Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Catechism on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism

What is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism? Why did Our Lord institute it?

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the First Sacrament, the sacrament which enters us into the life of divine grace and makes us children of God, sons of God by adoption, and members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Baptism was instituted by Our Lord in order that through it, a sign causing what it symbolises, we, as the members of Christ, incorporated into His Body, may participate in the mystery of Christ's own Passion, Death, and Resurrection— Baptism supernaturally joins us to Christ in His Death and Resurrection, and makes us to receive the benefits of Calvary and the Empty Tomb. By its mystical representation of burial and death with Christ, and also of resurrection, through our passage in and out of water, Holy Baptism causes what is symbolises and symbolises what it causes. Because this sacrament is generally or universally necessary for salvation, it was most important that Jesus Christ establish a sacrament which is very easy and simple to administer: and so He chose the most basic substance on earth, water, the symbol and substance of life, to be the means by which we are born again and made partakers of the divine life.

Because we are born into this world in a state or condition called Original Sin, meaning that we have inherited, because of the sin and fall of Adam and Eve, a fallen and wounded condition in which we are separated from God, and in which we are separated from each other, filled with selfishness and pride, made subject to physical and spiritual death, because of all this, we can be set free, liberated from this depravity only by God Himself and thus restored to communion and fellowship with the Holy Trinity. We are born into a state of alienation from God, a state of fallenness and corruption. We have obtained by nature an all-pervading condition which has affected the whole universe negatively and has warped and twisted creation from its original design and purpose: we call this sin. Jesus Christ became Man to restore us, in Himself, to communion with God. This Redemption is what He achieved through His Cross, Passion and Resurrection. Our Lord, very God and very Man, One Divine Person with two natures, divine and human, came to reunite God and man, to 're-communion' and re-enter mankind into the very life of God.

By His perfect life of obedience, His sacrifice on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead, the Incarnate Lord completed His purpose and effected our living union with the Father in Himself. But, additionally, He desires to share His new glorified life with, and to give the effects of what He has done to, His New People, the family of redeemed mankind, the Holy Catholic Church. He does this in Baptism.
Through the Fall of Adam, mankind lost its original righteousness, its original state of perfection and life in God, and fell into sin. God originally made man in the Image and Likeness of God (Genesis 1-2). Man was both made in God's Image, and shared the Likeness to God. In the Fall, mankind chose by sin to damage and corrupt its likeness to God, the God-likeness of holiness, love, immortality, perfect life and communion with God and man. Man vitiated the virtue and grace that was in him. But man retained after the Fall the original Image of God, the permanent nature of man in which he was made to be the reflection of God's being. Because of the Fall, mankind is by nature like a beautiful, flawless painting or picture, upon which mud has been thrown. The Image and Likeness of God have not been destroyed, but marred, distorted, hurt, warped, misused, damaged, perverted, weakened, disfigured. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word and perfect Image of the Father (St John 1, 14), the Icon of the Invisible God (Colossians 1), has come as Man to restore to the human race to the true Image and Likeness of God. The Likeness to God was brought back to man through the God-Man.

All men are called to be reunited and reconciled to God and to be made sharers and partakers in His eternal kingdom, through Jesus Christ, the Head of the new Body of Spirit-bearing humanity, the Church, the community of those being made like God, those who again now enjoy the full Likeness of God and communion with Him. Baptism is the sacramental way, the sacramental gift, ordained by Christ Himself, which enables every human person to be received into the Kingdom of God and receive the life of grace. We must be given access to this new creation, this new reality, by a sacramental channel, a conduit which gives to us the life of God in our own souls and bodies - as men. A material and spiritual instrument is used by God to give Himself to man, a composite material and spiritual being.

Baptism is the ultimate vehicle of the Spirit, which conveys the life and grace of the Holy Ghost to us for the remission of our sins and the gift of new birth and eternal life. The gift of divine grace in Baptism restores us to the Likeness of God in Jesus Christ, as we are configured and conformed to the divine Image of Jesus, Who is the Image of God the Father. Our Lord directly instituted this Sacrament of Holy Baptism: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always even to the end of the world.' (St Matthew 28 .19-20).

Jesus Christ clearly teaches us that the New Birth, Spiritual Regeneration, is effected in the human soul by the means of Holy Baptism. We are saved through Holy Baptism, for sacramental Baptism is the One Baptism for the Remission of Sins of the Nicene Creed. Baptism communicates to us the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of all sins and for union with God. 'Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God' (St John 3.5). Through the action of Baptism, the Holy Spirit applies the Incarnation, Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ to us and by His power recreates us as children of God, refashioning our souls and making them capable of living in the very life of God. We are adopted by God; we become His own children, His own progeny renovated in His Image and Likeness; we now have by grace what we, because of Original Sin, cannot have by nature.

Through the gift of Baptism, we become by grace what God is by nature, icons and images of God, like God Himself - all through the grace of Christ our Brother, the Head of the Body, the firstborn of the new creation. In Baptism, we ourselves become Spirit-bearing, vehicles of the Holy Spirit, God-like. The Spirit comes to live in us, and makes us the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Abode and Home of God the Holy Trinity. We are made to share the Holy Trinity's life and communion. Baptism is the Gate of Life, transforming us to be members of the Trinity's family, the Church. It makes us eligible to receive the other sacraments in the Church and to be nourished with grace. Baptism is the womb through which we are born to life eternal in Mother Church. Baptism makes us 'partakers of the divine nature' (II St Peter 1.4).
'Brethren, what shall we do [to be saved]? Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptised 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' (Acts 2.38). 'Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ' (1 St Peter 3.21). In the wondrous supernatural gift given to us in Baptism, the gift of New Birth, Remission of Sins, and Eternal Life, we are entirely united with the Lord Jesus Christ and caused to receive the power and life of the Cross and Resurrection in such a way that Christ dwells in us and we in Him: we are made one corporate personality with Christ in Baptism. We mysteriously and truly put on Christ in Baptism and are made members of His own Body, the glorified Body of the Resurrection which is Church, made to share in the risen life of the Saviour.

'For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ' (Galatians 3.26-27). 'Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His' (Romans 6.3-5). 'For just as the Body is one and has many members, and all the members of the Body, though many, are one Body, so it with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one Body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of the one Spirit' (1 Corinthians 12.12-13).

Holy Baptism confers on us Jesus Christ Himself and the Holy Spirit of God, and brings the regeneration, the recreation, of the human person by the direct action of God in the sacrament. Baptism is the 'washing of regeneration' (Titus 3.5), the laver of the New Birth. Yes. All this actually happens at Baptism— by an outward and visible sign, water, with the invocation of the Name of the Holy Trinity, the human person is made a son of God by grace and adoption, an heir of the eternal kingdom, a child of heaven, a member of Christ. We become filii in Filio, sons in the Son.

Baptism is Christ's appointed act and bestowal of life, given to us as a gift. How does this happen? It is a holy Mystery.

All that Jesus Christ is and has done for us is ours in Baptism.
An adult candidate must believe in the Faith of Jesus Christ, Lord, God and Saviour, and affirm the following about the gift of Baptism; a child must be later taught this and instructed in the following:
1. Baptism gives us the forgiveness of all of our sins, sins both original and actual, our inherited state of sin and our own personal sins committed against God, and gives us the very life of God, the gift of God the Holy Ghost, which makes us holy.
2. Baptism incorporates us into Christ and makes us members of the Holy Catholic Church, the Body of Christ, and therefore sons of God by grace. Baptism makes it possible for us to receive the other sacraments and live the grace-filled Life.
What is necessary for the administration of Holy Baptism? Who may baptise? Who may be baptised? What about infant baptism? Is it right?

All that is necessary for the administration of a valid Baptism, meaning that the Baptism objectively conveys the spiritual grace promised by covenant in the sacrament, is the act of immersing the candidate or pouring water upon the candidate with the simultaneous invocation of the Name of the Holy Trinity - because Baptism enters us into the Life of the Trinity. Any person, preferably a baptised Christian, who has the intention to administer Christian Baptism may validly baptise someone else. Traditionally, only a priest or bishop serves as the ordinary minister of Baptism, a sign of the unity and authority of the Church into which one is born by the sacrament, and the person baptised should have water applied three times, symbolic of the Holy Trinity. The mode matters not at all: as long as water is applied in the Name of the Trinity, the sacrament is valid. This means that all Trinitarian Christian Baptism, whether by pouring, affusion, or immersion, is true Baptism.

When there is a doubt about the validity of a particular Baptism because of a potential defect of form, that is, if it is uncertain that the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost was used, a potential defect of matter, that is, the absence of water, or a potential defect of intention, in the case of sects that deny Trinitarian orthodoxy, then Baptism may be administered conditionally: 'if thou art not already baptised, I baptise thee...' Conditional Baptism only seeks to supply what may be lacking in a previous attempt to baptise and does not deny the possibility that the previous baptism may have been valid. The Church never repeats an indelible sacrament because the deliberate reiteration of a sacrament with indelible character is a sacrilege. The conditional administration of a sacrament brings with it only the intention to perfect the sacrament and to provide the assurance that the sacrament is undoubtedly valid, that is, that it possesses what the Church requires for her own sacraments and that the Church sees in the sacrament her own endowment from the Lord.

Baptisms are certainly invalid which do not use the Trinitarian formula. Modern-day heretics who use such phrases as 'Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier' or 'Mother, Child, Womb' administer unquestionably invalid Baptism. In so using the aforementioned phrases they fall into the ancient error of monarchical modalism or Sabellianism and deny the distinct and self-existent Three Consubstantial Coequal Persons in the Godhead. Baptism conferred by Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are likewise invalid due to a defect of intention to baptise into the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, One in Essence and Undivided. Baptism 'in the Name of Jesus' only, practised by some protestant fundamentalist groups, is also invalid, for it does not use the dominical form instituted by Our Lord in the New Testament. If a person previously received an invalid Baptism, he must be baptised absolutely upon conversion and catechesis in the Catholic Faith.

For those unable to receive sacramental Baptism, two other mysterious participations in the grace of Baptism exist:

1. Baptism by desire. Christians who heartily desire to receive the grace of Baptism but die before they actually receive the sacrament are held to have received fruitfully the grace of Baptism by their own volition. In the ancient Church, catechumens, those preparing for Baptism after adult conversion, who died before receiving the sacraments were afforded Christian burial, a practice reserved usually for the baptised faithful. Some orthodox theologians contend that certain unbaptised persons who have never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel and yet seek to live according to the light and truth of God in the conscience may be capable of receiving the mysterious gift of Baptism by desire - although this possibility is ultimately known, of course, only to God and is not part of revelation. The Good Thief on the Cross is an excellent example of the ineffable grace of the Lord Jesus. God desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. God is merciful and wills that no one should perish. Therefore this mysterious gift, possibly given to some human beings, a gift which is beyond our scrutiny, knowledge, powers of observation, or judgement, lies in the heart of God's love for mankind.

2. Baptism by blood. There are also those who have believed in Jesus Christ and yet were unbaptised who have, in the course of the Church's long history, received the grace of Baptism through the crown of martyrdom. It is possible for an unbaptised believer to be baptised into the saving Passion and Death of Christ through one's own blood, offered in witness for the sake of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. There are many examples of baptism by blood in the earliest centuries of the Church during times of persecution. It indubitably happens today throughout the world. Even without the benefit of the waters of Baptism, some Christians have entered into the Kingdom of God by virtue of their willingness to be conformed to Christ in His salvific Cross and Sacrifice unto death. For some, to die for Christ is to live with and in Him forever.

Remember, Baptism can never be repeated once it is truly and validly administered, because it conveys a permanent unerasable sacramental indelible character, a spiritual seal or mark on the soul, which signs the person with the Sign of the Cross and fills the person with the grace of God, and the Holy Spirit, forever. We believe in one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, never to be repeated. One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism. One can be born in the order of nature only once; and so one can be born in the order of grace only once. The regeneration transmitted in Baptism, the New Birth in the Spirit, can never be effected again once accomplished: it is once-for-all.

May children, and even infants, be baptised? Yes. Absolutely. Baptism is for all men, for every human person created in the Image and Likeness of God. Christ wishes all men to be saved through Him and His Incarnate Life, and to be brought into the full life and communion of His Church, the Body of redeemed and regenerate humanity. This is possible for men covenantally only through Holy Baptism, and therefore God wills children and infants to be made members of His Family by Baptism. Baptism is the act of God, the free act of God's grace upon the human soul; it is neither a work of man nor even a subjective profession of a person's faith in Christ.

Therefore, as the Act of God and the free gift of God's love for man, Baptism should be extended to children, to make them, with their parents, members of Christ and able to receive the grace of God. 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of Heaven' (St Matthew 19.14). In the ancient Church, even entire households were baptised together, parents and children, (see Acts 16) and infant Baptism is as ancient as the Church herself. The Church Fathers, such as St Irenaeus of Lyons, record its practice, as early as the second century, as already being a primitive, apostolic practice. God's free offer of life in Christ, which is the medicine of immortality for the curse of spiritual death, the condition of Original Sin, is to be provided for all, including children. Children are called to be members of Christ's Church as well as adults, and are equally in need of the supernatural rebirth and grace of Baptism.

The practice of infant Baptism, in fact, proves like nothing else that Baptism is God's act of grace, not man's act of works, for children cannot merit or deserve anything: they are simply open in docility to the pure self-donating grace of God. When children are baptised, the Church requires godparents to be present with them, sponsors who promise to raise the children in the Christian Faith and oversee their nurture, training, and education in the Religion of the Catholic Church. It is the responsibility of these sponsors or godparents, who themselves should be baptised and practising Christians, to ensure that the children will practice the Faith and be, in adulthood, faithful Catholic Churchmen. They do this principally by bringing the children to the Sacrament of Confirmation.
For a child who cannot exercise personal faith, the faith of the parents and godparents is imputed or extended to the child for his salvation; they share their personal faith with the child as he is baptised into the Faith of the Church. By so doing, the Church herself imputes her own Faith to the child. The believing and worshipping Church believes on behalf of the child unto salvation. For the state of salvation mystically offered in the sacraments is a corporate reality; we are not saved alone nor as solitaries do we come to the Kingdom, but only as members of the saved and sanctified community, the Royal Priestly Prophetic Body of Christ.

Also note that children who are baptised and have not achieved the age of reason are in a state of grace, incapable of committing actual sins. Children in such a state who die having been baptised go directly to Heaven without question. The sacramental grace received by us in Baptism, even as children, is real, true and objective, and lives in us apart from our own personal faith. But for this grace to be effective in our lives, for it to do what it intends, we must respond to the grace given through faith once we are capable of practising the Christian Faith.

If we do not respond by our own free will to this grace, and accept and use it, we simply cannot have the grace do for us what God wishes; it cannot bear fruit in our lives if we do not will it. Baptismal grace is not magic. All grace requires our cooperation, our free will, our free agreement and practice of it, for it to increase in us and make us holy. Baptised Christians have a responsibility to know of this great gift and utilise it in our lives through prayer, reception of the other sacraments, worship at the Holy Mass, and reading of the Word of God. Grace does not transform us unless we allow it so to do; God cannot force His life upon us to transform us. An ultimate act of personal response to the grace of God given in Baptism is the voluntary choice of a young person to receive the Sacrament of Holy Confirmation.
The loss of baptismal grace through serious mortal sin may be healed, and the grace recovered and restored, through genuine contrition and repentance and the use of the Sacrament of Penance.
We treasure in our Baptism all the grace we need to become a Saint. It is in fact precisely for our sainthood, our total sanctification, that God has graced us with His Baptism. Let us endeavour to keep the grace of our Baptism unsullied and unspotted and live it to the full!

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