Jesus answered: "Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." -- John 3:5
With regard to the definition of Baptism although many can be given from sacred writers, nevertheless that which may be gathered from the words of our Lord recorded in John, and of the Apostle to the Ephesians, appears the most appropriate and suitable. Unless, says our Lord, a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God; and, speaking of the Church, the Apostle says, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life. Thus it follows that Baptism may be rightly and accurately defined: The Sacrament of regeneration by water in the word. By nature we are born from Adam children of wrath, but by Baptism we are regenerated in Christ, children of mercy. For He gave power to men to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name, who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
But define Baptism as we may, the faithful are to be informed that this Sacrament consists of ablution, accompanied necessarily, according to the institution of our Lord, by certain solemn words. This is the uniform doctrine of the holy Fathers, as is proved by the following most explicit testimony of St. Augustine: The word is joined to the element, and it becomes a Sacrament.
It is all the more necessary to impress this on the minds of the faithful lest they fall into the common error of thinking that the baptismal water, preserved in the sacred font, constitutes the Sacrament. The Sacrament of Baptism can be said to exist only when we actually apply the water to someone by way of ablution, while using the words appointed by our Lord.
Now since we said above, when treating of the Sacraments in general, that every Sacrament consists of matter and form, it is therefore necessary that pastors point out what constitutes each of these in Baptism. The matter, then, or element of this Sacrament, is any sort of natural water, which is simply and without qualification commonly called water, be it sea water, river water, water from a pond, well or fountain.
For the Saviour taught that unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The Apostle also says that the Church was cleansed by the laver of water; and in the Epistle of St. John we read these words: There are three that give testimony on earth: the spirit, and the water, and the blood. Scripture affords other proofs which establish the same truth.
When, however, John the Baptist says that the Lord will come who will baptise in the Holy Ghost, and in fire, that is by no means to be understood of the matter of Baptism; but should be applied either to the interior operation of the Holy Ghost, or at least to the miracle performed on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost descended on the Apostles in the form of fire, as was foretold by Christ our Lord in these words: John indeed baptised with water, but you shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.
The same was also signified by the Lord both by figures and by prophecies, as we know from Holy Scripture. According to the Prince of the Apostles in his first Epistle, the deluge which cleansed the world because the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil, was a figure and image of this water. To omit the cleansing of Naaman the Syrian, and the admirable virtue of the pool of Bethsaida, and many similar types, manifestly symbolic of this mystery, the passage through the Red Sea, according to St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians, was typical of this same water.
With regard to the predictions, the waters to which the Prophet Isaias so freely invites all that thirst, and those which Ezechiel in spirit saw issuing from the Temple, and also the fountain which Zachary foresaw, open to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: for the washing of the sinner, and of the unclean woman, were, no doubt, intended to indicate and express the salutary waters of Baptism.
The propriety of constituting water the matter of Baptism, of the nature and efficacy of which it is at once expressive, St. Jerome, in his Epistle to Oceanus, proves by many arguments.
Upon this subject pastors can teach in the first place that water, which is always at hand and within the reach of all, was the fittest matter of a Sacrament which is necessary to all for salvation. In the next place water is best adapted to signify the effect of Baptism. It washes away uncleanness, and is, therefore, strikingly illustrative of the virtue and efficacy of Baptism, which washes away the stains of sin. We may also add that, like water which cools the body, Baptism in a great measure extinguishes the fire of concupiscence.
But it should be noted that while in case of necessity simple water unmixed with any other ingredient is sufficient for the matter of this Sacrament, yet when Baptism is administered in public with solemn ceremonies the Catholic Church, guided by Apostolic tradition, has uniformly observed the practice of adding holy chrism which, as is clear, more fully signifies the effect of Baptism. The people should also be taught that although it may sometimes be doubtful whether this or that water be genuine, such as the perfection of the Sacrament requires, it can never be a subject of doubt that the only matter from which the Sacrament of Baptism can be formed is natural water.
Having carefully explained the matter, which is one of the two parts of which Baptism consists, pastors must show equal diligence in explaining the form, which is the other essential part. In the explanation of this Sacrament a necessity of increased care and study arises, as pastors will perceive, from the circumstance that the knowledge of so holy a mystery is not only in itself a source of pleasure to the faithful, as is generally the case with regard to religious knowledge, but also very desirable for almost daily practical use. As we shall explain in its proper place, circumstances often arise where Baptism requires to be administered by the laity, and most frequently by women; and it therefore becomes necessary to make all the faithful, indiscriminately, well acquainted with whatever regards the substance of this Sacrament.
Pastors, therefore, should teach, in clear, unambiguous language, intelligible to every capacity, that the true and essential form of Baptism is: I baptise thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For so it was delivered by our Lord and Saviour when, as we read in St. Matthew He gave to His Apostles the command: Going, . . . teach ye all nations: baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
By the word baptising, the Catholic Church, instructed from above, most justly understood that the form of the Sacrament should express the action of the minister; and this takes place when he pronounces the words, I baptise thee.
Besides the minister of the Sacrament, the person to be baptised and the principal efficient cause of Baptism should be mentioned. The pronoun thee, and the distinctive names of the Divine Persons are therefore added. Thus the complete form of the Sacrament is expressed in the words already mentioned: I baptise thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Baptism is the work not of the Son alone, of whom St. John says, He it is that baptizeth, but of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity together. By saying, however, in the name, not in the names, we distinctly declare that in the Trinity there is but one Nature and Godhead. The word name is here referred not to the Persons, but to the Divine Essence, virtue and power, which are one and the same in Three Persons.
It is, however, to be observed that of the words contained in this form, which we have shown to be the complete and perfect one, some are absolutely necessary, so that the omission of them renders the valid administration of the Sacrament impossible; while others on the contrary, are not so essential as to affect its validity.
Of the latter kind is the word ego (I), the force of which is included in the word baptizo (I baptise). Nay more, the Greek Church, adopting a different manner of expressing the form, and being of opinion that it is unnecessary to make mention of the minister, omits the pronoun altogether. The form universally used in the Greek Church is: Let this servant of Christ be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. It appears, however, from the decision and definition of the Council of Florence, that those who use this form administer the Sacraments validly, because the words sufficiently express what is essential to the validity of Baptism, that is, the ablution which then takes place.
If at any time the Apostles baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only, we can be sure they did so by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, in order, in the infancy of the Church, to render their preaching more illustrious by the name of Jesus Christ, and to proclaim more effectually His divine and infinite power. If, however, we examine the matter more closely, we shall find that such a form omits nothing which the Saviour Himself commands to be observed; for he who mentions Jesus Christ implies the Person of the Father, by whom, and that of the Holy Ghost, in whom, He was anointed.
And yet, the use of this form by the Apostles seems rather doubtful if we accept the opinions of Ambrose and Basil, holy Fathers eminent for sanctity and authority, who interpret baptism in the name of Jesus Christ to mean the Baptism instituted by Christ our Lord, as distinguished from that of John, and who say that the Apostles did not depart from the ordinary and usual form which comprises the distinct names of the Three Persons. Paul also, in his Epistle to the Galatians, seems to have expressed himself in a similar manner, when he says: As many of you as have been baptised in Christ, have put on Christ, meaning that they were baptised in the faith of Christ, but with no other form than that which the same Saviour our Lord had commanded to be observed.
What has been said on the matter and form, which are required for the essence of the Sacrament, will be found sufficient for the instruction of the faithful; but as in the administration of the Sacrament the legitimate manner of ablution should also be observed, pastors should teach the doctrine of this-point also.
They should briefly explain that, according to the common custom and practice of the Church, Baptism may be administered in three ways, -- by immersion, infusion or aspersion.
Whichever of these rites be observed, we must believe that Baptism is rightly administered. For in Baptism water is used to signify the spiritual ablution which it accomplishes, and on this account Baptism is called by the Apostle a laver. Now this ablution is not more really accomplished by immersion, which was for a considerable time the practice in the early ages of the Church, than by infusion, which we now see in general use, or by aspersion, which there is reason to believe was the manner in which Peter baptised, when on one day he converted and gave Baptism to about three thousand souls.
It is a matter of indifference whether the ablution be performed once or thrice. For it is evident from the Epistle of St. Gregory the Great to Leander that Baptism was formerly and may still be validly administered in the Church in either way. The faithful, however, should follow the practice of the particular Church to which they belong.
Pastors should be particularly careful to observe that the baptismal ablution is not to be applied indifferently to any part of the body, but principally to the head, which is the seat of all the internal and external senses; and also that he who baptises is to pronounce the sacramental words which constitute the form, not before or after, but when performing the ablution.
When these things have been explained, it will also be expedient to teach and remind the faithful that, in common with the other Sacraments, Baptism was instituted by Christ the Lord. On this subject the pastor should frequently teach and point out that there are two different periods of time which relate to Baptism, -- one the period of its institution by the Redeemer; the other, the establishment of the law regarding its reception.
With regard to the former, it is clear that this Sacrament was instituted by our Lord when, having been baptised by John, He gave to water the power of sanctifying. St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Augustine testify that to water was then imparted the power of regenerating to spiritual life. In another place St. Augustine says: From the moment that Christ is immersed in water, water washes away all sins. And again: The Lord is baptised, not because He had need to be cleansed, but in order that, by the contact of His pure flesh, He might purify the waters and impart to them the power of cleansing.
A very strong argument to prove that Baptism was then instituted by our Lord might be afforded by the fact the most Holy Trinity, in whose name Baptism is conferred, manifested Its divine presence on that occasion. The voice of the Father was heard, the Person of the Son was present, the Holy Ghost descended in the form of a dove; and the heavens, into which we are enabled to enter by Baptism, were thrown open.
Should anyone desire to know how our Lord has endowed water with a virtue so great, so divine, this indeed transcends the power of the human understanding. Yet this we can know, that when our Lord was baptised, water, by contact with His most holy and pure body, was consecrated to the salutary use of Baptism, in such a way, however, that, although instituted before the Passion, we must believe that this Sacrament derives all its virtue and efficacy from the Passion, which is the consummation, as it were, of all the actions of Christ.
The second period to be distinguished, that is, the time when the law of Baptism was made, also admits of no doubt. Holy writers are unanimous in saying that after the Resurrection of our Lord, when He gave to His Apostles the command to go and teach all nations: baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the law of Baptism became obligatory on all who were to be saved.
This is inferred from the authority of the Prince of the Apostles when he says: Who hath regenerated us into a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; and also from what Paul says of the Church: He delivered himself up for it: that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life. By both Apostles the obligation of Baptism seems to be referred to the time which followed the death of our Lord. Hence we can have no doubt that the words of the Saviour: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, refer also to the same time which was to follow after His Passion.
If, then, pastors explain these truths accurately, there can be no doubt that the faithful will recognise the high dignity of this Sacrament and venerate it with the most profound piety, particularly when they reflect that each of them receives in Baptism by the interior operation of the Holy Ghost the same glorious and most ample gifts which were so strikingly manifested by miracles at the Baptism of Christ the Lord.
Were our eyes, like those of the servant of Eliseus, opened to see heavenly things, who can be supposed so senseless as not to be lost in rapturous admiration of the divine mysteries of Baptism ! When, therefore, the riches of this Sacrament are unfolded to the faithful by the pastor, so as to enable them to behold them, if not with the eyes of the body, yet with those of the soul illumined by the light of faith, may we not anticipate similar results?
In the next place, it appears not only expedient, but necessary to say who are ministers of this Sacrament; both in order that those to whom this office is specially confided may study to perform its functions religiously and holily; and that no one, outstepping, as it were, his proper limits, may unseasonably take possession of, or arrogantly assume, what belongs to another; for, as the Apostle teaches, order is to be observed in all things.
The faithful, therefore, are to be informed that of those (who administer Baptism) there are three gradations. Bishops and priests hold the first place. To them belongs the administration of this Sacrament, not by any extraordinary concession of power, but by right of office; for to them, in the persons of the Apostles, was addressed the command of our Lord: Go, baptise. Bishops, it is true, in order not to neglect the more weighty charge of instructing the faithful, have generally left its administration to priests. But the authority of the Fathers and the usage of the Church prove that priests exercise this function by their own right, so much so that they may baptise even in the presence of the Bishop. Ordained to consecrate the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of peace and unity, it was fitting that they be invested with power to administer all those things which are required to enable others to participate in that peace and unity. If, therefore, the Fathers have at any time said that without the leave of the Bishop the priest has not the right to baptise, they are to be understood to speak of that Baptism only which was administered on certain days of the year with solemn ceremonies.
Next among the ministers are deacons, for whom, as numerous decrees of the holy Fathers attest it is not lawful without the permission of the Bishop or priest to administer this Sacrament.
Those who may administer Baptism in case of necessity, but without its solemn ceremonies, hold the last place; and in this class are included all, even the laity, men and women, to whatever sect they may belong. This office extends in case of necessity, even to Jews, infidels and heretics, provided, however, they intend to do what the Catholic Church does in that act of her ministry. These things were established by many decrees of the ancient Fathers and Councils; and the holy Council of Trent denounces anathema against those who dare to say, that Baptism, even when administered by heretics, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church does, is not true Baptism.
And here indeed let us admire the supreme goodness and wisdom of our Lord. Seeing the necessity of this Sacrament for all, He not only instituted water, than which nothing can be more common, as its matter, but also placed its administration within the power of all. In its administration, however, as we have already observed, all are not allowed to use the solemn ceremonies; not that rites and ceremonies are of higher dignity, but because they are less necessary than the Sacrament.
Let not the faithful, however, imagine that this office is given promiscuously to all, so as to do away with the propriety of observing a certain precedence among those who are its ministers. When a man is present a woman should not baptise; an ecclesiastic takes precedence over a layman, and a priest over a simple ecclesiastic. Midwives, however, when accustomed to its administration, are not to be found fault with if sometimes, when a man is present who is unacquainted with the manner of its administration, they perform what may otherwise appear to belong more properly to men.
Besides the ministers who, as just explained, confer Baptism, another class of persons, according to the most ancient practice of the Church, is admitted to assist at the baptismal font. In former times these were commonly called by sacred writers receivers, sponsors or sureties, and are now called godfathers and godmothers. As this is an office pertaining almost to all the laity, pastors should explain it with care, so that the faithful may understand what is chiefly necessary for its proper performance.
In the first instance it should be explained why at Baptism, besides those who administer the Sacrament, godparents and sponsors are also required. The propriety of the practice will at once appear to all if they recollect that Baptism is a spiritual regeneration by which we are born children of God; for of it St. Peter says: As newborn infants, desire the rational milk without guile. As, therefore, every one, after his birth, requires a nurse and instructor by whose assistance and attention he is brought up and formed to learning and useful knowledge, so those, who, by the waters of Baptism, begin to live a spiritual life should be entrusted to the fidelity and prudence of some one from whom they may imbibe the precepts of the Christian religion and may be brought up in all holiness, and thus grow gradually in Christ, until, with the Lord's help, they at length arrive at perfect manhood.
This necessity must appear still more imperative, if we recollect that pastors, who are charged with the public care of parishes have not sufficient time to undertake the private instruction of children in the rudiments of faith.
Concerning this very ancient practice we have this noteworthy testimony of St. Denis: It occurred to our divine leaders (so he called the Apostles), and they in their wisdom ordained that infants should be introduced (into the Church) in this holy manner that their natural parents should deliver them to the care of some one well skilled in divine things, as to a master under whom, as a spiritual father and guardian of his salvation in holiness, the child should lead the remainder of his life. The same doctrine is confirmed by the authority of Hyginus.
The Church, therefore, in her wisdom has ordained that not only the person who baptises contracts a spiritual affinity with the person baptised, but also the sponsor with the godchild and its natural parents, so that between all these marriage cannot be lawfully contracted, and if contracted, it is null and void.
The faithful are also to be taught the duty of sponsors; for such is the negligence with which this office is treated in the Church that only the bare name of the function remains, while none seem to have the least idea of its sanctity. Let all sponsors, then, at all times recollect that they are strictly bound by this law to exercise a constant vigilance over their spiritual children, and carefully to instruct them in the maxims of a Christian life; so that these may show themselves throughout life to be what their sponsors promised in the solemn ceremony.
On this subject let us hear the words of St. Denis. Speaking in the person of the sponsor he says: I promise, by my constant exhortations to induce this child, when he comes to a knowledge of religion, to renounce every thing opposed (to his Christian calling) and to profess and perform the sacred promises which he now makes.
St. Augustine also says: I most especially admonish you, men and women, who have acquired godchildren through Baptism, to consider that you stood as sureties before God, for those whom you received at the sacred font. Indeed it preeminently becomes every man, who undertakes any office, to be indefatigable in the discharge of its duties; and he who promised to be the teacher and guardian of another should never allow to be deserted him whom he once received under his care and protection as long as he knows the latter to stand in need of either.
Speaking of this same duty of sponsors, St. Augustine sums up in a few words the lessons of instruction which they are bound to impart to their spiritual children. They ought, he says, to admonish them to observe chastity, love justice, cling to charity; and above all they should teach them the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the rudiments of the Christian religion.
It is easy, therefore, to decide who are inadmissible to this holy guardianship, that is, those who are unwilling to discharge its duties with fidelity, or who cannot do so with care and accuracy.
Wherefore, besides the natural parents, who, to mark the great difference that exists between this spiritual and the carnal bringing up of youth, are not permitted to undertake this charge, heretics, Jews and infidels are on no account to be admitted to this office, since their thoughts and efforts are continually employed in darkening by falsehood the true faith and in subverting all Christian piety.
The number of sponsors is limited by the Council of Trent to one godfather or one godmother, or at most, to a godfather and a godmother; because a number of teachers may confuse the order of discipline and instruction, and also because it was necessary to prevent the multiplication of affinities which would impede a wider diffusion of society by means of lawful marriage.
If the knowledge of what has been hitherto explained be, as it is, of highest importance to the faithful, it is no less important to them to learn that the law of Baptism, as established by our Lord, extends to all, so that unless they are regenerated to God through the grace of Baptism, be their parents Christians or infidels, they are born to eternal misery and destruction. Pastors, therefore, should often explain these words of the Gospel: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That this law extends not only to adults but also to infants and children, and that the Church has received this from Apostolic tradition, is confirmed by the unanimous teaching and authority of the Fathers.
Besides, it is not to be supposed that Christ the Lord would have withheld the Sacrament and grace of Baptism from children, of whom He said: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me; for the kingdom of heaven is for such; ° whom also He embraced, upon whom He imposed hands, to whom He gave His blessing.
Moreover, when we read that an entire family was baptised by Paul, it is sufficiently obvious that the children of the family must also have been cleansed in the saving font.
Circumcision, too, which was a figure of Baptism, affords strong argument in proof of this practice. That children were circumcised on the eighth day is universally known. If then circumcision, made by hand, in despoiling of the body of the flesh, was profitable to children, it is clear that Baptism, which is the circumcision of Christ, not made by hand, is also profitable to them.
Finally, as the Apostle teaches, if by one man's offence death reigned through one, much more they who receive abundance of grace, and of the gift, and of justice, shall reign in life through one, Jesus Christ. If, then, through the transgression of Adam, children inherit original sin, with still stronger reason can they attain through Christ our Lord grace and justice that they may reign in life. This, however, cannot be effected otherwise than by Baptism.
Pastors, therefore, should inculcate the absolute necessity of administering Baptism to infants, and of gradually forming their tender minds to piety by education in the Christian religion. For according to these admirable words of the wise man: A young man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
It may not be doubted that in Baptism infants receive the mysterious gifts of faith. Not that they believe with the assent of the mind, but they are established in the faith of their parents, if the parents profess the true faith; if not--to use the words of St. Augustine,--then in that of the universal society of the saints; for they are rightly said to be presented for Baptism by all those to whom their initiation in that sacred rite is a source of joy, and by whose charity they are united to the communion of the Holy Ghost.
The faithful are earnestly to be exhorted to take care that their children be brought to the church, as soon as it can be done with safety, to receive solemn Baptism. Since infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism, we may easily understand how grievously those persons sin who permit them to remain without the grace of the Sacrament longer than necessity may require, particularly at an age so tender as to be exposed to numberless dangers of death.
With regard to those of adult age who enjoy the perfect use of reason, persons, namely, born of infidel parents, the practice of the primitive Church points out that a different manner of proceeding should be followed. To them the Christian faith is to be proposed; and they are earnestly to be exhorted, persuaded and invited to embrace it.
If converted to the Lord God, they are then to be admonished not to defer the Sacrament of Baptism beyond the time prescribed by the Church. For since it is written, delay not to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day, they are to be taught that in their regard perfect conversion consists in regeneration by Baptism. Besides, the longer they defer Baptism, the longer are they deprived of the use and graces of the other Sacraments, by which the Christian religion is practised, since the other Sacraments are accessible through Baptism only.
They are also deprived of the abundant fruits of Baptism, the waters of which not only wash away all the stains and defilements of past sins, but also enrich us with divine grace which enables us to avoid sin for the future and preserve righteousness and innocence, which constitute the sum of a Christian life, as all can easily understand.
On adults, however, the Church has not been accustomed to confer the Sacrament of Baptism at once, but has ordained that it be deferred for a certain time. The delay is not attended with the same danger as in the case of infants, which we have already mentioned; should any unforeseen accident make it impossible for adults to be washed in the salutary waters, their intention and determination to receive Baptism and their repentance for past sins, will avail them to grace and righteousness. [Editors note: this does note replace the necessity of receiving the sacrament of water Baptism.]
Nay, this delay seems to be attended with some advantages. And first, since the Church must take particular care that none approach this Sacrament through hypocrisy and dissimulation, the intentions of such as seek Baptism, are better examined and ascertained. Hence it is that we read in the decrees of ancient Councils that Jewish converts to the Catholic faith, before admission to Baptism, should spend some months in the ranks of the catechumens.
Furthermore, the candidate for Baptism is thus better instructed in the doctrine of the faith which he is to profess, and in the practices of the Christian life. Finally, when Baptism is administered to adults with solemn ceremonies on the appointed days of Easter and Pentecost only greater religious reverence is shown to the Sacrament.
Sometimes, however, when there exists a just and necessary cause, as in the case of imminent danger of death, Baptism is not to be deferred, particularly if the person to be baptised is well instructed in the mysteries of faith. This we find to have been done by Philip, and by the Prince of the Apostles, when without any delay, the one baptised the eunuch of Queen Candace; the other, Cornelius, as soon as they expressed a wish to embrace the faith.
The faithful are also to be instructed in the necessary dispositions for Baptism. In the first place they must desire and intend to receive it; for as in Baptism we all die to sin and resolve to live a new life, it is fit that it be administered to those only who receive it of their own free will and accord; it is to be forced upon none. Hence we learn from holy tradition that it has been the invariable practice to administer Baptism to no individual without previously asking him if he be willing to receive it. This disposition even infants are presumed to have, since the will of the Church, which promises for them, cannot be mistaken.
Insane, delirious persons who were once of sound mind and afterwards became deranged, having in their present state no wish to be baptised, are not to be admitted to Baptism, unless in danger of death. In such cases, if previous to insanity they give intimation of a wish to be baptised, the Sacrament is to be administered; without such indication previously given it is not to be administered. The same rule is to be followed with regard to persons who are unconscious.
But if they (the insane) never enjoyed the use of reason, the authority and practice of the Church decide that they are to be baptised in the faith of the Church, just as children are baptised before they come to the use of reason.
Besides a wish to be baptised, in order to obtain the grace of the Sacrament, faith is also necessary. Our Lord and Saviour has said: He that believes and is baptised shall be saved.
Another necessary condition is repentance for past sins, and a fixed determination to avoid all sin in the future. Should anyone desire Baptism and be unwilling to correct the habit of sinning, he should be altogether rejected. For nothing is so opposed to the grace and power of Baptism as the intention and purpose of those who resolve never to abandon sin.
Seeing that Baptism should be sought with a view to put on Christ and to be united to Him, it is manifest that he who purposes to continue in sin should justly be repelled from the sacred font, particularly since none of those things which belong to Christ and His Church are to be received in vain, and since we well understand that, as far as regards sanctifying and saving grace, Baptism is received in vain by him who purposes to live according to the flesh, and not according to the spirit. As far, however, as the Sacrament is concerned, if the person who is rightly baptised intends to receive what the Church administers, he without doubt validly receives the Sacrament.
Hence, to the vast multitude who, in compunction of heart, as the Scripture says, asked him and the other Apostles what they should do, the Prince of the Apostles answered: Do penance and be baptised every one of you; and in another place he said: Be penitent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. Writing to the Romans, St. Paul also clearly shows that he who is baptised should entirely die to sin; and he therefore admonishes us not to yield our members as instruments of iniquity unto sin, but present ourselves to God, as those who are alive from the dead.
It now remains to explain, clearly and concisely, what is to be taught concerning the prayers, rites, and ceremonies of this Sacrament. To rites and ceremonies may, in some measure, be applied what the Apostle says of the gift of tongues, that it is unprofitable to speak, unless the faithful understand. They present an image, and convey the signification of the things that are done in the Sacrament; but if the people do not understand the force and meaning of these signs, there is but little advantage derived from ceremonies. Pastors should take care, therefore, to make them understood and to impress the minds of the faithful with a conviction that, although ceremonies are not of absolute necessity, they are of very great importance and deserve great veneration.
This the authority of those by whom they were instituted, who were, no doubt, the Apostles, and also the object of their institution, sufficiently prove. It is manifest that ceremonies contribute to the more religious and holy administration of the Sacraments, serve to place, as it were, before the eyes the exalted and inestimable gifts which they contain, and impress on the minds of the faithful a deeper sense of the boundless beneficence of God.
In order that the pastor's instructions may follow a certain plan and that the people may find it: easier to remember his words, all the ceremonies and prayers which the Church uses in the administration of Baptism are to be reduced to three heads. The first comprehends such as are observed before coming to the baptismal font; the second, such as are used at the font; the third, those that usually follow the administration of the Sacrament.
In the first place, then, the water to be used in Baptism should be prepared. The baptismal font is consecrated with the oil of mystic unction; not, however, at all times, but, according to ancient usage, only on certain feasts, which are justly deemed the greatest and the most holy solemnities in the year. The water of Baptism was consecrated on the vigils of those feasts; and on those days alone, except in cases of necessity, it was also the practice of the ancient Church to administer Baptism. But although the Church, on account of the dangers to which life is continually exposed, has deemed it expedient to change her discipline in this respect, she still observes with the greatest solemnity the festivals of Easter and Pentecost on which the baptismal water is to be consecrated.
After the consecration of the water the other ceremonies that precede Baptism are next to be explained. The persons to be baptised are brought or conducted a to the door of the church and are strictly forbidden to enter, as unworthy to be admitted into the house of God, until they have cast off the yoke of the most degrading servitude and devoted themselves unreservedly to Christ the Lord and His most just authority.
The priest then asks what they demand of the Church; and having received the answer, he first instructs them in the doctrines of the Christian faith, of which a profession is to be made in Baptism.
This the priest does in a brief catechetical instruction, a practice which originated, no doubt, in the precept of our Lord addressed to His Apostles: Go ye into the whole world, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. From this command we may learn that Baptism is not to be administered until, at least, the principal truths of our religion are explained.
But as the catechetical form consists of many interrogations, if the person to be instructed be an adult, he himself answers; if an infant, the sponsor answers for him according to the prescribed form and makes the solemn promise.
The exorcism comes next in order. It consists of words of sacred and religious import and of prayers, and is used to expel the devil, to weaken and crush his power.
To the exorcism are added other ceremonies, each of which, being mystical, has its own clear signification. When, for instance, salt is put into the mouth of the person to be baptised, this evidently means that, by the doctrines of faith and by the gift of grace, he shall be delivered from the corruption of sin, shall experience a relish for good works, and shall be delighted with the food of divine wisdom.
Next his forehead, eyes, breast, shoulders and ears are signed with the sign of the cross, to declare, that by the mystery of Baptism, the senses of the person baptised are opened and strengthened, to enable him to receive God, and to understand and observe His Commandments.
His nostrils and ears are next touched with spittle, and he is then immediately admitted to the baptismal font. By this ceremony we understand that, as sight was given to the blind man mentioned in the Gospel, whom the Lord after He had spread clay on his eyes commanded to wash them in the waters of Siloe, so through the efficacy of holy Baptism a light is let in on the mind, which enables it to discern heavenly truth.
After the performance of these ceremonies the persons to be baptised approach the baptismal font, at which are performed other rites and ceremonies which present a summary of the Christian religion.
Three distinct times the person to be baptised is asked by the priest: Dost thou renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his pomps? To each of which he, or the sponsor in his name, replies, I renounce. Whoever, then, purposes to enlist, under the standard of Christ, must first of all, enter into a sacred and solemn engagement to renounce the devil and the world, and always to hold them in utter detestation as his worst enemies.
Next, standing at the baptismal font, he is interrogated by the priest in these words: Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty? To which he answers: I believe. Being similarly questioned on the remaining Articles of the Creed, he solemnly professes his faith. These two promises contain, it is clear, the sum and substance of the law of Christ.
When the Sacrament is now about to be administered, the priest asks the candidate if he wishes to be baptised. After an answer in the affirmative has been given by him, or, if he is an infant, by the sponsor, the priest immediately performs the salutary ablution, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
As man, by yielding the assent of his will to the wicked suggestions of Satan, fell under a just sentence of condemnation; so God will have none enrolled in the number of His soldiers but those whose service is voluntary, that by a willing obedience to His commands they may obtain eternal salvation.
After the person has been baptised, the priest anoints the crown of his head with chrism, thus giving him to understand, that from that day he is united as a member to Christ, His Head, and ingrafted on His body; and that he is, therefore, called a Christian from Christ, as Christ is so called from chrism. What the chrism signifies, the prayers then offered by the priest, as St. Ambrose observes, sufficiently explain.
On the person baptised the priest then puts a white garment saying: Receive this white garment, which mayest thou carry unstained before the judgment-seat of our Lord Jesus Christ; that thou mayest have eternal life. Instead of a white garment, infants, because not formally dressed, receive a white cloth, accompanied by the same words.
According to the teaching of the Fathers this symbol signifies the glory of the resurrection to which we are born by Baptism, the brightness and beauty with which the soul, when purified from the stains of sin, is invested in Baptism, and the innocence and integrity which the person who has received Baptism should preserve throughout life.
A lighted taper is then put into the hand of the baptised to signify that faith, inflamed by charity, which is received in Baptism, is to be fed and augmented by the exercise of good works.
Finally, a name is given the person baptised. It should be taken from some person whose eminent sanctity has given him a place in the catalogue of the Saints. The similarity of name will stimulate each one to imitate the virtues and holiness of the Saint, and, moreover, to hope and pray that he who is the model for his imitation will also be his advocate and watch over the safety of his body and soul.
Wherefore those are to be reproved who search for the names of heathens, especially of those who were the greatest monsters of iniquity, to bestow upon their children. By such conduct they practically prove how little they regard Christian piety when they so fondly cherish the memory of impious men, as to wish to have their profane names continually echo in the ears of the faithful.
This exposition of the Sacrament of Baptism, if given by pastors, will be found to embrace almost everything which should be known regarding this Sacrament. We have explained the meaning of the word Baptism, the nature and substance of the Sacrament, and also the parts of which it is composed. We have said by whom it was instituted; who are the ministers necessary to its administration; who should be, as it were, the tutors whose instructions should sustain the weakness of the person baptised; to whom Baptism should be administered; and how they should be disposed; what are the virtue and efficacy of the Sacrament; finally, we have developed, at sufficient length for our purpose, the rites and ceremonies that should accompany its administration.
Pastors should recollect that the chief purpose of all these instructions is to induce the faithful to direct their constant attention and solicitude to the fulfilment of the promises so sacredly made at Baptism, and to lead lives not unworthy of the sanctity that should accompany the name and profession of Christian.