"But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified."--I. Cor. vi, II.
by the Rev. W. Lieber, 1910
Ceremonies of Baptism: (1) Meaning and symbolism of those that precede. (A word on the duty of sponsors.) (2) Those that accompany. (3). Those that follow the solemn administration of this Sacrament.
In the administration of the Sacraments, the Catholic Church makes use of forms and rites for the purpose either of better showing forth her faith and worship as in the case of holy Mass, or of exhibiting the dignity and the effects of the Sacraments when they are administered, the better to dispose the recipients by exciting greater attention and devotion.
From the beginning ceremonies have especially been used in connection with divine worship. We read in the Bible of the offerings and sacrifices of the patriarchs of old, and in the book of Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus, we read of the minute ceremonial and ritual of Moses sanctioned by the Almighty. We further learn that Christ did not condemn outward ceremonial. He not only attended the sacrifices and other holy functions in the Temple, but practised forms and ceremonies Himself, when curing the deaf and dumb and the blind, when commissioning His apostles, when prostrating Himself with His face to the ground before His eternal Father. Parts of these very ceremonies we find reproduced in the rites that precede Baptism, as we shall see presently.
Perhaps, with the exception of Holy Orders, the administration of no Sacrament is so elaborate as that of Baptism. The Church, no doubt, wishes thereby to impress the recipient and the attendants with the importance of this rite. It is the first and most necessary of the Sacraments, and therefore termed the "gate of all the Sacraments." It is the incorporation into the mystical body of Christ, the holy Catholic Church, and entitles us to participate in all the privileges of a Christian here on earth, and to look forward to the everlasting bliss of the Church triumphant in heaven.
However, in the administration of Baptism we must distinguish between that part of the rite which is essential for producing the effects of the Sacrament, and the added ceremonies performed by the priest, e. g., the use of blessed salt, the exorcisms, the manifold unctions and blessings prescribed by the rubrics. These ceremonies are omitted when Baptism is administered privately. Though not essential to the validity of the Sacrament, they are on no account to be suppressed in the solemn ministration. When omitted, in case of necessity, they ought to be supplied later on, if possible. The baptismal ceremonies are recommended as well by their venerable antiquity as by their imposing symbolism and majestic wording. And, indeed, the apostolic constitutions, the oldest sacramentaries, the fathers of the second and third centuries, mention them, not as rites that had been subsequently introduced, but as already observed in the primitive days of Christendom. Therefore, in suppressing them as superstitious, our separated brethren have thereby shown that their belief concerning this Sacrament of Regeneration has ceased to be what it used to be in the early ages of faith.
The baptismal ceremonial is meant to give us Christians an exalted idea of the grace we receive through the Sacrament, and to impress upon us the grave obligations entailed upon the receiver of Baptism. Let us, therefore, study as closely as we can, the ceremonies: first, that precede; second, accompany; and, third, follow the solemn administration of this important Sacrament.
One of the chief requisites, before the solemn administration of baptism, is the choice of sponsors, or God-parents. They are called on, first, to answer, in the name of the baptized, to all the interrogations of Baptism; secondly, to be guardians of their spiritual life for the future. They used to be called "guarantors." As in the case of prudent men of business who, when appointing to responsible positions demand security, so the Church in the case of the baptismal obligations requires "guarantors" who will answer for the discharge of the obligations of the children to God in case the parents neglect their solemn duty. When the parents are practical Catholics, the sponsors may presume that due Christian education will be provided by the father and mother, who, of course, are primarily responsible; but be it well understood that when the parents fail in these religious duties, the office of the god-parent calls for action.
The choice, therefore, of such persons is a serious consideration. They should be of the age of puberty, thorough Catholics, and willing to accept their responsibility. Next to a judicious choice of sponsors comes the selection of a baptismal name to be given to the child, and the ritual recommends the parents to impose the name of a saint that the child may profit by his patronage and example. The person to be baptized is kept in the porch of the church, or before the entrance of the baptistry, to signify that before being a Christian, he is not worthy to be admitted into the House of God. Having no right to enter heaven, so he has no right to enter the church. The priest, robed in a surplice, whose whiteness is symbolic of the innocence he is going to impart, and a purple stole, the color used by the Church on days of sadness and mourning (pointing out the miserable state to which sin has reduced all children of Adam), goes forth to meet the candidate whom he addresses in the following words: "What dost thou ask of the Church of God? The person to be baptized or the sponsor answers, "Faith," and the minister proceeds: "What does faith bring to the?" "Life everlasting," is the reply. "If, then, thou desirest to enter life," continues the priest, "keep the Commandments. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind; and thy neighbor as thyself."
Thereupon the priest breathes three times in the face of the candidate, while he orders satan to withdraw and make place for the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete. St. Augustine refers to this ceremony as a proof against the Pelagians, of the existence of original sin, showing that even newborn infants are infected with it, and hence subject to the power of the devil, who, by the exorcism of the priest, is expelled.
From the outset these ceremonies tend to show our miserable state previous to our christening. We were all slaves of the devil, children of Divine wrath. Admire, therefore, the power God has bestowed upon His priests in banishing satan from our souls. The breath is symbolical of the breath of God in creation, when He animated the human body with the breath of life. In this first generation man received natural life "in animam viventem," but in this regeneration he receives a supernatural life, "in spiritum vivificantem." This breath is also symbolical of that of Christ breathing upon the apostles when commissioning them and empowering them to forgive sins "and when He had said this, He breathed on them and saith unto them, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost.'"
The priest then signs the candidate on forehead and breast with the sign of the Cross, to demonstrate, first, that Baptism draws all its virtue and efficacy from the passion and Cross of the Saviour; and, secondly, to signify that the recipient is consecrated to Jesus crucified; that, marked with this sign, he belongs henceforth to the flock of the Divine Pastor, whose voice and maxims he is to obey without ever heeding the strange doctrines of false prophets. As by the livery of a servant we get to know the master he serves, so by the Cross, which is the livery of the Christian, the world will know that he belongs to the divine Master, Christ Jesus. The sign of the Cross is marked on the forehead to warn the Christian never to blush at being a disciple of Christ crucified. It is marked on the breast to show that he must love and embrace the Cross, that his life is not to be a life of pleasure, but a life of toil and suffering, and therefore should, as the apostle, glory in nothing save in the Cross of Jesus. "But God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. vi, 14).
After these signs of the Cross, the minister continues praying for the catechumen, placing his hand upon his head to signify that he has become a victim to be consecrated to the Divinity. Then, having blessed some salt, which he places in the mouth of the child, the priest says: "Take the salt of wisdom, that the Lord may preserve thee and conduce thee to life eternal." Salt is the emblem of the purification from sin, for the priest begs God to preserve the child from all infection of vice, so that he may be disposed ever to receive more abundant graces. Blessed salt is given to convey the taste of spirituality, that the word of God may not prove insipid to the Christian, but that he may recognize by experience the sweetness of the Lord and of His service. Salt, again, is the symbol of wisdom, which is to direct the disciple of Christ in all his doings and impede him from acting foolishly or against the law of God.
Lastly, this salt means that Baptism is the pledge of a future glorious and incorruptible resurrection. The priest resumes the exorcism and commands satan in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to quit the soul of God's servant: "He that commands thee is the same that walked on the mighty deep and stretched out His hand to Peter about to perish in the waves. Hence acknowledge thy sentence, O, thou cursed one, return honor to the true and living God, render honor to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Spirit; withdraw from this servant whom our Lord has deigned to call to the grace of baptism." In concluding this prayer the priest again traces the shape of the Cross on the catechumen's head and adds: "And thou beware, cursed satan, of ever having the audacity to violate this sign of the holy Cross which I impress upon his forehead."
This being done, the priest places a second time his hand upon the catechumen and begs of God, the author of light and truth, to let shine down upon him the light of heavenly knowledge to purify and sanctify him, in order that he may ever have a strong hope and right judgment, and follow the holy doctrine. Now, being no longer the property of the devil, but of God, he is introduced into the Church by the priest, who, laying the end of his stole on the head of the catechumen, says: "Come into the temple of God, that thou mayest have part with Christ unto life everlasting," and as, according to St. Paul, "He that cometh to God must believe that He is" (Heb. xi, 6), the candidate or the sponsor on his behalf is requested to recite the Apostle's Creed, which, in former days, was expounded to the catechumens, who had to know and understand every article thereof befor they were admitted to the Sacrament. After the Creed, the Lord's Prayer is said, to show that it is only by the means of prayer that the Christian is able to live up to his belief.
The priest, then, touching with his saliva the ears of the child, exclaims: "Ephpheta, be thou opened." This reminds us of a passage of St. Mark (vii, 33, 34), where it is said that when about to cure the deaf and dumb man, Christ "put His fingers into his ears, and spitting, He touched his tongue; and, looking up to heaven, He said: 'Ephpheta,' which is, 'Be thou opened.'" After this, the priest, touching the candidate's nostrils, adds: "In the odor of sweetness." This rite means that the child must never close his ears to the promises of God, nor to His laws, nor to the evangelical counsels; that he must listen to the divine Word, and that his soul, as a docile lamb, must only know the voice of the divine Pastor. The nostrils are touched to show that the Christian must remain insensible to the infection and allurements of sin and perceive only the salutary odor of God, must become himself, in fact, the sweet fragrance of Jesus in inducing others to the practice of virtue by his good example.
But among the ceremonies that accompany Baptism there is none so imposing as that of the baptismal vows or the renouncing of the devil, his works and pomps. From all the vows that are taken in after life we may obtain a dispensation, while no power in heaven or earth can dispense us from our baptismal vows. The first renouncing exacted is that of the devil; it is the renouncing of his power and tyranny, and the taking of Christ as our Master. No one can serve two masters, hence no one can be Christ's servant and at the same time a servant of the devil. The second is that of the devil's works, which is sin, especially that of pride, which changed the angel of light into an angel of darkness, and constitutes the root of all sins.
The third is that of the devil's pomps, all illicit desires, vanity, ambition, luxury, sensuality, and the pleasures of the world of which satan is the prince. After this solemn declaration, the minister, dipping his finger in the oil of the catechumens, anoints the breast and shoulders of the child; the breast, to make it love the yoke of Christ; the shoulders, to give it strength to carry the yoke This anointing is done with oil to denote the sweetness of this yoke. In fine, the Church requires of the candidate a solemn profession of his faith in the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Church, this being intended to impress upon us the necessity of faith in those receiving the Sacrament, for he alone "that belicvcth and is baptized shall be saved." Further, in conformity with ancient discipline, not to give this Sacrament to adults unless they previously expressed the desire of receiving it, and also in imitation of our Lord, who, before healing the sick, asked if they wished for recovery, the Church requires the minister to ascertain whether the candidate is willing to be baptized. The answer being given on behalf of the child, "I will," the priest pours water over the head of the candidate while pronouncing the words prescribed by Christ: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
To comply with the rubrics there should be physical contact during the pouring of the water between the sponsor and his godchild. The prevailing practise of actually placing the hand on the child is all that is required. Immediately after Baptism the minister anoints with chrism the forehead of the new Christian, to signify, first, that he has become a member of Jesus Christ; and, secondly, to show that he has been elevated to the dignity both of king and priest; of king, to conquer the devil, the world and the flesh; of priest, to offer to God the sacrifice of his mind, heart and body. A white cloth is presently thrown over the neophite by the priest, who says: "Receive this white garment and carry it without stain before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ." In the primitive Church the newly baptized were invested in a white garment, which they used to wear for a whole week. This cloth or garment is a symbol of the robe of innocence. A lighted candle is next handed to the person baptized or to the sponsor, while the priest utters these beautiful words: "Receive this burning light, and keep thy Baptism, so as to be without blame; keep the Commandments of God, that when the Lord shall come to the nuptials thou mayest meet Him in the company of the saints in the heavenly court, and have eternal life, and live for ever and ever. Amen." This lighted taper represents the theological virtues, which are infused by virtue of the Sacrament. The light is the symbol of faith; the heat denotes charity; and the flame itself speaks of hope aspiring after heaven. At the conclusion of the ceremony the priest dismisses the party with a valedictory blessing: "Go in peace and the Lord be with you."
Dear brethren, Baptism, along with all the rites, the blessings and vows I have explained, will not suffice for your salvation unless you remain faithful to the obligations you have assumed. Remember, then, the covenant that was sealed between you and your God on the day of your christening. Be true to your word, and renew your baptismal vows from time to time. Be ever mindful of your dignity as Christians in the midst of the temptations of this world, "but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." Amen.
Why Water is the Matter of Baptism
from the Councils of Flourence and Trent
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, however, the pastor will teach that water, which is always at hand and within the reach of all, was the fittest matter of a Sacrament which is essentially necessary to all; and also, that 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 in the soul.Baptism Instituted at Christ's Baptism
from the Catechism of the Council of Trent
It is clear that this Sacrament was instituted by our Lord when, having been baptized 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.http://catholicharboroffaithandmorals.com/
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 baptized, 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.