"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 iii. v.
BAPTISM, ITS NATURE AND INSTITUTION
INTRODUCTION. The passing of the Jews through the Red Sea was a type of Christian Baptism, as St. Paul tells us in today's Epistle. As the Israelites by the waters of the sea escaped from the tyranny of Pharaoh, so the Christian by the waters of Baptism is freed from the bondage of Satan. But the reception of this Sacrament is not only a liberation from sin, it is also an admission into the vineyard of the Lord, and imposes upon us the obligation of faithfully serving the Master and of living our lives for God.
I. The meaning of Baptism, I. Names of this Sacrament: (a) Baptism signifies washing; (b) it is called the Sacrament of faith, because by it we profess our faith in the doctrines of Christianity; (c) it is called Christening, because it makes one a Christian; (d) it is called purgation, burial, etc., by St. Paul, because by it we die and are buried to sin; (e) finally, it is called the beginning of the most holy commandments, because it is the beginning of the Christian life. 2. Baptism is defined: the Sacrament of regeneration by water in the words of Christ.
II. The constituent elements of Baptism, i. The matter of Baptism is natural water of any kind, as is evident from Scripture (John iii. 5; Eph. v. 26; i John v. 8, etc.). That water should be the matter of this Sacrament was previously signified: (a) by many figures, such as the Deluge (i Peter iii. 20, 21), the cleansing of Naaman the Syrian (4 Kings v. 14), the virtue of the Pool of Bethsaida (John v. 2), the passage of the Red Sea (today's Epistle); (b) by prophecies, such as the invitation of Isaias to all that thirst (Isa. Iv. i), the waters issuing from the Temple seen by Ezechlel (Ezech. xlvii. i) ; etc. Water is an appropriate element of this Sacrament; it is easy to find, and its properties of washing and cooling signify the effects of the Sacrament. According to the law of the Church, chrism is mingled with the baptismal water. 2. Baptism may be administered by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring, since in any one of these ways the effect of the Sacrament is signified. That the last two ways are valid methods of administering the Sacrament is proved by Scripture (Acts ii. 41; xvi. 33) and ecclesiastical tradition. Not infrequently in the early Church, Baptism was administered to prisoners, the sick, and those on shipboard, who could not have been baptized by immersion. The baptismal water should be poured on the head when possible. 3. The form of Baptism uses the words appointed by Christ; " I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," which must be pronounced simultaneously with the pouring of the water.
III. The institution of Baptism, i. Baptism was foretold by our Lord to Nicodemus (John iii). 2. It was instituted most probably when our Lord Himself was baptized in the Jordan. 3. Its use began when Christ and His disciples were baptizing (John iii. iv). 4. The Sacrament became of precept when our Lord expired on the cross. 5. The necessity of Baptism was proclaimed by the Saviour after the Resurrection (Matt. xxviii. 19; Mark xvi. 15), and its solemn promulgation took place on the day of Pentecost (Acts ii- 38, 39).
CONCLUSION, 1. Gratitude to God for the inestimable blessings of Baptism. 2. The faithful should realize the obligation of the vows made in Baptism to renounce Satan and all his works and pomps, and to be ever devoted laborers in the vineyard of Christ.
THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM IMPORTANCE OF A KNOWLEDGE OF THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
From what has been hitherto said on the Sacraments in general, we may judge how necessary it is, to a proper understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith, and to the practice of Christian piety, to know what the Catholic Church proposes for our belief on the Sacraments in particular. That a perfect knowledge of baptism is particularly necessary to the faithful, an attentive perusal of the epistles of St. Paul will force upon the mind. The Apostle, not only frequently, but also in language the most energetic, in language full of the Spirit of God, renews the recollection of this mystery, exalts its transcendent dignity, and in it places before us the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord as objects of our contemplation and imitation.(1) The pastor, therefore, can never think that he has bestowed sufficient labor and attention on the exposition of this Sacrament.
WHEN MOST CONVENIENTLY EXPLAINED
Besides the Vigils of Easter and Pentecost, days on which the Church used to celebrate this Sacrament with the greatest solemnity and devotion, and on which particularly, according to ancient practice, its divine mysteries are to be explained, the pastor should also take occasion at other times to make it the subject of his instructions.(2) For this purpose a most convenient opportunity would seem to present itself whenever the pastor, being about to administer this Sacrament, finds himself surrounded by a considerable number of the faithful. On such occasions, it is true, his exposition cannot embrace everything that regards baptism ; but he can develop one or two points with greater facility, while the faithful see them expressed and contemplate them with devout attention, in the sacred ceremonies which he is performing. Thus each person, reading a lesson of admonition in the person of him who is receiving baptism, calls to mind the promises by which he has bound himself to the service of God when initiated by baptism, and reflects whether his life and morals show that fidelity to which every one pledges himself by professing the name of Christian.
MEANING OF THE WORD "BAPTISM"
To render what we have to say on this subject perspicuous, we shall explain the nature and substance of the Sacrament, premising, however, an explanation of the word "baptism." The word "baptism," as is well known, is of Greek derivation. Although used in Scripture to express not only that ablution which forms part of the Sacrament, but also every species of ablution,(2) and sometimes, figuratively, to express sufferings, yet it is employed by ecclesiastical writers to designate not every sort of ablution, but that which forms part of the Sacrament and is administered with the prescribed sacramental form. In this sense the Apostles very frequently make use of the word in accordance with the institution of Christ.(3)
This Sacrament the Holy Fathers designate also by other names. St. Augustine informs us that it was sometimes called the Sacrament of Faith, because by receiving it we profess our faith in all the doctrines of Christianity;(4) by others it was denominated " Illumination," because by the faith which we profess in baptism the heart is illumined: " Call to mind," says the Apostle, alluding to the time of baptism, " the former days, wherein, being illumined, you endured a great fight of afflictions." (5) St. Chrysostom, in his sermon to the baptized, calls it a purgation, through which " we purge away the old leaven, that we may become a new paste";(6) he also calls it a burial, a planting, and the cross of Jesus Christ.(7) The reasons for all these appellations may be gathered from the epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (8) St. Denis calls it the beginning of the most holy commandments, for this obvious reason, that baptism is, as it were, the gate through which we enter into the fellowship of the Christian life, and begin thenceforward to obey the commandments. (9) This exposition of the different names of the Sacrament of baptism the pastor will briefly communicate to the people. (10)
DEFINITION OF BAPTISM
With regard to its definition, although sacred writers give many to us, that which may be collected from the words of our Lord, recorded in the Gospel of St. John, and of the Apostle in his epistle to the Ephesians, appears the most appropriate: "Unless," says our Lord," a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God ";(11) and, speaking of the Church, the Apostle says, " cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life."(12) From these words, baptism may be accurately and appropriately 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." (13)
IN WHAT THE SACRAMENT CONSISTS
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.(14) This is the uniform doctrine of the holy Fathers; a doctrine proved by the authority of St. Augustine. "The word," says he, "is joined to the element, and it becomes a Sacrament." That these are the constituents of baptism it becomes more necessary to impress on the minds of the faithful, so that they may not fall into the vulgar error of thinking that the baptismal water, preserved in the sacred font, constitutes the Sacrament. Then only is it to be called the Sacrament of Baptism when it is really used in the way of ablution, accompanied by the words appointed by our Lord. (15)
But as we said above, when treating of the Sacraments in general, that every Sacrament consists of matter and form, it is therefore necessary to point out what constitutes each of these in the Sacrament of 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. Our Lord has declared that "unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."(16) The Apostle also says that the Church was cleansed "by the laver of water ";(17) 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."(18) Scripture affords other proofs which establish the same truth. When, however, the Baptist says that the Lord will come who will baptize in the Holy Ghost, and in fire,(19) he is not to be understood to speak of the matter, but of the effect of baptism, produced in the soul by the interior operation of the Holy Ghost; or of the miracle performed on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost descended on the Apostles in the form of fire, (20) as was foretold by our Lord in these words: " John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence."(21)
FIGURE AND PROPHECIES OF THE MATTER OF BAPTISM
That water is the matter of baptism, the Almighty signified 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 swept the world because "the wickedness of men was great on the earth," and " all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil," (22) was a figure of the waters of baptism. (23) To omit the cleansing of Naaman the Syrian,(24) and the admirable virtue of the pool of Bethsaida,(25) 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 the waters of baptism.(26) With regard to the oracles of the prophets, the waters to which the prophet Isaias so freely invites all that thirst,(27) and those which Ezekiel saw in spirit, issue from the temple,(28) 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," (29) were, no doubt, so many types which prefigured the salutary effects of the waters of baptism.
WHY WATER IS THE MATTER 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.(30) 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.(31)
CHRISM, WHY USED IN BAPTISM
But although in case of necessity simple water unmixed with any other ingredient is sufficient for the matter of baptism, yet when administered in public with solemn ceremonies, the Catholic Church, guided by apostolic tradition, the more fully to express its efficacy, has uniformly observed the practice of adding holy chrism.(32) And although it may be doubted whether this or that water be genuine, such as the Sacrament requires, it can never be matter of doubt that the proper and the only matter of baptism is natural water.
FORM OF BAPTISM TO BE CAREFULLY EXPLAINED
Having carefully explained the matter, which is one of the two parts of which the Sacrament consists, the pastor will show equal diligence in explaining the second, that is the form, which is equally necessary with the first. In the explanation of this Sacrament a necessity of increased care and study arises, as the pastor 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. This Sacrament, as we shall explain in its proper place, is frequently 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 its substance.
IN WHAT THE FORM CONSISTS, AND WHEN INSTITUTED
The pastor, therefore, will teach, in clear, unambiguous language, intelligible to every capacity, that the true and essential form of baptism is: "I BAPTIZE THEE IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST,"--(33). form 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: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."(34) By the word "baptizing," the Catholic Church, instructed from above, most justly understands that the form of the Sacrament should express the action of the minister, and this takes place when he pronounces the words, " I baptize thee." Besides the minister of the Sacrament, the person to be baptized and the principal efficient cause of baptism should be mentioned. The pronoun " thee," and the names of the Divine Persons are therefore distinctly added; and thus the absolute form of the Sacrament is expressed in the words already mentioned: " I baptize 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,"(35) but of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. By saying, however, " in the name," not 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.(36)
WHAT ESSENTIAL, WHAT NOT ESSENTIAL
It is however to be observed, that of the words contained in this form, which we have shown to be the true and essential one, some are absolutely necessary--the omission of them rendering 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, in the Latin form, the word ego (I), the force of which is included in the word baptize (I baptize). 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 baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." It appears, however, from the opinion and definition of the Council of Florence, that the Greek form is valid, because the words of which it consists sufficiently express what is essential to the validity of baptism, that is, the ablution which then takes place.
BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF CHRIST ONLY
If at any time the Apostles baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only,(37) they did so, no doubt, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, in order, in the infancy of the Church, to render their preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ more illustrious, 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 the name of Jesus Christ implies the Person of the Father by whom, and that of the Holy Ghost in whom, he was anointed. However, the use of this form by the Apostles becomes, perhaps, matter of doubt, if we yield to the opinions of Ambrose(38) and Basil,(39) holy Fathers eminent for sanctity and of paramount authority, who interpret " baptism in the name of Jesus Christ" as contradistinguished to " baptism in the name 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. " As many of you," says he, " as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ," (40) meaning that they were baptized in the faith of Christ, and with no other form than that commanded by him to be observed.
BAPTISM MAY BE ADMINISTERED BY IMMERSION, POURING, OR SPRINKLING
What has been said on the principal points which regard the matter and form of the Sacrament will be found sufficient for the instruction of the faithful; but as in the administration of the Sacrament the legitimate ablution should also be observed, on this point too the pastor will explain the doctrine of the Church. He will briefly inform the faithful that, according to the common practice of the Church, baptism may be administered by immersion, infusion, or aspersion, and that administered in any of these forms it is equally valid. 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."(41) This ablution takes place as effectually by immersion, which was for a considerable time the practice in the early ages of the Church, as by infusion, which is now the general practice, or by aspersion, which was the manner in which Peter baptized, when he converted and gave baptism to about three thousand souls.(42) It is also a matter of indifference to the validity of the Sacrament whether the ablution is performed once or thrice. We learn 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.(43) The faithful, however, will follow the practice of the particular Church to which they belong.
TWO IMPORTANT MATTERS TO BE OBSERVED IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF BAPTISM
The pastor will 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 pre-eminently the seat of all the internal and external senses; and also that he who baptizes is to pronounce the words which constitute the form of baptism, not before or after, but when performing the ablution (when the water is poured).
BAPTISM WHEN INSTITUTED
When these things have been explained, it will also be expedient to remind the faithful that, in common with the other Sacraments, baptism was instituted by Christ. On this subject the pastor will frequently point out 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 which renders it obligatory. With regard to the former, it is clear that this Sacrament was instituted by our Lord when, being baptized by John, he gave to the water the power of sanctifying. St. Gregory Nazianzen (44) and St. Augustine testify that to the 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." (45) And again: "The Lord is baptized, not because he had occasion 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." The circumstances which attended the event afford a very strong argument to prove that baptism was then instituted by our Lord. The three persons of the most Holy Trinity, in whose name baptism is conferred, manifested their august presence; 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.(46)
WATER CONSECRATED TO THE USE OF BAPTISM WHEN CHRIST WAS BAPTIZED
Should we ask how our Lord has endowed water with a virtue so great, so divine, this indeed is an inquiry which transcends the power of the human understanding. Yet this we do know, that when our Lord was baptized water was consecrated to the salutary use of baptism, and that, although instituted before the passion, it derived all its virtue and efficacy from the passion, which is the consummation, as it were, of all the actions of Christ.(47)
THE LAW OF BAPTISM, WHEN PROMULGATED
The second period to be distinguished, that is, when the law of baptism was promulgated, also admits of no doubt. The holy Fathers 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: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,"(48) the law of baptism became obligatory on all who were to be saved. This is to be inferred from the words of St. Peter, that God "hath regenerated us unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead "; (49) and also from the words of St. Paul that Christ " delivered himself up for it: [he speaks of the Church] that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life."(50) In both passages the obligation of baptism is referred to the time which followed the death of our Lord. These words of our Lord: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,"(51) refer also, no doubt, to the time subsequent to his passion. If then the pastor use all diligence in explaining these truths accurately to the faithful, it is impossible that they should not fully appreciate the high dignity of this Sacrament, and entertain towards it the most profound veneration,--a veneration which will be heightened by the reflection that the Holy Ghost, by his invisible agency, still infuses into the heart at the moment of baptism those blessings of incomparable excellence and of inestimable value which were so strikingly manifested by miracles at the baptism of Christ our Lord. Were our eyes, like those of the servant of Eliseus,(52) opened to see these heavenly things, who so insensible as not to be lost in rapturous admiration of the divine mysteries which baptism would then present to the astonished view! 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, with those of the soul illumined by the light of faith, is it not reasonable to anticipate similar results?
1. Rom. vi. 3; Col. ii. 12, 13.
2. On this ancient practice see Tertul. lib. de Baptis. c. 19; Basil, in exhort, ad bapt.; Amb. lib. de myst. Paschae.
3. Mark vii. 4.
4. Rom. vi. 3; i Pet. iii. 21; on the eight kinds of baptism, see Damasc. lib. 4, de fide orthod. 10.
5. Aug. epist. 25, in fin, 5. Heb. x. 32.
6. I Cor. v. 7. 7. S. Chrysost x. 5. 8. Rom. vi, 3.
9. De Eec. Hier. c. 3.
10. On the various names of Baptism, see Gregor Nazianz. oral in sancta lumina; Clem. Alex. lib. I, Poedag. cap. 6.
11. John iii. 5. 12. Eph. v. 26.
13. John i. 12, 13. 14. Matt. xxviii. 19.
16. See Chrysost. horn. 24, in Joan.; Aug. lib. 6, contra Donatist. c. 25; CC. of Flor. and Trent; Aug. tract. 80 in Joan.
17. John iii. 5. 18. Eph. v. 26. 19. i John v. 8.
20. Matt. iii. n. 21. Acts ii. 3. 22. Acts i. 5.
23. Gen. vi. 5. 24. I Pet iii. 20, 21.
25. 4 Kings v. 14. 26. John v. 2. 27. I Cor. x. i, a.
28. Isaias Iv. i. 29. Ezek. xlvii. I. 30. Zach. xiii. I,
31. epist. 85.
32. On the matter of Baptism see CC. of Florence & Trent, sess. 7, can. 2; de consecrat. dist. 4; St. Thom. p. 3, q. 56, art. 5.
33. Ambr. lib. I, sacr. c. 2; Innoc. lib. I, decr. tit. I, c. 3.
34. Matt. xxviii. 19.
35. John i. 33.
36. See Aug. contra Donatist. lib. 6, c. 25; St. Thorn, p. 3, q. 66, art. 5.
37. Acts ii. 38; viii. 16; x. 48; xix. 5.
38. Ambr. lib. I, de Spiritu Sancto, c. 3.
39. Basil, lib. i, de Spiritu Sancto. c. 12.
40. Gal. iii. 27. 41. Eph. v. 26.
42. Acts ii. 41. 43. Greg. lib. i. regist. epist. 41.
44. Greg. orat. in nat. Salvat. circa finem.
45. Aug. serin. 29, 36, 37, de temp.
46. Matt. iii. 16, 17; Mark i. 10, 11 ; Luke ii. 21, 22.
47. See St. Jerome in corn. in. 3 cap. Matt.; Aug. serm. 36 de temp.
48. Mark xvi. 15; Matt. xxviii. 19.
49. i Pet. i. 3. 50. Eph. v. 25, 26.
51. John iii. 5. 52. 4 Kings vi. 17.
To act licitly as sponsor, one must: (a) have reached his fourteenth year, unless the minister sees a just reason for lowering the age; (b) not be, for notorious crime, even though there has been no sentence, excommunicated or debarred from legal acta or legally infamous, or interdicted, or publicly known as a criminal, or infamous by act; (c) know the rudiments of the Faith; (d) not be a novice or professed member of a religious institute, in which the members make vows, perpetual or temporary, to be renewed after a fixed time (can. 488), unless in case of necessity and with the express permission of, at least, the local superior; (e) finally a cleric in sacred orders should not act as sponsor unless his ordinary grants permission (can. 766). In case of doubt whether one can be admitted validly or licitly the parish priest must consult his ordinary, if there is time (can. 767). The sponsor contracts spiritual relationship with the person baptized but not as formerly with the parents also (can. 768).
If possible, two witnesses should be at such a private Baptism, in order that the ceremony may be attested to and its validity assured.
Since the valid Baptism of anyone with the use of reason requires the intention to be baptized, it would be necessary in the case of a dying adult either to baptize conditionally or to have foreknowledge of, or a sign of, the person's desire for the Sacrament.
I BAPTIZE THEE IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST.
The Gift of Water Baptism
that Opens the Gates of Heaven
by Dom Gueranger, 1897
It resembles the first in this, that it is for the benefit and salvation of the human race. The Star has led the Magi to Christ; they had long waited for His coming, they had hoped for it; now, they believe. Faith in the Messias' having come into the world is beginning to take root among the Gentiles. But faith is not sufficient for salvation; the stain of sin must be washed away by water. He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved (St. Mark, xvi. 16). The time is come, then, for a new manifestation of the Son of God, whereby there shall be inaugurated the great remedy, which is to give to Faith the power of producing life eternal.
Now, the decrees of divine Wisdom had chosen Water as the instrument of this sublime regeneration of the human race. Hence, in the beginning of the world, we find the Spirit of God moving over the Waters (Gen. i. 2), in order that they might "even then conceive a principle of sanctifying power," as the Church expresses it in her Office for Holy Saturday (The Blessing of the Font). But, before being called to fulfil the designs of God's mercy, this element of Water had to be used by the divine justice for the chastisement of a sinful world. With the exception of one family, the whole human race perished, by the terrible judgment of God, in the Waters of the Deluge.
A fresh indication of the future supernatural power of this chosen element was given by the Dove, which Noe sent forth from the Ark; it returned to him, bearing in its beak an Olive-branch, the symbol that peace was given to the earth by its having been buried in Water. But, this was only the announcement of the mystery; its accomplishment was not to be for long ages to come.
Meanwhile, God spoke to His people by many events, which were figurative of the future Mystery of Baptism. Thus, for example, it was by passing through the waters of the Red Sea, that they entered into the Promised Land, and during the miraculous passage, a pillar of a cloud was seen covering both the Israelites, and the Waters, to which they owed their deliverance.
But, in order that Water should have the power to purify man from his sins, it was necessary that it should be brought in contact with the Sacred Body of the Incarnate God. The Eternal Father had sent His Son into the world, not only that He might be its Lawgiver, and Redeemer, and the Victim of its salvation--but that He might also be the Sanctifier of Water; and it was in this sacred element that He would divinely bear testimony to His being His Son, and manifest Him to the world a second time.
Jesus, therefore, being now thirty years of age, comes to the Jordan, a river already celebrated for the prophetic miracles which had been wrought in its waters. The Jewish people, roused by the preaching of John the Baptist, were flocking thither in order to receive a Baptism, which could, indeed, excite a sorrow for sin, but could not effect its forgiveness. Our divine King approaches the river, not, of course, to receive sanctification, for He Himself is the author of all Justice--but to impart to Water the power of bringing forth, as the Church expresses the mystery, a new and heavenly progeny (The Blessing of the Font). He goes down into the stream, not, like Josue, to walk dry-shod through its bed, but to let its waters encompass Him, and receive from Him, both for itself and for the Waters of the whole earth, the sanctifying power which they would retain forever. The saintly Baptist places his trembling hand upon the sacred head of the Redeemer, and bends it beneath the water; the Sun of Justice vivifies this His creature; He imparts to it the glow of life-giving fruitfulness; and Water thus becomes the prolific source of supernaturnal life.
But, in this the commencement of a new creation, we look for the intervention of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. All Three are there. The heavens open; the Dove descends, not as a mere symbol, prophetic of some future grace, but as the sign of the actual presence of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of love, who gives peace to men and changes their hearts. The Dove hovers above the head of Jesus, overshadowing, at one and the same time, the Humanity of the Incarnate Word and the water which bathed His sacred Body.
The manifestation is not complete; the Father's voice is still to be heard speaking over the Water, and moving by its power the entire element throughout the earth. Then was fulfilled the prophecy of David: The Voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty hath thundered. The Voice of the Lord breaketh cedars, (that is, the pride of the devils). The Voice of the Lord divideth the flame of fire, (that is, the anger of God). The Voice of the Lord shaketh the desert, and maketh the flood to dwell, (that is, announces a new Deluge, the Deluge of divine Mercy) (Ps. cssviii. 3, 5, 7, 8, 10). And what says this Voice of the Father? This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (St. Matth. iii. 17).
Thus was the Holiness of the Emmanuel manifested by the presence of the Dove and by the voice of the Father, as His kingly character had been previously manifested by the mute testimony of the Star. The mystery is accomplished, the Waters are invested with a spiritual purifying power, and Jesus comes from the Jordan and ascends the bank, raising up with Himself the world, regenerated and sanctified, with all its crimes and defilements drowned in the stream. Such is the interpretation and language of the Holy Fathers of the Church regarding this great event of our Lord's Life.
Let us honour our Lord in this second Manifestation of His divinity, and thank Him, with the Church for His having given us both the Star of Faith which enlightens us, and the Water of Baptism which cleanses us from our iniquities. Let us lovingly appreciate the humility of our Jesus, who permits Himself to be weighed down by the hand of a mortal man, in order, as He says Himself, that He might fulfil all justice (St. Matth. iii. 15); for having taken on Himself the likeness of sin, it was requisite that He should bear its humiliation, that so He might raise us from our debasement. Let us thank Him for this grace of Baptism, which has opened to us the gates of the Church both of heaven and earth; and let us renew the engagements we made at the holy Font, for they were the terms on which we were regenerated to our new life in God.
JOHN 3: 3-5:  Jesus answered, and said to him: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus saith to him: How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother' s womb, and be born again?  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.
"All are faithfully to profess that there is one baptism which regenerates all those baptized in Christ, just as there is one God and one faith. We believe that when baptism is administered in water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit, it is a perfect means of salvation for both adults and children."--Council of Vienne 1311-1312 A.D.
Prayer to Our Holy Patron Saint of Baptism
O Glorious St. _______, whose name I have the honor to bear, who wast given me in baptism as a protector and a pattern, and who, although secure of thy own immortal bliss, art nevertheless solicitous about my happiness, assist me by thy powerful intercession, as thou instructest me by the example of thy holy life; for I truly can behold in thy life, as in a bright mirror, what I am to correct in myself, and what I am to practice. Thou hast been, like me, subject to sufferings, encompassed with infirmities, assaulted with temptations; but thou hast surmounted the rage and persecutions of the world, despised its allurements, and triumphed over its malignity.
Obtain by thy prayers that I may he endowed with thy spirit, and become a faithful follower of Christ. On the day in which I was buried together with Christ by baptism unto death, thou wast given me for a witness and a guardian of my engagements. I beseech thee, therefore, that thou assist me in thy prayers for me to God, that I may hold fast the confession of my hope without wavering, and that, laboring to make sure by good works my vocation and election, I may obtain the prize of the celestial vocation of God, in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory.
Supplication To The Most Holy Trinity.
Most holy, most august, most amiable and divine Trinity, I fall prostrate before the throne of Thy immense majesty, and full of the sweetest confidence, I present to Thee the merits of this, Thy servant, and those, moreover, of holy Mary, whom Thou hast given me as a most loving Mother, Queen, and Advocate. Therefore, I beseech Thee, in view of their merits, be pleased to grant me the graces which I particularly desire . . . . . . . O Lord, I hope in Thee, let me not be confounded. Grant my prayer, O Lord, and have pity on me.
V. The Lord led the just man through right paths,
R. And showed him the kingdom of God.
Let us pray:
Ant. Come, spouse of Christ, and receive the crown which the
Lord hath prepared for thee from all eternity.
V. In thy comeliness and thy beauty,
R. Go forth, proceed prosperously, and reign.
Let us pray: