Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The story of salvation

Anon wrote the following:

“For an infant to be baptized in the Catholic Church, do the parents have to be in a state of Grace? I can't recall this being part of the requirement for my children's baptism, but it has been a long time since my youngest was baptized and, I didn't feel like taking the time researching my question on the internet.”

I’ve never heard that parents have to be in a state of Grace for their baby to be baptized Catholic. Also, I found no such requirement in Canon Law. Canon # 868 says that for a licit (legal) infant baptism, “the parents…must consent (to the baptism)” and that “there must be founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion”. Another Church law that addresses the requirement of parents for infant baptism is Canon # 851 which stipulates that “the parents of an infant to be baptized…are to be instructed properly”. I find that it is this stipulation that leads parents to see the need for them to be in a state of Grace.

I personally instruct parents who want to have their (first) baby baptized Catholic. We sit down for two meetings: the first is to discuss the importance of Baptism in general terms, and the second is to discuss the Rite of Baptism itself and the symbols that are used. In the first discussion, I ask the couple why they are having their child baptized. Most commonly, they say it is because they were baptized as babies, and they want to do the same for their baby. They indicate that that’s just what you do as Catholic parents. In other words, it is more for cultural reasons than anything else. Some have given more faith-filled answers: e.g., to give their child the gift of faith, because they want their child to get to Heaven, to make their child a member of the Church, the Body of Christ.

I then ask them where they first heard about Baptism and the need for it. Most will say from their parents. I’ll ask where did their parents or any Christians first hear about Baptism. Some have said John the Baptist while most just give a blank look. I give all of them a hint: when in doubt, say, “Jesus”. They say, Jesus! Yes, Jesus! Jesus teaches us that we need to be baptized in order to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5). While it is true the John the Baptist baptized before Jesus did, even he acknowledged that he baptized with water (symbolic only) but Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit (see Mk 1:8).

Once we have discussed the need for Baptism in Christ, I ask them why the need for Jesus to come down from Heaven in the first place. Many get this one correct: to save us. Yes! But, save us from what? Sin. Yes, sin. Then, we discuss when sin first entered the world – Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden. We talk about how the choice they made was a serious offense to God, they knew it was and they freely chose to do it. Because of this, the gates of Heaven closed and their relationship with God was broken.

This remained the situation for thousands of years, with the Jews trying to have their sins forgiven and for the gates of Heaven to open by offering sacrifices in atonement. I ask them, then, how many people from Adam and Eve to Jesus Christ went to Heaven? Zero. No sacrifice was acceptable to the Father for the forgiveness of sins. In the other words, man can’t bring about forgiveness of sins (esp. serious sins) on his own. God had to become one of us and sacrifice himself for the forgiveness of sins. This became the only acceptable sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins.

So, Christ came to save us from our sin. I ask them what event in the life of Christ is our salvation. What event saved us from our sin? The death and resurrection of Christ (it is understood as one event). This is the act of salvation. This is what saves us from our sins. This is what opened the gates of Heaven for us. We need to participate in the death and resurrection (the Paschal Mystery) of Christ in order to be saved and to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

I then explain that Christ gives us seven main ways for us to participate in the Paschal Mystery: the sacraments. It begins with Baptism in which we die (to Original Sin) and rise with Christ. The faith and eternal life we receive in Baptism are nourished by the Eucharist. These are the two sacraments that Jesus says we definitely need to receive eternal life. I then explain how the other sacraments help to build up Grace in our lives and lead us to live and witness to Heaven in this life.

At the end of the discussion, the majority of the parents have expressed that they did now know this “story of salvation” in the way I laid it out for them. They seem to have a new appreciation for Grace and the role it plays in our lives. One mother came to me weeks after her baby’s Baptism to say that our discussion really woke her up in her Catholic faith. This is the Church’s hope: rather than forcing parents to be in a state of Grace, She presents the beauty and richness of God’s Grace as it relates to Baptism and the other sacraments and invites them to fully share in it.

Through the process of baptismal instruction, then, parents should gain a clear understanding of what it means to raise their baby in the Catholic faith, and that it primarily begins with the example they live. I think this happens mainly for them to be men and women of the Eucharist which I challenge them to be during the Rite of Baptism itself. If the child sees that his/her parents and godparents believe in the Real Presence and live a Eucharistic life, then it’s almost certain that he/she will similarly live a life of Grace.


At 9:17 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

I've observed that Baptism of an infant in the Catholic Church is usually a separate ceremony, just in the presence of family & friends, while in the Lutheran Church (at least the ones I've attended) the sacrament is incorporated into the regular worship service, usually at the point at which the Creed is spoken.

When our daughter was baptized, my husband and I (and my sister and brother-in-law, as godparents)publicly confessed our faith, and publicly pledged to rear her in the Christian faith. In turn we heard our fellow parishioners welcome our daughter into the Church and offer their support as our daughter grows in the community of faith.

So...why is it that Baptism in the Catholic Church is essentially a private Sacrament?

At 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to plenty of Catholic masses that included the welcoming of an infant through Baptism.

Instruction on Infant Baptism

by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

14. The fact that infants cannot yet profess personal faith does not prevent the Church from conferring this sacrament on them, since in reality it is in her own faith that she baptizes them. This point of doctrine was clearly defined by Saint Augustine: "When children are presented to be given spiritual grace," he wrote, "it is not so much those holding them in their arms who present them--although, if these people are good Christians, they are included among those who present the children--as the whole company of saints and faithful Christians.... It is done by the whole of Mother Church which is in the saints, since it is as a whole that she gives birth to each and every one of them."24 This teaching is repeated by St. Thomas Aquinas and all the theologians after him: the child who is baptized believes not on its own account, by a personal act, but through others, "through the Church's faith communicated to it."25 This same teaching is also expressed in the new Rite of Baptism, when the celebrant asks the parents and godparents to profess the Faith of the Church, the Faith in which the children are baptized.26

At 1:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it would be nice to include in the bulletin the names of not only those who have died or are ill, but also those who have joined our parish family through Baptism. These new family members need our prayers, too.


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