Article 99 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, at one time, people who served in the medical field not only understood the importance of the sacrament of Baptism, but even performed the Sacrament in emergency situations. In recent years, however, it is unclear whether anyone besides Catholic clergy even understands the necessity of baptism.
Similarly, people who study Sacred Scripture often wonder why Saint John the Baptist went about baptizing and why Jesus Himself felt it necessary to be baptized.
The fact is, there are 3 different types of baptism that can be identified in the Sacred Scriptures.
The first type of baptism is the one that John the Baptist performed which the Catechism says was “intended for sinner” (ccc 1224). The gospels recall how John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3). This was a baptism with water, a baptism that prepared the way for Christ (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16).
The second “baptism” discerned in Sacred Scripture is the baptism of Jesus, the spotless lamb who never sinned. This baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the Catechism tells us, is “a manifestation of his self-emptying” (ccc 1224). Saint Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus “begins his public life after having himself been baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan” (ccc 1223). The primitive Christian community understood the distinctive element of Jesus’ baptism as the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.
The third baptism identified in the New Testament is the actual sacrament of Baptism which Jesus gives his Church “after his resurrection” (ccc 1223), when he says “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Later, Sacred Scripture tells us that “the apostles and their collaborators offer (the sacrament of) Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans” (ccc1226). Saint Paul says to the jailer in Philippi: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. The jailer was baptized at once, with all his family” (Acts 16:31-33). Saint Paul’s theology of baptism evolves into linking it with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Recall when he says, “do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3).
The next theme in this section of the Catechism outlines the development of Baptism and how it has been celebrated over the centuries. “From the time of the apostles,” the Catechism tells us, “becoming a Christian has been accomplished by a journey and initiation in several stages” (ccc 1229). The Catechism asks, “How is the Sacrament of Baptism celebrated?”, and then presents a detailed description of Christian initiation. The first paragraph states: “From the time of the apostles, becoming a Christian has been accomplished by a journey and initiation
in several stages…proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith, Baptism itself, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and admission to Eucharistic communion” (ccc 1229).
Over the centuries, “this initiation has varied greatly”, according to circumstances (ccc 1230). In the ancient Church, Christian initiation saw considerable development. “A long period of catechumenate included a series of preparatory rites, which were liturgical landmarks” (ccc1230). When the custom of infant baptism became popular, “a post-baptismal catechumenate” was needed “for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth” (ccc 1231). In the Western Church (the Roman or Latin Rite), infant baptism is “followed by years of catechesis before being completed later by the Eucharist and Confirmation, the summit of their Christian initiation” (ccc 1233). In the 1960’s, the catechumenate for adults, popularly known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), was restored by Vatican Council II.
The final few paragraphs in this section (ccc 1234-1245) highlight the “mystagogy” or meaning of the baptismal celebration including:
• “The sign of the cross … (which) marks with the imprint of Christ” (ccc 1235).
• “The proclamation of the Word of God (which) enlightens the candidates…” (ccc 1236).
• “Baptism (which) signifies liberation from sin and from its instigator the devil (so) one or more exorcisms” are performed (ccc 1237).
• “The baptismal water (which) is consecrated by a prayer of epiclesis” (asking God to send his Holy Spirit upon the water)” (ccc 1238).
• “Baptism properly speaking… (which) signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity” (ccc 1239).
• …“the triple infusion with water” accompanied by the baptismal words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (ccc 1240), “(and) the anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop” (ccc 1241).
• A “second anointing with sacred chrism conferred later by the bishop (at) Confirmation which will as it were ‘confirm’ and complete the baptismal anointing” (ccc 1242).
• “The white garment (which) symbolizes that the person baptized has ‘put on Christ,’” (ccc 1243).
• “The candle … (which) signifies that Christ has enlightened” the newly baptized who has now become a “child of God” (ccc 1243).
• “… the newly baptized children in the Eastern Churches (who) receive First Holy Communion in the same ceremony while the newly baptized in the Western Church, the Roman or Latin Rite, receive Holy Communion around the age of 7 when they “have attained the age of reason” (ccc 1244).
Following the lengthy section outlining the meaning of the baptismal celebration, this section of the Catechism concludes by simply stating: The celebration of Baptism ends with a solemn blessing of which a special blessing for the mothers of newly baptized infants “occupies a special place” (ccc 1245).
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities