, we see that good works and “being holy” alone is not sufficient for salvation, and that baptism is a requirement for salvation.
In addition, the Catholic Church teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation (See the council of Trent). The Church also teaches that Baptism cleanses us from the original sin inherited from Adam and Eve. Original sin is not a typical sin. It is more like a loss of perfection and a disordering of what was once ordered for perfect goodness. We all were conceived in this original sin (Psalm 51:5). Therefore, we have to be purified of this original sin if we are to be saved. This is where Baptism comes in.
2. Being baptized is of great significance
Being baptized isn’t a mere ritual like some take it to be. This Christ-instituted sacrament is of great importance and bears a lot of significance. First, the sacrament of baptism transfers the recipient from darkness to light, from death to life, and from slaves to sons.
Also, as earlier mentioned, baptism is the first of the three sacraments of initiation, alongside confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. Thus, without it, other sacraments in the Church cannot be received. The sacrament also confirms the baptized as a member of the church, the body of Christ and purifies him from original as well as personal sins.
The church teaches that this sacrament places an indelible spiritual sign called “character” on the recipient, which consecrates him for Christian worship (CCC 1280). The recipient of baptism also receives a baptismal grace that incorporates him into the church and is made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ (CCC 1279) and a partaker in the divine nature of Christ.
Furthermore, Baptism translates to the newness of life for the recipient (Colossians 2: 12-14). Having been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, the baptized no longer lives according to his old ways of life. He receives grace from this sacrament to live according to the new faith that he has declared (in the case of adult baptism).
3. Baptism is a direct commandment from God
“Go into the world, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit….”(Matthew 28:19-20). These were the exact words of Jesus Christ to His disciples, and by extension, the Church when He was about to leave this world. If baptism wasn’t important as some people claim, Christ wouldn’t have given this direct command to His disciples and the church.
Having received this command, the Church in obedience upholds the sacrament of baptism and teaches her members to be baptized. Refusal to be baptized simply translates to disobedience to a direct command from God and a rejection of the salvific work of Christ through this Sacrament.
4. Baptism can be administered by anyone
The priest is the ordinary minister of baptism. However, in extreme cases such as in the danger of death, an extraordinary minister such as a baptized Christian who is not a priest, an unbaptized believer, or even an unbeliever can administer the sacrament of baptism. This baptism remains valid as long as the matter (water) and the trinitarian formula (the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit”) are used (Code 758, The 1917 Code of Canon Law), and the intention is to bring the baptized into the abundance of the church.
However, in some cases such as when the validity of the initial baptism performed by an extraordinary minister is in serious doubt, a conditional baptism can be carried out by the ordinary minister of baptism. An example of such a case would be if there’s doubt that the correct baptismal formula was used or if there’s a revelation that the extraordinary minister did not have the right intentions when the baptism was carried out.
This conditional baptism is not considered rebaptism though, as the sacrament can only be received once. As such, a baptized person cannot receive the sacrament a second time, in as much as there’s the certainty of the initial one being valid.
The Catholic Church accepts baptism done in some other churches such as the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches because the elements (form and matter) are present, thus making it valid. However, baptism in some other churches such as the Church of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) is not accepted by the Catholic Church because they do not believe in the trinity, making the baptism invalid.
5. Anyone can be baptized
While some churches argue that the sacrament has to be administered to adults with a sense of reasoning and the ability to decide to become part of the Christian faith, the Catholic church believes that this sacrament should not be withheld from infants. Thus, infant or baby baptism is practiced in the Catholic Church. The rationale is that waiting for the child to come of age may put the child in danger of dying with original sin.
As such, baptism is carried out for infants, in the presence of their parents and godparents who are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the child grows in the faith. There are a few other churches that also support infant baptism. Examples are the Lutherans, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox churches.
On the other hand, an adult who has been converted into Catholicism can also be baptized in the church if he had not been baptized or if the previous baptism is considered invalid based on the condition mentioned in the previous point. However, if the baptism of such a person cannot be confirmed, a conditional baptism is also carried out.
6. There are other types of baptism
The Catholic Church recognizes two other types of baptism other than baptism of water. These are the baptism of desire and baptism of blood. The former has to do with those who had the intention and were willing to be baptized but could not be baptized before their death. Or those who out of no fault of theirs, have not heard of or known the gospel of Christ, but seek God diligently and implicitly in their hearts and consciously make efforts to do His will as guided by their conscience (Constitution of the Church, Second Vatican council).
The second, baptism of blood, applies to those that died on account of the Christian faith before they could be baptized, as in the case of martyrs. The Catholic Church teaches that both other types of baptism have the same efficacy as the baptism of water.
7. How should one be baptized?
Several stories of baptism in the Bible tell us that Baptism is done by immersion (partial dipping) or submersion or complete immersion (full dipping) of the person to be baptized into water. This practice has been upheld by the Church traditionally and is still practiced by the Church in some parts of the world such as in the Eastern Church.
However, baptism can also be carried out by Aspersion (sprinkling of water on the head) or Affusion (pouring of water over the head). Code 758 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law states that a valid baptism can be conducted either by immersion, Aspersion, or Affusion. Trine or Triune baptism is an ancient Christian practice where all manners of administering baptism are employed three times, representing each person of the Holy Trinity.
The various manners of baptism as mentioned above have different depictions. While Aspersion depicts the cleansing aspect of Baptism as stated in Ps 51:7, affusion depicts the anointing and pouring of the Holy Spirit on the baptized as is practised in the Old testament in the anointing of kings, priests, and prophets. Finally, baptism by Immersion or submersion, depicts the burial of the baptized and subsequent resurrection in Christ.
Indeed, a lot can be said about baptism. Being baptized declares your faith in the saving power of Christ through His blood and the acknowledgement that your salvation rests on it. The sacrament was instituted by Jesus Christ and passed on to the Church to continue in the saving work initiated by Him. Therefore, take advantage of this great gift of grace and win for yourself the salvation of your soul. God bless you.