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On the Necessity of Baptism

By Father Woods

Easter is the Perfect Season for a reflection on Baptism.

In a society where more and more people sub    scribe to the theory that “all religions are basically

the same” there can be some distortion of the Catholic understanding of the necessity of Baptism. While many non-Catholic denominations have some form of baptism, there are various interpretations of what (if anything) baptism actually does to the recipient. On the extreme end, there are some who say that baptism is merely ceremonial. For them it is a symbolic washing that produces no effect at all in the person being baptized.

The Catholic Church has taught from ancient times that baptism (like all the sacraments) actually has an effect on the one receiving it. Baptism gives sanctifying grace – the grace that God freely gives to make a person holy. No one can earn or deserve sanctifying grace since it is God’s free gift. Baptism, like Confirmation, gives an individual this supernatural help.

Baptism removes original sin – the sin every human being inherits from Adam and Eve. Original sin is this tendency we have towards evil. Baptism breaks the bonds that would remove our freedom to choose the good. Baptism makes us free people! Baptism is the ordinary way a person receives salvation. God can save anyone as He chooses, but Christ established the sacrament of Baptism as the ordinary way believers in Him have access to salvation. This leads to Baptism second effect: it makes us members of the Church. The Church is God’s family of the baptized.

Baptism is so significant that it cannot be repeated under any circumstances. If someone is baptized in another Christian religion (providing they use true water and the Trinitarian formula of baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) then if that person becomes a Catholic, they are not “rebaptized”. The only time there could be a second ceremony is if there is some genuine doubt about the validity of a person’s baptism. The power of Baptism is so real, it cannot be done a second time.

Because Baptism is so linked to salvation, the Church has taught from the 3rd and 4th centuries that infants should be baptized very soon after birth. With improved survival rates of infants in most first world countries, sometimes parents will delay a baptism until all the relatives can be in town or a party can be organized. While this is understandable from a practical perspective, such an attitude overlooks the true nature of baptism: the Church wants the infant to have sanctifying grace and salvation as soon as possible after birth. Baptism should not ordinarily be delayed except for a serious reason. These little people need God’s grace!

Several times each year we have an opportunity to renew our baptismal vows, particularly on Easter Sunday. We should take these vows seriously that we will reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises. We should be humbled and honored to profess the faith contained it the Creed. Our baptism makes us adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus. This is the first and greatest gift God gives most of us. Each day should be an offering back to God as we put our baptismal grace into practice.