Baptism is the first step of your child’s journey to God. By asking for a baby’s Baptism, one is publicly thanking God for His gift to you and making a commitment to bring up your child in the Christian faith. Baptism is the first of the three Sacraments of Initiation (the other two being Holy Communion and Confirmation). The Sacrament of Baptism is sometimes called the ‘Door of the Church’ because it is the first of the seven Sacraments given, in terms of both timing and priority since receiving the other sacraments depends upon it.
During the celebration, one will be promising to bring up the child in the knowledge of God as a loving Father. One is making a child part of the wide Christian family, and therefore the link with the parish and with the rest of the Church is important before, during and after the celebration of Baptism. For Catholics, this sacrament is not a mere formality – it is the very mark of a Christian since it brings us into new life with Christ. Once baptized, one becomes a member of the Church.
Information sessions around the Sacrament of Baptism are held in the Parish Office. Please contact the office (0504-60018) in advance to confirm your place on the course.
Thinking about Baptism:
As parents, family and friends you are rightly rejoicing this day in the birth of your child. God has blessed you with the precious gift of a child of your own, now you want nothing short of the best for him/her. In presenting your child for baptism you are formally requesting his/her entry into God’s family. The local Christian community or parish is God’s family as far as each of us is concerned.
Giving birth is said to be an experience, parenthood a way of life. One passes, the other never ends. It is like that with the Sacrament of Baptism – the conferring is an experience for your child, the sacrament never ends. And you are part of the sacrament, the major part. You strengthen them for life. You are waiting for the Holy Spirit to come to your children. You also bring the Holy Spirit to them. You are like Mary with the apostles, waiting in prayer and expectation for the first Pentecost. All because you want your child to be the best they can be!
Baptism is a parent’s day too. All the gifts you wish for your child you need for yourself. Over the next number of years, you will need an abundance of wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage and so on. This baptism time is an occasion for reviewing your relationship with God and with your community. Don’t underestimate the power of example. – doing the right things, going to Mass and passing on the faith.
Faith is not something abstract or magical, neither is it something that is automatically poured into the child’s soul through the waters of baptism. Rather it is our day to day responding to God’s call as we journey through life. It is something eminently concrete and practical. We see it being manifested daily in the lives of ordinary people especially those burdened by the trials and tribulations of life.
All of us know people of deep faith – our parents, grandparents …We are grateful for the formative influence they have had on us. We cherish the values that guide and inspire them – kindness, gentleness, goodness, patience faithfulness, self-control, self-sacrifice (Galatians 5:22). We admire the kind of life they led. We long for that spirit of wisdom and perception which has helped them to negotiate their way through the ups and downs of life. We want our child to share the same values and ideals as they grow up and go forth into the world.
Faith is Contagious:
Children like to imitate their parents in a wide variety of ways. They talk like them. They imitate their mannerisms. The same holds true when it comes to the ways of faith. Children grow in faith by encountering people of faith. Your child will grow in faith only if you are people of faith. Faith is contagious. – it is caught not taught.
If we are not people of faith, the seed of faith sown in baptism will come to nothing. The precious gift that God makes available to us will have fallen on the edge of life.
The faith which is presupposed at infant baptism is the parent’s faith, the godparent’s faith and the faith of the whole Christian community. In most instances it is a faith which is far from perfect, it is a struggling, stammering faith in constant need of nourishing and strengthening. Our own personal faith is nourished and sustained through contact with people of faith every weekend when we come together to worship as the Lord’s family. It is there that we are exposed to the signs of faith. We come not just to be nourished ourselves but to nourish one another as well through our presence and participation.
Our faith is further sustained and nourished by our own personal and family prayers. During the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism you will be reminded that “as parents you will be the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith, you must also be the best of teachers, ‘Your children will be people of faith only if they grow up in a household of faith.’”
Faith by its very nature cannot be static. It cannot stand still. It must either grow and mature or wilt and wither.
“There is just one way to bring up a child
in the way he should go
and that is to travel that way yourself.”
Choosing a sponsor/godparent is important as they have a twofold purpose –
- To assist the parents in discharging their duties as Christian parents.
2. To be a model of Christian living to the child in question.
Godparents should be people to whom your child can look for Christian example and have made their confirmation. A child may have one Godfather and one Godmother. At least one of the Godparents must be a Catholic. A Baptized member of another Christian denomination may act as a Christian witness.
Godparents will be undertaking to share with you the responsibility for handing on faith to a child as they grow up, so choosing the right ones is a matter of significant importance. In both religious and civil views, a godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child’s upbringing and personal development, to offer mentorship or claim legal guardianship of the child should anything happen to the parents.
Code of Canon Law:
- 873 One sponsor (godparent) is sufficient, but there may be two.
- 874 A sponsor must be:
- not less than 16 years of age (exceptions can be made by Bishop, Parish Priest.)
- a Catholic who has been confirmed and has received the blessed Eucharist, and who lives a life of faith.
- a Baptised person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community may be admitted but only in company with a Catholic sponsor and simply as a witness to the Baptism.
The Baptism Ceremony:
The Sacrament of Baptism is broken up into several sections. They are as follows:
THE BAPTISMAL CEREMONY:
The ceremony of baptism begins with the reception of the child and the family into the church, the meeting place of God’s people. The priest, who represents God, welcomes the family. This should take place at the door of the church, just as anyone would welcome a visitor in their home.
The priest asks the parents what name they have given to their child. This is not so that the priest can call the baby by name – it is much more significant than that. Names are very important to us. Our name identifies who we are; it makes it clear that each one of us is a special and unique individual, and that is how God sees us. Each one of us is known to God by name and he loves each one of us in a special and unique way.
It is the custom that at least one of the names chosen for the baby should be the name of a saint. This is to remind us that when we become members of the Church, we belong to a family which exists not only here on earth: we belong to a family which already has members in heaven, which is where we hope to be one day.
Choosing a saint’s name for the baby reminds us that the baby belongs to the Communion of Saints and that, throughout life, the baby will be supported and loved, not only by family and friends here on earth, but also by the family of God in heaven. When the parents have told the priest the name they have chosen for the baby, the priest asks the parents what they are asking of the Church.
The answer given is usually ‘baptism’. This implies that the parents have really thought about this and are prepared for the very important sacrament of baptism. The priest then turns to the godparents and asks them if they are prepared to help the parents in this great work. Once these questions have been answered the priest welcomes the child into the Christian community.
He puts the sign of the cross on his/her forehead. The parents and godparents do likewise. The sign of the cross goes back to the time when slaves were branded on the forehead with the mark of their owner to show whose property they were. In baptism we freely give ourselves to God; we belong to him but, unlike slaves who got nothing in return, God gives himself to us so we can say I am his and he is mine.
The Celebration of God’s Word:
Whenever the community meets to celebrate and worship, we listen to what God has to say to us. God speaks in many ways, but one of the most important ways is through the Scriptures.
After the readings the priest will deliver the homily. This is followed by the Prayers of the Faithful which are usually chosen by the parents. At the end of these prayers, a shortened Litany of the Saints is said. This will include the saint or saints after whom the child is named, and any saints connected with the parish or area in which the family lives.
The Exorcism and Anointing:
Exorcism is the power which Jesus gave to his apostles when he told them to ‘cast out devils in my name’. Through Exorcism, the power and control which evil can have over us, is driven out – but not in the way it is shown in horror films! It is easier to understand the place of Exorcism in the baptism of an adult, rather than that of a baby. As we go through life, we commit sins due to the selfishness which is there in all of us.
Sometimes these sins can become a habit which is very hard to break. In a sense we become controlled by this weakness or sin. We become ‘slaves’ to it. When an adult is baptised, it is a sign that these things, which tie us down and stop us from being truly free, are broken by the power of Jesus, who broke through the power of death.
In baptism we are freed from the control of evil, yet, so often, we deliberately choose to hand ourselves back to that slavery. This part of the baptism ceremony reminds us of our freedom and is a sign of Christ’s promise that if he holds fast, we can break with sin.
A baby, of course, has committed no sins and has not been alive long enough to develop any sinful habits. The baby does not belong to any evil power but belongs to God and is loved by him. When a baby is born, it is totally self-centred. This self-centredness is part of what we mean by original sin.
If the baby is to grow to be like Jesus, it will be necessary to break out of this selfishness and become selfless – putting others first. To do this takes time – a whole lifetime; and, if the baby is to grow into selflessness, the love, support and guidance of family and friends will be needed. This is given and promised in the Exorcism.
The promise is that, with God’s help, this person must be freed from selfishness and become a temple where God’s Spirit of love lives.
After the Exorcism the first anointing takes place. It is called the Oil of Catechumens. A Catechumen is someone preparing for baptism. The oil is a sign of healing and strength; it is also a sign of abundance and joy:
Strength – oil used to be used by athletes to massage their bodies before a contest. It helped to tone up their muscles for their activity. The anointing reminds us of the help God will give to help us to live a good Christian life.
Healing – oil was poured on to wounds to ease the pain (remember the story of the Good Samaritan). In this anointing we are reminded that God heals the self-inflicted wounds of sin and the damage of original sin.
The anointing is always accompanied by the Laying on of Hands. This is a symbol of the calling down of the power and the strength of God.
The Blessing of Baptismal Water:
Water is a natural symbol. It symbolises many things. Water cleanses, and many religious people wash themselves as a sign that they want to be or have been made clean spiritually as well as physically. Water refreshes, and in some religions bathing in rivers enables people to experience a regeneration of energy and to feel connected to the source of that energy.
Water both destroys and gives life. Prefigured in the Old Testament, especially in the crossing of the Red Sea, water expresses liberation and freedom, as well as death or destruction to sin.
In baptism, it symbolises birth to a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Sins are buried and washed away as we die with Jesus and rise with him from immersion in the water or from being cleansed by the pouring of water.
Water gives life, and so initiation rituals which mark the beginning of a new way of life often involve washing or immersion in water. Water is always blessed before it is used at a baptism. The blessing has three main themes which reflect the purpose of baptism. The prayer reminds us that water represents:
Life – Death – Cleansing.
Life – In Ireland we take water for granted. In many countries, however, water is scarce and is, therefore, a precious commodity. Water means life. Without water, people, animals and crops die. Water brings life.
Death – Water is necessary for life, but it can also be a cause of death. Flooding, causing loss of life is not uncommon. So we are reminded in the sign of the baptismal water that in baptism:
We die with Christ – to selfishness and sin.
We rise with Christ – to the new life of love.
Christians have always seen that, just as God led his people from slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land, so he leads his new people from sin into the Promised Land of heaven. Baptism is our Exodus.
We must, however, remember that the Exodus began in the escape from Egypt but continued for many years of wandering in the desert. It was not complete until the people crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.
Our Exodus journey began in baptism, but it continues throughout life until we cross the Jordan in death and enter into the Promised Land of Heaven. We have not gone through our Exodus: we are going through our Exodus.
The third theme which is represented by water is Cleansing.
Water is used for washing, and in baptism we use the image that baptism ‘washes away’ sin. If we remember that the thinking about baptism focussed originally on adults, this makes a lot of sense. In the baptism of adults all the sins committed through life are forgiven. A baby who is baptised has, of course, no sin to be forgiven, and so people talk of ‘washing away original sin’.
It is more useful to think of water as a sign of life whenever we think of the baptism of a baby.
The Profession of Faith:
In the early Church the rejection of sin and the declaration of faith were powerful and dramatic moments in the ceremony. At the end of a long night of prayer, just as the sun began to rise, the person to be baptised faced west, into the darkness of night, to reject evil, and then turned to the east, into the dawn, and made the threefold declaration of faith. It was a powerful reminder of the new life which begins in baptism.
The Anointing with Chrism:
The oil is used in the ordination of priests and, in the Old Testament we read of prophets being anointed with chrism as a sign of their special mission. Through the anointing, the baptised is forever incorporated into Christ, who was “anointed” priest, prophet and king. When we are baptised, we enter into:
A special relationship with God – this does not mean that we are ‘better’ than others or that he loves us more than others. It means that we know God and we want to share his love and knowledge with others.
Membership of the Church – to be a member of the Church means to share in the work of Jesus, telling people of God’s love and helping them to respond to all that God offers and wants to share.
In baptism we are given a great gift and privilege and, therefore, we have a responsibility to share in the work of God our Father, of Christ our brother, and of the Spirit of Love. This is the message of the Anointing with Chrism; it reminds us that we share in the work of Christ (a name which means ‘the Anointed One’) who is:
Priest – a priest is one who offers sacrifice to God. As baptised people we have a duty to share in the worship of the Church and the most important act of worship is the Mass.
Prophet – a prophet is not one who foretells the future but is a person who sees the sins and mistakes which society and individuals make. The prophet has to speak out against these things, remind people of the forgiveness of God and call them back to love and serve him.
King – Jesus was a King, but he said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’. Jesus was not a King in the way most people think of a King. In the bible the king is thought of more as a shepherd than as a powerful ruler.
Sometimes the bible uses the title ‘shepherd’ to mean ‘king’. The shepherd guides the flock along safe paths, leads it to rich pastures and guards it from all dangers. To share in the work of Jesus the Shepherd we have to help everyone to see the way to happiness; we have to show them where peace and joy are found, and we have to make people aware of the tings which can destroy their human dignity.
This vocation is not easy. It demands courage, determination and love – it takes strength. The oil, which is a sign of strength, reminds us that God will give us all the strength we need to do the work he has asked us to do. But this vocation will also bring us joy and peace, which is why this oil, the Oil of Chrism, has perfume mixed in it. The sweet smell reminds us that it is good to belong, in this special way, to God, and it reminds us that God delights in us and finds pleasure in us.
The baptismal ceremony invites parents to:
Teach their child to pray and to share in the Mass.
Help their child to learn what is right and wrong.
Encourage their child to have courage and stick up for what is right.
Show their child how to love, respect and care for others.
The Presentation of the Candle:
In nearly every religion, candles are important symbols. Candles give warmth and life. They are gentle but have the power to create a huge fire. The candle flame can be felt, seen, experienced, but it is impossible to get hold of it. This how it is with God. God can be experienced but it is impossible to take hold of him.
Of all the candles used in the Church, the most important one is the Paschal Candle which is first lit at the Easter Vigil when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The candle represents the light and the power of the risen Lord.
The priest lights another candle from the Paschal Candle and gives it to the father of the child. The parents have a responsibility to teach the child to ‘walk always as a child of light’ as a follower of Jesus, and throughout the years they must give the love, support and guidance which will be needed.
The candle is a symbol of the life of Christ bringing light into the lives of those who are baptised. Just as the candle uses itself up in giving light, so we have to use ourselves up, in the service of the Gospel.
Jesus said: ‘You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in the sight of all. So that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven’. (Matthew 5: 14-16).
The Clothing With the White Garment:
In the early Church the newly baptised were clothed with a new white tunic. This tunic represented the new life which had begun through baptism. It stood for the innocence and purity of this new life.
In the western tradition, white is the colour, which is associated with these virtues, though in other parts of the world, or for people of other traditions, different colours might be more appropriate or meaningful. When the baptised baby is wrapped in the white garment it reminds all present that he/she is surrounded and wrapped in God’s love.
In our journey to God the most important teachers are our parents. They are the ones who have a responsibility to hand on the faith to the child. They must also see to it that the child is brought up in an atmosphere of love, joy and peace. This is not an easy task. The parents receiving a blessing asking God to help them to remain faithful to the promises they have just made on behalf of their child.
LIFE: In baptism we are called to share in God’s life. We are assured of God’s power and strength to help us to grow to full humanity.
COMMUNITY: Through baptism we are drawn into the community of the Church and called to share in its life and work.
RELATIONSHIP: Baptism brings us into a ‘covenant’ relationship with God and with the Church. No matter what happens to us in life, God promises us love and care. He invites us to live in his love and give ourselves to him without reserve.
FREEDOM: Through God’s gift of baptism we are given the power to be free from all that ties us down. We are freed to become fully alive.
JOURNEY: Baptism invites us to journey through life with Christ. Baptism promises us that he will be with us throughout life’s journey.
DISCIPLESHIP: Baptism calls us, throughout the following of Christ, to share in his work of bringing God’s message of love to the world.
DEATH: In baptism God promises us his power so that we can die to all that is selfish and self-centred within us.