Article 100 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series

Paragraphs 1246 -1256 In a recent conversation with a convert to our precious Catholic faith, she asked that as a widow, whether there was a special ritual she could participate in so as to consecrate herself to Jesus. I explained that she had already accomplished this when she was consecrated to Christ in baptism.

Our consecration to Christ in baptism is no small matter. In fact, what actually happens during the baptismal ceremony is that each of us is transformed from being a “child of nature” into a “child of God.” In baptism, we reject Satan and all evil while professing faith in the God of Jesus Christ. In addition to being baptized with water, two holy oils are used, including the Oil of Catechumens with which the person is anointed to help ward off evil, avoid temptation and possess the faith necessary to carry the cross of Christ throughout life.

The other oil used in baptism is Sacred Chrism, which consists of olive oil mixed with balsam. Just as Kings and Queens down through the ages were anointed with oil as a symbol of providing strength to them to reign, so the Oil of Sacred Chrism symbolizes strength, with the fragrant balsam representing the “aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15). Anointing with chrism oil signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit and is used to consecrate someone or something to God’s service, affirming the internal peace of Christ given through this sacrament. This is the peace “not as the world gives” (Jn 14:27), but as only Christ can convey it, and every Christian is commissioned by baptism to show it to others.

Who, then, is qualified to receive the sacrament of baptism? The Catechism tells us at the beginning of this section: “Every person not yet baptized and only such a person is able to be baptized” (ccc 1246). This includes both adults and children. “Since the beginning of the Church,” the Catechism explains, “adult Baptism is the common practice” (ccc 1247) that includes a period of formation that “aims at bringing…conversion and faith to maturity, in response to the divine initiative and in union with an ecclesial community (or parish)” (ccc 1248). Adult catechumens are ordinarily “introduced into the life of faith, liturgy, and charity of the People of God by successive sacred rites” throughout the season of Lent (ccc 1248).

“The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church” (ccc 1252). In addition to their becoming members of the Church, infant baptism is the ordinary way for children to be initiated into the faith in order to address the matter of “original sin.” The Church says it this way: “tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God” (ccc 1250). I have often asked the rhetorical question of parents: “what parent would deny their child access to proper nutritious food, warm clothing and medical attention when required?” Similarly, one might ask: “Why would a parent deny a newborn baby spiritual nutrition, spiritual warmth and immediate assistance from our Divine Physician – all provided by Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism?” No wonder the Catechism explains: “Christian parents will recognize that this practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the life that God has entrusted to them” (ccc 1251).

The Catechism continues by explaining how baptism “is the sacrament of faith”…but faith needs “the community of believers” (ccc 1253). Thus, the need for the “role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized — child or adult on the road of Christian life” (ccc 1255). They represent the community of believers bearing “some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism” (ccc 1255).

Following the Second Vatican Council, having reconsidered the role of mainline “ecclesial communities” or churches, such as the Episcopal/ Anglican Church or the Lutheran Church, those baptized in these churches were considered validly baptized. Why? Because the essential components of baptism, including water and the invocation of the Trinity – “in the name of “the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” – are present. Curiously, before the Second Vatican Council, converts from a mainline church (like my dad who was Methodist) were re-baptized conditionally in case the protestant baptism was not valid. In our own day, this conditional baptism is sometimes considered for those seeking full communion in the Catholic Church, but for a different reason. The reason is because too many protestant ministers have taken up the practice of using other words when baptizing such as “in the name of the creator, the redeemer and the sanctifier” or “in the name of mothergod,” etc. This departure from the Scriptural formula makes the sacrament invalid. Other baptismal formulas used by such groups as the Mormons and some evangelical churches are always invalid for the same reason.

Some would accuse the Church of being too scrupulous in not accepting an alternate formula for baptism, but the simple answer is that we follow the direction of Christ in Sacred Scripture when he says: “Go out into all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).

The final question raised in this section of the Catechism is “who can baptize?” The quick answer is that the bishop, priest and deacon (only on the Latin Church) can baptize. They are the “ordinary ministers of Baptism” (ccc 1256). In case of emergency, “even a non-baptized person, with the required intention, can baptize” (ccc 1256). “The intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptizes” (ccc 1256), while using water and the Trinitarian baptismal formula.

Having considered many aspects of baptism including “who qualifies for baptism” and “who can baptize,” our next article will consider “why baptism is even necessary” and what the “grace of baptism” means.

Father Hillier serves as Director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities