Article 101 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1257-1274 When a new, beautiful baby is born into the world, it is generally the case that people will say, “what a beautiful baby” or “what a beautiful little miracle” or “what a beautiful child of God!” Why? Because one is suddenly struck by the mystery of a tiny baby having grown inside the mother’s womb. Now the child is able to finally take his or her first independent breath. What more can one ask for from a loving God? Why is baptism even necessary?
The short answer is that “baptism is necessary for salvation” (ccc 1257). Jesus told his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations and “to baptize” (see Matthew 28:19-20). In fact, the Catechism tells us, “the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude [heaven]” (ccc 1257).
As infants, we participate in the miracle of being conceived, being given an immortal soul by a singular act of God, and being born into the world. But, we inherit the original sin of “our first parents,” Adam and Eve, which remains until we are baptized or “born again,” as Jesus counseled.
What about the millions of others who, through no fault of their own, are not baptized? The Catechism explains: “Everybody who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with their understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity” (ccc 1260).
In addition to baptism by water and baptism of desire, the Church also teaches that baptism by blood is a legitimate baptism: “those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ” (ccc 1258).
For those have died before having received the sacrament of baptism, including catechumens (those preparing for baptism) and children, the Church also explains a path for salvation. “For catechumens,” the Catechism tells us, “their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them” of salvation (ccc 1259). Regarding children, “the Church…entrust[s] them to the mercy of God… [which] desires that all should be saved” (ccc 1261). Jesus’ tenderness toward children: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them” ( Mk 10:14) gives us “hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism” (ccc 1261). W h a t a r e t h e p r i n c i p a l b e n e fits of the sacrament of baptism? The Catechism tells us that “the two principal effects a r e p u r i fication from sins and new birth in the Holy Spirit” (ccc 1262). Through the waters of baptism, the Catechism teaches, “all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin…which is separation from God” (ccc 1263).What remains are certain
temporal consequences of sin “such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties…as well as an inclination to sin that Church calls concupiscence” (ccc 1264).
In short, the sacrament of baptism purifies us from all sins, and makes us “a new creature, an adopted child of God…a partaker of the divine nature, member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (ccc 1265). In paragraph 1266, we are reminded that the baptized person also receives sanctifying grace which gives them the added capacity: — to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues; — to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit; — to grow in goodness through the moral virtues. Being “born again” in baptism puts us on the road to eternal life with God and makes us members of the Body of Christ. From the baptismal font is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:3).
The Catechism tells us, too, using the image provided by St. Peter in his fi rst epistle, that we become living stones in baptism to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood” ( 1 Pt 2:5). Thus through baptism, we “share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission” (ccc 1268). We become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” ( 1 Pt 2:9). Baptism not only gives us “a share in the common priesthood of all believers” (ccc 1268), but places an indelible spiritual mark on our souls. In the words of the Catechism, “incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is confi g u r e d t o C h r i s t . B a p t i s m s e a l s the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation” (ccc 1272).
Those of us who take our baptisms seriously arrive at a special place within where we feel compelled that we “must profess before others the faith we have received from God through the Church and to participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God” (ccc 1270).
T h e final point made in this section is that “the Holy Spirit has marked us with the seal of the Lord (‘Dominicus character’) for the day of redemption… The faithful Christian who has ‘kept the seal’ until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of Baptism, will be able to depart this life ‘marked with the sign of faith, ’…in expectation of the blessed vision of God – the consummation of faith, and in the hope of resurrection” (ccc 1274).
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities