Following the baptism are the Explanatory Rites, these rituals help us, through physical realities, to come to a deeper understanding of what has just occurred in the baptism itself. The first of the explanatory rites is the anointing with Chrism. Chrism is olive oil mixed with balsam and is blessed by the bishop once a year at what is known as the Chrism Mass (also blessed are the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Infirm). As the accompanying prayer points out, Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King and in baptism we are given a share in those realities. The first reality is the priesthood – priests are consecrated with oil and consecrated to offer sacrifice and that is why we have priests. There are two different types of the priesthood, the first is the baptismal priesthood which is referred to here in the baptismal ritual, it is the gift of being able to offer sacrifices to God, such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The second type of priesthood is the ordained priesthood which we will speak about when we look at the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Secondly, just as Christ was the prophet par excellence, calling people back to the covenant with God, so too is the person who is baptized meant to proclaim the Gospel and fidelity to God. Finally, the consecration as a king is meant to be a share in the kingship of Christ which expresses itself most fully not in power, but in love.
The next rite is the clothing with a white garment – the color white symbolizes purity and innocence and freedom from sin and reminds us of the cleansing from original sin which has just taken place as well as the call to bring our own “dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” The next explanatory rite is the baptismal candle. Every year at the Easter Vigil, a new Paschal Candle is blessed and is lit from the Easter Fire. This candle is carried into a darkened church in solemn procession where Christ is proclaimed to be the Light of the World, the light that shines in the darkness. At a baptism, this light from the Paschal Candle is given to the baptized with the lighting of their own baptismal candle, a reminder that the one who follows Christ is called to be a light in the darkness. The final (optional) explanatory rite is the Ephphetha Rite. In it the minister of baptism makes the sign of the cross on the ears and mouth of the newly baptized “opening” their ears and their mouths to hear the Gospel and to proclaim it to the glory of God.
The explanatory rites close with a short antiphon of joy, “you have put on Christ, in Him you have been baptized, alleluia, alleluia.” The conclusion of the rite begins with a prayer calling to mind that baptism is just the first step of Christian initiation and that it will be completed through Confirmation and the reception of the Eucharist. The final parts of the rite include the praying of the Our Father and then a special blessing for the mother and father of the newly baptized as well as all who are present. While the baptism may be finished, the living out of that baptism, over the course of the earthly life of the baptized, has just begun.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)