Why The Sacrament of Baptism Is Important In The Catholic Doctrine
Throughout our lives, we experience a subtle yet reliable pattern of endings and beginnings. There is the ending of childhood and beginning of adulthood; leaving home and beginning a new life; graduating from school and starting a career; terminating relationships and entering new ones; finishing a job well done and entering into retirement, dying and rising to new life. The transition from the old to the new, from the past to the future, from the endings to the beginnings is a crucial part of the process of growth. It is the period of initiation.
In the sacramental life, the Church celebrates with us all of the above high points of our lives – all our transitions. We celebrate an initiation process for our new or renewed members. Basically, the whole process is what we call Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist. Three words, three celebrations, one initiation into the communion of Christians.
The rite of Baptism is the liturgical celebration (the outward sign) that marks the initiation into the Eucharistic community (the inward reality). The rite of Baptism is one part of the initiation into the way of living we call Christian. In fact, with Baptism, we begin to live the way of life that we continue all our lives: the Christian life constituted by faithfulness to God.
The symbols employed in the Baptismal rite – water, anointing with oil, the Paschal candle – speak to us deeply of our Christian calling and commitment. Water, necessary for life and growth and a memorial to Jesus’ own baptism; the anointing, indicating that someone is special as well as a sign of strengthening; the candle lit from the Easter candle, pointing to the light of faith in Christ’s promise of new life which is passed on to the newly baptized. These are symbols which come from our human experience and enhance the Baptismal celebration. But most especially, they are signs which work together in celebration and point beyond our mere human action. Baptism is the outward sign that celebrates God’s acceptance of us.
This act of God’s acceptance is what we call grace. When we come together as a family, as a Church, to celebrate Baptism we affirm our faith in God and acknowledge his acceptance of us in a profound manner. And since God is an unseen God, the way we manifest his grace is through the acceptance and outgoing welcome of the initiators: the community of believers.
Baptism, then, is not understood to be some isolated rite but the necessary outward sign of acceptance, of life given. The whole outward sign is vital. Unless tehre is a real communion of accepting love, the mere pouring of water lacks meaning. The parents, especially, must be aware of and grow into their role as principle givers of life. They are the Church for the first several years of the child’s growing time. Their response to God is the one the child learns. Their way of life deeply affects their child. Baptism is an opportunity for parents to renew their own faith life, so that they feel the importance of passing it on to their new-born child.
As a pilgrim people, a people on our way to fulfilling the redemptive promise of Jesus, we join together as a community and reach out to each other in faith. Redemption, which means liberation, demands communal support.
What Christian Baptism affirms is that no one can live redemptive in the world alone, but through Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is possible for the community to strive together to achieve liberation. In Baptism, the Church pledges itself to welcome the new member into that common effort and not leave him to struggle alone.
Baptism celebrates new life. Baptism marks the transition of a person into the “liberating support community of faith. Baptism brings us together and keeps us on our way – in Christ.