The Great Mercy of Baptism
The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1556) urged pastors to instruct the faithful frequently on the Sacrament of Baptism and said it can never be spoken of often enough. With today being the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, it seems opportune to give a few points on this vital Sacrament and the great mercy God has shown us by instituting it.
Firstly, Baptism is necessary for salvation. This is an infallible teaching of the Church. Our Lord Himself told Nicodemus, “Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). There is also Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood, but that is a topic for another occasion. But basically we need Baptism to be saved.
Baptism remits all sin, both original and actual. No matter what terrible sins a person may have committed, Baptism removes all of them. Babies haven’t committed any actual sins, but they do have original sin. But when an adult gets baptised, all the sins of their past life are gone. So too is all punishment due to sin gone. If a person dies straight after Baptism, there will be no Purgatory to go through. They will go straight to Heaven. The soul of the newly baptised is also flooded with sanctifying grace and receives supernatural life. This is important, because to be able to live in Heaven we have to be supernaturally alive. If we die in this state of grace we can live in Heaven. If we die without it, we cannot. The Sacrament of Confession forgives sins committed after Baptism and restores sanctifying grace to the soul if we have lost it through mortal sin.
Baptism is so important that in an emergency (ie. when someone is dying who is unbaptised and no priest is available), ANYONE who has reached the age of reason may baptise them – even a non-Christian, provided they intend to do what the Church does. You simply take ordinary water, sea water, water from a pond or a fountain or even Holy Water (but it must be water) and pour it over the skin so as it flows, preferably on the forehead of the one being baptised while at the same time saying, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That is all that is required. All Catholics should know this since we never know when we may be required to do it and the stakes are high! The same person pouring the water must pronounce the words. But we should not randomly baptise people – only when there is danger of death.
If you are a parent, to have your child baptised within a few weeks after birth is a serious duty. Don’t wait years before getting it done saying that they can make up their own mind when they’re older. The necessity of Baptism and its effects make the reasons obvious.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC