During the baptismal ritual there is a special prayer of blessing for the water of the baptismal font. In this prayer of blessing, the Church calls to mind the various ways that water has been used, by God, to accomplish His purposes and by looking at these uses of water we can see signs of what baptism accomplishes. The prayer for the blessing of the baptismal waters first calls to mind the creation of the world, when, “in the beginning,” the Holy Spirit hovered over the abyss of waters and from that abyss of water came all of creation. We see how water was used at the time of the Great Flood to wipe sin from the earth and to offer a new beginning through Noah and his family. We see the people of Israel passing from Egypt on their journey to the Promised Land, by passing through the parted waters of the Red Sea. All of these uses of water points us to the realities of what the baptismal water will accomplish – of how, just as at the beginning of creation, the baptismal water will bring new life; we see how water will be used to cleanse sin, just as it was at the time of Noah; we see how the people of Israel passed from slavery into freedom through water, just as passing through the baptismal waters brings us from slavery to sin to freedom as children of God. The prayer goes on to point out that Christ Himself was baptized in the river Jordan by St. John the Baptist, not because He was in need of being forgiven of sin, not because He needed to be sanctified, but that by entering the waters Himself, He would sanctify water and give it supernatural power. It is blood and water that flows from Christ’s pierced side as He hung upon the Cross, the “well spring of the Church’s sacraments.” Finally, at the moment of His Ascension, He commands His disciples to baptize the nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is a command the Church has been faithful to for two millennia!
Baptism is the ‘gateway’ for all the sacraments, in other words, one cannot receive the other sacraments until one has received baptism. Baptism has numerous effects – the first is the forgiveness of original sin. As we know, our first parents rebelled against God and chose to ignore His direct commands and, in so doing, allowed the reality of disobedience and sin to enter into God’s creation and into the human being. This original sin is passed down from generation to generation and is forgiven in baptism. This does not mean that we will not be tempted to sign again – we still find ourselves dealing with one of the after-effects of original sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is not a sin in and of itself, it is the inclination to sin that we all carry with us and it remains even after original sin has been cleansed. In baptism we become adopted sons and daughters of God – we now bear a familial relationship with God Himself and are meant to dwell in communion with Him on this earth and culminating in communion with Him in heaven. In baptism we become members of the Church, belonging to the great People of God and find ourselves brought into communion with the faithful of generations past and those to come. In baptism we receive the gift of sanctifying grace, which is a supernatural grace which adheres in the soul and makes the soul holy and able to enter into God’s own life and love which can only be lost through mortal sin and restored through the Sacrament of Penance.
In our next article we will continue to look at the Sacrament of Baptism and start to walk through its celebration.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)