The Sacrament Of Baptism

(from "These are the Sacraments' by Fulton Sheen)

The Blessing of Baptismal Water

The water used in Baptism is blessed on Holy Saturday after the Litany of Saints, whose intercession is invoked on all those who will receive the sacrament Then follows a prayer asking God to send forth "the Spirit of adoption" on those who are to be baptized. God has one Son Who exhausts the fullness of His glory, but baptism gives Him millions of adopted sons because it makes them partakers of His divine nature. The baptismal water is blessed - by a prayer which recalls beautifully all the events of salvation which were in any way connected with water, from the beginning of the world when God's Spirit hovered over the water, down to the commandment of Christ to baptize.

Throughout the Old Testament water is represented as a sinister element, and is supposed to be the abode of demons. To confirm this idea, the Apocalypse affirms that there will be no sea in the new earth after the resurrection of the just. Water, because of its unholy association, is exercised on Holy Saturday that it may become "holy and innocent." The priest then takes the water, divides it into four quarters of the globe to symbolize the four waters that branched out of Paradise and covered the earth. Next, he breathes upon the water three times symbolizing the Holy Spirit, then dips the paschal candle (the symbol of the risen Christ) into it three times. Here the consecration formula uses the symbolism of human generation: "May the power of the Holy Spirit descend into this brimming font, and make the whole substance of this water fruitful in regenerative power." And again, just as the Holy Spirit came down upon Mary and wrought in her the birth of Christ, so may He descend upon the Church, and bring about in her maternal womb (the font), the rebirth of God's children.

The baptismal font in a church is now generally placed as far from the altar as possible. It often is a corner to the left of the entrance. In the early Church, the baptistry was sometimes placed outside the Church. The reason is that the person about to be baptized was not yet a member of the Church and, therefore, was not allowed to participate in its mysteries. The baptismal font, if properly erected, has, steps going down into it, to indicate that it is a pool. Its shape was octagonal because the Resurrection took place on the eighth day, or the day after the Jewish Sabbath. in the Old Testament, circumcision was always performed on the eighth day. The son that David had through his sin with Bethsheba died on the seventh day. The first seven days were symbols of the bonds of sin; hence, the eighth day represented the breaking of those bonds and the liberation from them. in the New Testament, Easter is the eighth day par excellence, and that was the reason why Baptism was administered on Easter.

Baptism in the Early Church

Baptism was usually given the night before Easter Sunday,' but the baptismal ceremonies began with the opening of Lent. At that time all of the candidates, converts, or catechumens had their names inscribed by a priest in the Church. They were then brought before a bishop who examined the candidates concerning their moral life. Generally, the bishop would bring out the fact that the candidate for Baptism had lived under Satan, but now he must abandon him. This meant a conflict and a battle. That is why we still have in the Church the Gospel of the temptation of Christ for the first Sunday of Lent, because it was the theme of the bishop to the catechumens at the beginning of their instructions, The ceremony of Baptism took place then in three places and in like manner today: (1) Before the entrance to the Church, which in the early Church was at the beginning of Lent; (2) Inside the Church and before one comes to the baptistry, which happened in the middle of Lent in the early Church, and (3) Finally, the baptistry itself on Holy Saturday night, or Easter morning.

In the baptismal ritual, the stole of the priest at the beginning of the Baptism is violet in color; this is because in the early Church, the first part of the ceremony of Baptism was during Lent. Toward the end of the ceremony, the priest changes his stole to white, following again the tradition of the early Church, when Baptism was administered on Easter Sunday.

Outside the Church

The Dialogue

The Baptism begins with a dialogue. The ceremony begins with: 'What do you ask of the Church of God?" The answer is: "Faith." The priest asks: "What does faith offer you?" The candidate or his sponsors answer: "Eternal life." Note the close connection between faith and Baptism. After His Resurrection, Our Lord said to His Apostles: "Go out all over the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation; he who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who refuses belief will be condemned" (Mark 18:15,18).


The dialogue begins with 'What do you ask of the Church of God?" Why the Church? Because the Church precedes the individual, not the individual the Church. When a person is baptized, he is not to be thought of as another brick that is added to an edifice, but rather as another cell united to the Christ-life. The Church expands from the inside out, not from the outside in. The foundation cell Of the Church is Christ, and through Baptism, there is a multiplication of the cells of His body until there is a differentiation of functions and the building up of the whole Church. As a child is formed in the womb of the mother, so the Church, as a spiritual mother, forms and gives birth to the children of God. The Christian life resulting from Baptism is not an individual and solitary experience. It is a life in the Church and by the Church. As St. Paul expresses it: "Through faith in Christ Jesus you are all now God's sons" (I Corinth. 12:4).

Baptism does not first of all establish an individual relationship with Christ, and then accidentally make one a member of My body, the Church. It is the other way around. The baptized person is first made a member of the Church, and thus he is incorporated into Christ. Baptism is social by nature. We are made members of Christ's body before being established in our individual relationship with Christ: We, too, all of us have been baptized into a single body by the power of a single Spirit, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men alike; we have all been given drink at a single source, the one Spirit. (I Corinth. 12:13)


In Baptism, infants are incorporated into Christ, not through an act of their own will, but through an act of the sponsor who represents the Church and assumes responsibility for the spiritual education of the infant. The parents, of course, must consent to the baptism; the Church refuses to baptize anyone against his or her will, or even to baptize an infant unless there is some guarantee that the child will be raised in the faith. The sponsors are representatives of the Church, not representatives of the parents. They witness the incorporation of the infant into the fellowship of Christ.

It may be asked why should a child be baptized when he has nothing to say about it? Well, why should a child be fed? Is he asked his advice before he is given the family name? If he receives the name of the family, the fortune of the family, the rank of the family, the inheritance of the family, why should he not also receive the religion of the family? In our own country we do not wait until children are twenty-one and then allow them to decide whether or not they want to become American citizens, or whether they want to speak the English language. They are born Americans; so we in Baptism are born members of the Mystical Body of Christ. If one waits until he is twenty-one before learning something about his relation to the Lord Who redeemed him, he will have already learned another catechism the catechism of his passions, his concupiscence, and his lusts.