Baptism: The First Sacrament of Initiation into the Church

by Jayson Brunelle

Three sacraments collectively are referred to as the sacraments of initiation; these are Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confirmation. While we spoke earlier of the Eucharist as the “central sacrament,” we would not be able to approach the table of Our Lord without first having been made “partakers of the divine nature,” and this is accomplished through the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is a most profound sacrament that enables us to participate in the very life of God by washing us of original sin, personal sin, and any temporal punishment due to sin. It restores our friendship with God, enabling us to live in a state of sanctifying grace, whereby God the Holy Spirit dwells in us as the soul of our soul. Just as the human soul is the life principle of the body, the Holy Spirit of God is the life principle of our soul.

Those who belong to the eastern rites are used to seeing all of the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation) administered to the infant simultaneously. This is an age-old practice that is entirely valid and licit, but is not the usual method used by the Latin rite. In the Latin rite, infants are presented for baptism, and their parents and Godparents act as sponsors, promising to raise the child as a Catholic Christian, and making an act of faith on behalf of the infant who is not yet capable of making an act of faith for him or herself – not having reached the age of reason.

While certain Protestant denominations do accept the practice of infant baptism, other groups, such as the Baptists, hold that an individual must first make a personal profession of faith before receiving the sacrament.  Yet, Sacred Scripture itself abounds with instances of entire “households” being baptized, which, logically, would include each and every member of the family unit. For, in Acts 2:38-39, Peter states, “Repent, and be baptized, 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. For the promise is to you and to your children.”  Of all of the accounts of “household” baptisms, this one, in particular, stands out in that children are explicitly mentioned.  Moreover, in Acts 16:33, we read, “And he, taking them the same hour of the night, washed their stripes, and himself was baptized, and all his house immediately;” and again, in 1 Cor. 1:16, which reads, “And I baptized also the household of Stephanus.” The baptism of an entire “household” in Apostolic times refers to the baptism of each and every individual who comprised the family unit, including parents, their children, and even their servants.

The reason infants are presented by their parents and Godparents for baptism has to do with the reality that the Church knows of no other method by which man can be saved, and the Church, in her goodness, would never want to deprive an individual of the graces of salvation procured in the sacrament of baptism.

Moreover, anyone who has ever been to an Easter Vigil Mass knows that unbaptized adults receive all the sacraments of initiation at that mass after having gone through an extensive preparation called RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). Thus, they are baptized, confirmed, and receive Holy Communion for the first time at the Easter Vigil Mass. It truly is a marvelous event to witness and partake of.

Through Baptism, we are grafted onto the Mystical Body of Christ, or the Church. Baptism can truly be considered the “gateway” sacrament,” in that no other sacrament can be administered without the individual first having been baptized. It opens the door to the sacramental life of the Church for that individual.

Further, baptism leaves an indelible mark, or “character,” on the person’s soul that cannot be erased. Thus, even if the individual were to renounce his or her faith completely, he or she would still remain baptized and in spite of one’s desires, the sacrament can never be, as it were, “undone.” The sacrament is irrevocable, and therefore needs only to be administered once.  In this regard, baptism is not unlike the two other sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders, both of which also impart a sacramental and indelible “character” which cannot be erased or undone.

Finally, while bishops and priests are the usual administrators of the sacrament, deacons can additionally perform the sacrament. Moreover, many are surprised to learn that anyone whomsoever, even unbaptized persons, can administer the sacrament validly and licitly in an emergency situation, provided he or she has the intention of doing what the Church does when she baptizes. In such an emergency situation, the Trinitarian formula and the pouring of water must be used to administer the sacrament. Thus, if you happen to be a healthcare professional and are working with a newborn who may be in danger of dying, you are authorized by the Church to administer the sacrament of baptism to the infant by pouring water on his or her head and stating, “(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

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