Click here to read more about the Sacrament of Baptism in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Baptism is the foundation of all other sacraments. It is in the waters of baptism that we are given new life in the spirit and all the effects of original sin are washed away. That is not to say, of course, that from the moment of our baptism we no longer have to strive to do the will of God in order to attain our eternal life in Heaven. In fact, it is in baptism we are handed the promise of eternal life with God in heaven and are given the access to his grace that will sustain us in our life as Christians and members of the body of Christ.
The word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizienwhich means to “plunge” or “immerse.” So, traditionally, though not practiced this way in most instances, the catechumen would be plunged into the water. This immersion symbolizes in a very real sense the death to the old self and a resurrection to a new life in Christ. Most people today are baptized as infants, yet the stain of original sin is washed away and they are resurrected (like Jesus on the third day) and anointed (i.e., marked or chosen) as a child of God (like Jesus at his own baptism).
But, why as infants?
As infants, the person being baptized is not able to freely choose the sacrament as is the case of an adult, so the Church depends on the parents, who want what is best for their child and who are the primary educators of the child, to make the decision on behalf of the child. In the celebration of the sacrament the parents and the godparents are challenged directly to ask the Church for the gift of Faith for the child and must promise to raise this child according the teachings of the Catholic faith. So it is in the baptism that our faith journey begins, not ends. The same is true of an adult who receives the sacrament (even after going through the necessary RCIA classes). It is the duty of every baptized Christian to continue to practice the faith and to grow in the faith through the aid of the family and community to which they newly belong.
Of course, this membership in the body of Christ has both its privileges as well as its responsibilities. At baptism we are washed clean from our original sin with water, we receive new life in Christ as symbolized by our new white garment, we are anointed with Chrism, which admits us into the common priesthood of all believers, and we are given a candle which represents our role as a light to the nations! These are so many awesome blessings and even more awesome responsibilities.
As members of the common priesthood of Christ we must take part in the Church’s mission to teach, to sanctify and to govern all nations. This means that from the moment of our baptism our job as laymen and women in the church is to spread the good news of Christ to all by our words and deeds. We must immerse ourselves in the gospels so as to be able to live them and share them with the world we touch each day. By doing so, we become a light to the nations, giving hope, sharing our faith and exposing all to the warmth of God’s love, from which all grace and mercy flow.
The mark of baptism is indelible: there is nothing we can do to lose the promise of salvation gained for us in those holy waters, though it is the beauty of the Church which offers us more sign posts along the way to that salvation to keep us on the right path. These are the other sacraments. We gain access to these sacraments through our entrance into the body of Christ at our baptism and we are reminded of that baptism each time we bless ourselves at the entrance of Church in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.