Our first sacrament as Catholics is baptism. It is the gateway to all the other sacraments and meaningful participation in the Church. As such, it is not a routine event but one that should be taken very seriously by the parents and godparents.
I always cry at baptisms. The idea of a new life beginning the journey to salvation is awesome. Seeing that precious little person so loved — surrounded by proud smiles and dressed in a special baptismal gown — is an emotional moment.
Sometimes the baptismal gown has been handed down for generations. It is a symbol of a family’s continuing faith and strong commitment to passing on Catholicism as the true path to God.
Adult or Infant Baptism?
Baptism is a practice that is common to all Christian denominations. Most have only adult baptism because they want to wait until the person is mature enough to competently make the decision on his/her own to be a Christian.
Roman Catholics, however, practice infant baptism. We believe it is important statement not only of the parents that they will raise the child in the faith but also for the parents to help them realize the seriousness of the task ahead.
A few Protestant denominations have a “dedication” service for the newest members of a congregation. This idea of dedication is exactly what is happening at a Catholic baptism. The parents, the godparents, and the whole parish dedicate themselves to teaching the child, and the child is dedicated to God.
Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple as an infant to be dedicated to God. This “Presentation” is so important that it is one of the mysteries of the rosary. It is the example for all parents that says we need the help of our Catholic village.
Thus, the role of the community in a baptism is very important. Parents are saying, in effect, “Look, here is a new member. We want you to share in our joy at our baby’s birth, and we want you to help us raise this child in the Catholic faith.”
The people in attendance, therefore, have a part in the baptism ceremony. The celebrant says to the baby: The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.” Then, the congregation participates by responding to the prayers during the ceremony.
So for Catholics, infant baptism not only dedicates the child, but also is a dedication by the parents, godparents, and church community to guide the child in the faith.
Sacraments of Initiation
That way, the child can proceed to the sacraments of Repentance and Holy Communion when they are old enough to understand the meaning and value of these sacraments.
Confession and communion join baptism as the “initiation” stages of Catholicism. Then, at maturity, the Catholic “confirms” the baptismal vows made for him/her by the parents and the supportive community.
Confirmation is, in a sense, the equivalent to adult baptism among Protestants. Confirmation, though, has the preparation of three other sacraments. Other Christian denominations do not have these sacred preparations, and baptism stands alone as a passage into Christian life.
I once heard a woman comment that infant baptism could not wash away a baby’s sins since the baby had no sins. She didn’t believe a baby was born with sin.
No, the baby has no ordinary sins, but it is born with original sin, which simply means the child is human and inherits the human condition. That condition resulted from the sin of Adam and Eve, so we are all stuck with being faulty creatures capable of sin even if born innocent.
Even if humans are not descendants of Eden’s inhabitants but crawled out of the primordial sludge, it remains that we will inevitably sin. Consequently, the adults at a child’s baptism are saying, “Welcome to our world. Life can be difficult, but we are going to help you find the path to heaven, the way of Christ.”
It’s a huge responsibility. That is why it is important to choose godparents who are practicing Catholics and not just some buddy or BFF with minimum qualifications. The godparents are supposed to serve as role models and take an interest in the child’s Catholic formation.
That is also why parents must take baptismal classes in preparation for the birth of the child. If people take their religion seriously enough to want their children baptized, then they need that faith bolstered for the job ahead.
In these times when so many Catholic parents are suffering the great pain of seeing their children leave the Church, it is even more important that we review the Sacrament of Baptism to see its importance in faith formation from the start.