Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

13 January 2013

Water Works

Recently I saw a photo of a former student of mine holding her little goddaughter. I love it when the legacy of care continues into the younger generations. It’s good that they pick up on it, just as their elders did. We need more of that care. As a celebrant of the sacrament of Baptism I am occasionally trusted to hold a child. I know that (especially) parents get "used to it"; but, wow! Holding and beholding a little one is a kind of Eucharistic Reception and Adoration! Such is the pool of miracles in which we wade.

When I teach about the sacraments, I often present a handout that lists the Church’s legal definitions of each of the seven sacraments.  Here’s how Canon Law defines Baptism:
…The gateway to the sacraments and necessary for salvation by actual reception or at least by desire, is validly conferred only by a washing of true water with the proper form of words.  Through baptism men and women are freed from sin, are reborn as children of God, and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church. (CIC 849)
Gateway: a person cannot receive a sacrament unless he or she has first received Baptism.  This includes the sacrament of matrimony: if a baptized person marries a non-baptized person in the Church, the marriage is valid but not sacramental, because an unbaptized person cannot confer the sacrament of marriage.

Necessary for salvation: we can find evidence for this in the end of Mark’s Gospel (16:15-16) where Jesus hinges salvation on faith and baptism; at the end of Matthew’s He commands the apostles to baptize.  Baptism is the ordinary means to eternal life that our Lord and Savior entrusted to His Church.  God certainly reserves the right to work around it (and who are we to say otherwise?); but like any rule, it wouldn’t have been made in order for exceptions to abound.  God certainly takes account of a person who desires baptism but for whatever reason never actually receives it (especially the person who dies in the preparatory process, which used to happen more often when martyrdom was all the rage).  A family’s desire for baptism would apply to its infants and small children, although one ought not delay very long when baptism is readily available.  
Why haven't you scheduled my Baptism yet?
True water: nothing may be added, and no water-based liquid (e.g. Kool Aid, motor oil) can be used.  

Proper form of words: the “Trinitarian formula” that Jesus prescribes at His Ascension (Mt 28:18-20).

The canon goes on to list the effects of baptism:

Freedom from sin, both the original sin and, for adults, any personal sin committed before baptism.  The effects of sin remain: weakening of the will, darkening of the intellect, confusion from the passions.  Such is the lot of every son or daughter of Adam, but that’s why we rejoice in the gifts of Prayer, Word, and Sacrament that sustain us in making good moral choices, lest we lose our cherished freedom.  

Rebirth: the baptized become “in Christ, a new creature” (2 Cor 5:17).  Like our first birth, the grace of baptism is a gift, unexpected and unmerited.  By it we share in the relations of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, most notably as sons-by-grace in Him who is Son-by-Nature.  We get to call God our Father, Jesus our Brother, and the Holy Spirit our Advocate and Guide.  As baptized persons we can and should tap into these relations all the time.
How do we "tap into our relationship with the Trinity?"  Prayer; reflection on the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church; participation in the Liturgy; acts of charity...
An “indelible mark”: Baptism is a kind of "spiritual tattoo" that nothing can remove.  Even though mortal sin destroys charity within the heart, there remains an interior identification with God that His mercy and our repentance can restore: this we must never forget, though never take for granted either.  

Insertion into Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church: We become brothers and sisters to one another with the deepest and most enduring bond.  St. Paul designates as the “household of faith” (Gal 6:10) everyone who calls God Father and the Church Mother.  Fellow members of Christ are called to exercise fraternal charity and guidance toward one another.  Unfortunately this is something that we don’t often take as seriously as we could, but it is one of many responsibilities that accompany baptismal grace, along with the command to divine worship and obedience to the moral law.

For an interesting presentation on Jesus' Baptism, click here.
When God became flesh in Jesus, He did not have to undergo any sort of purification rite; but that’s what John’s baptism was.  By submitting to that ritual Our Lord identified most profoundly with sinful man, foreshadowed the plunge of His Passion and Death, and instituted Christian baptism as the ordinary way to share in the fruits of His life, death, and resurrection.  

Baptism starts the believer along a lifelong path of holiness and mission—getting to heaven and bringing along with us whoever we can find.  These are our marching orders, so let us begin!

Tony Bennett with Bill Evans: A Child Is Born (1976)

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