Christ instituted the sacraments
of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation),
the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony.
The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments
of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission
to the Christian's life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between
the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.
THE SACRAMENTS OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION
The sacraments of Christian initiation
- Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every
Christian life. "The sharing in the divine nature given to men through
the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development,
and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism,
strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist
the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation,
they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life
and advance toward the perfection of charity."
THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole
Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua),
and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism
we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ,
are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism
is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word."
This sacrament is called Baptism, after
the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein)
means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into the water symbolizes
the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by
resurrection with him, as "a new creature."
This sacrament is also called "the washing
of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit," for it signifies and actually
brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one "can
enter the kingdom of God."
"This bath is called enlightenment, because
those who receive this [catechetical] instruction are enlightened in their
understanding. . . ." Having received in Baptism the Word, "the true
light that enlightens every man," the person baptized has been "enlightened,"
he becomes a "son of light," indeed, he becomes "light" himself:
Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift....We call it gift,
grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth,
seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred
on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to
the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it
is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because
it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes;
and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God's Lordship.
Prefigurations of Baptism in the Old
In the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, during
the blessing of the baptismal water, the Church solemnly commemorates the
great events in salvation history that already prefigured the mystery of
Baptism: Father, you give us grace through sacramental signs which
tell us of the wonders of your unseen power. In Baptism we use your
gift of water, which you have made a rich symbol of the grace you give
us in this sacrament.
Since the beginning of the world, water,
so humble and wonderful a creature, has been the source of life and fruitfulness.
Sacred Scripture sees it as "oveshadowed" by the Spirit of God:
At the very dawn of creation your Spirit breathed on the waters, making
them the wellspring of all holiness.
The Church has seen in Noah's ark a prefiguring
of salvation by Baptism, for by it "a few, that is, eight persons, were
saved through water": The waters of the great flood you made a sign
of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of
If water springing up from the earth symbolizes
life, the water of the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the
mystery of the cross. By this symbolism Baptism signifies communion with
But above all, the crossing of the Red
Sea, literally the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, announces
the liberation wrought by Baptism:
You freed the children of Abraham from
the slavery of Pharaoh, bringing them dry-shod through the waters of the
Red Sea, to be an image of the people set free in Baptism.
Finally, Baptism is prefigured in the crossing
of the Jordan River by which the People of God received the gift of the
land promised to Abraham's descendants, an image of eternal life. The promise
of this blessed
inheritance is fulfilled in the New Covenant.
All the Old Covenant prefigurations find
their fulfillment in Christ Jesus. He begins his public life after having
himself baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan. After his resurrection
Christ gives this mission to his apostles: "Go therefore and make disciples
of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded
Our Lord voluntarily submitted himself
to the baptism of St. John, intended for sinners, in order to "fulfill
all righteousness." Jesus' gesture is a manifestation of his self-emptying.
The Spirit who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended
then on the Christ as a prelude of the new creation, and the Father revealed
Jesus as his "beloved Son."
In his Passover Christ opened to all men
the fountain of Baptism. He had already spoken of his Passion, which he
was about to suffer in Jerusalem, as a "Baptism" with which he had to be
baptized. The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side
of the crucified Jesus are types of Baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments
of new life. From then on, it is possible "to be born of water and
the Spirit" in order to enter the Kingdom of God. See where you
are baptized, see where Baptism comes from, if not from the cross of Christ,
from his death. There is the whole mystery: he died for you. In him you
are redeemed, in him you are saved.
Baptism in the Church
From the very day of Pentecost the Church
has celebrated and administered holy Baptism. Indeed St. Peter declares
to the crowd astounded by his preaching: "Repent, and be baptized every
one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
The apostles and their collaborators offer
Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans.
Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith: "Believe in the Lord Jesus,
and you will be saved, you and your household," St. Paul declared to his
jailer in Philippi. And the narrative continues, the jailer "was baptized
at once, with all his family."
According to the Apostle Paul, the believer
enters through Baptism into communion with Christ's death, is buried with
him, and rises with him:
Do you not know that all of us who have
been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We
were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ
was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk
in newness of life. The baptized have "put on Christ." Through
the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies.
Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which
the "imperishable seed" of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.
St. Augustine says of Baptism: "The word is brought to the material element,
and it becomes a sacrament."
HOW IS THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM CELEBRATED?
From the time of the apostles, becoming
a Christian has been accomplished by a journey and initiation in
several stages. This journey can be covered rapidly or slowly, but certain
essential elements will always
have to be present: proclamation of the
Word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith,
Baptism itself, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and admission to Eucharistic
This initiation has varied greatly through
the centuries according to circumstances. In the first centuries of the
Church, Christian initiation saw considerable development. A long period
of catechumenate included a
series of preparatory rites, which were
liturgical landmarks along the path of catechumenal preparation and culminated
in the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation.
Where infant Baptism has become the form
in which this sacrament is usually celebrated, it has become a single act
encapsulating the preparatory stages of Christian initiation in a very
abridged way. By its very nature infant Baptism requires a post-baptismal
catechumenate. Not only is there a need for instruction after Baptism,
but also for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth.
The catechism has its proper place here.
The second Vatican Council restored for
the Latin Church "the catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct
steps." The rites for these stages are to be found in the Rite of Christian
Adults (RCIA). The Council also gives
permission that: "In mission countries, in addition to what is furnished
by the Christian tradition, those elements of initiation rites may be admitted
which are already in use among some peoples insofar as they can be adapted
to the Christian ritual."
Today in all the rites, Latin and Eastern,
the Christian initiation of adults begins with their entry into the catechumenate
and reaches its culmination in a single celebration of the three sacraments
Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.
In the Eastern rites the Christian initiation of infants also begins with
Baptism followed immediately by Confirmation and the Eucharist, while in
the Roman rite it is followed by years of catechesis before being completed
later by Confirmation and the Eucharist, the summit of their Christian
The mystagogy of the celebration
The meaning and grace of the sacrament
of Baptism are clearly seen in the rites of its celebration. By following
the gestures and words of this celebration with attentive participation,
the faithful are initiated into
the riches this sacrament signifies and
actually brings about in each newly baptized person.
The sign of the cross, on the threshold
of the celebration, marks with the imprint of Christ the one who is going
to belong to him and signifies the grace of the redemption Christ won for
us by his cross.
The proclamation of the Word of God enlightens
the candidates and the assembly with the revealed truth and elicits the
response of faith, which is inseparable from Baptism. Indeed Baptism is
"the sacrament of faith" in a particular way, since it is the sacramental
entry into the life of faith.
Since Baptism signifies liberation from
sin and from its instigator the devil, one or more exorcisms are pronounced
over the candidate. The celebrant then anoints him with the oil of catechumens,
or lays his hands on him, and he explicitly renounces Satan. Thus prepared,
he is able to confess the faith of the Church, to which he will be "entrusted"
The baptismal water is consecrated by a
prayer of epiclesis (either at this moment or at the Easter Vigil). The
Church asks God that through his Son the power of the Holy Spirit may be
sent upon the water, so that those who will be baptized in it may be "born
of water and the Spirit."
The essential rite of the sacrament follows:
Baptism properly speaking. It signifies and actually brings about death
to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration
to the Paschal mystery of Christ. Baptism is performed in the most expressive
way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times
it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times
over the candidate's head.
In the Latin Church this triple infusion
is accompanied by the minister's words: "N., I baptize you in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In the Eastern
liturgies the catechumen turns toward the East and the priest says: "The
servant of God, N., is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit." At the invocation of each person of the Most Holy
Trinity, the priest immerses the candidate in the water and raises
him up again.
The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed
oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to
the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed"
by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet,
In the liturgy of the Eastern Churches,
the post-baptismal anointing is the sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation).
In the Roman liturgy the post- baptismal anointing announces a second anointing
with sacred chrism to be conferred later by the bishop Confirmation, which
will as it were "confirm" and complete the baptismal anointing.
The white garment symbolizes that the person
baptized has "put on Christ," has risen with Christ. The candle, lit
from the Easter candle, signifies that Christ has enlightened the neophyte.
In him the baptized are "the light of the world."
The newly baptized is now, in the only
Son, a child of God entitled to say the prayer of the children of God:
First Holy Communion. Having become a child
of God clothed with the wedding garment, the neophyte is admitted "to the
marriage supper of the Lamb" and receives the food of the new life,
the body and blood of Christ. The Eastern Churches maintain a lively awareness
of the unity of Christian initiation by giving Holy Communion to all the
newly baptized and confirmed, even little children, recalling the Lord's
words: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them." The Latin
Church, which reserves admission to Holy Communion to those who have attained
the age of reason, expresses the orientation of Baptism to the Eucharist
by having the newly baptized child brought to the altar for the praying
of the Our Father.
The solemn blessing concludes the celebration
of Baptism. At the Baptism of newborns the blessing of the mother occupies
a special place.
WHO CAN RECEIVE BAPTISM?
"Every person not yet baptized and only
such a person is able to be baptized."
The Baptism of adults
Since the beginning of the Church, adult
Baptism is the common practice where the proclamation of the Gospel is
still new. The catechumenate (preparation for Baptism) therefore occupies
an important place. This initiation into Christian faith and life should
dispose the catechumen to receive the gift of God in Baptism, Confirmation,
and the Eucharist.
The catechumenate, or formation of catechumens,
aims at bringing their conversion and faith to maturity, in response to
the divine initiative and in union with an ecclesial community. The catechumenate
is to be "a formation in the whole Christian life . . . during which the
disciples will be joined to Christ their teacher. The catechumens should
be properly initiated into the mystery of salvation and the practice of
the evangelical virtues, and they should be introduced into the life of
faith, liturgy, and charity of the People of God by successive sacred rites."
Catechumens "are already joined to the
Church, they are already of the household of Christ, and are quite frequently
already living a life of faith, hope, and charity." "With love and
solicitude mother Church already embraces them as her own."
The Baptism of infants
Born with a fallen human nature and tainted
by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to
be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom
of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness
of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The
Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming
a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.
Christian parents will recognize that this
practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the lifethat
God has entrusted to them.
The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial
tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from
the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning
of the apostolic preaching, when whole "households" received baptism, infants
may also have been baptized.
Faith and Baptism
Baptism is the sacrament of faith.
But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith
of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required
for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is
called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: "What
do you ask of God's Church?" The response is: "Faith!"
For all the baptized, children or adults,
faith must grow after Baptism. For this reason the Church celebrates each
year at the Easter Vigil the enewal of baptismal promises. Preparation
for Baptism leads only to the threshold of new life. Baptism is the source
of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs
1255 For the grace of Baptism to unfold,
the parents' help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and
godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly
baptized - child or adult on the road of Christian life. Their task
is a truly ecclesial function (officium). The whole ecclesial community
bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace
given at Baptism.
WHO CAN BAPTIZE?
The ordinary ministers of Baptism are the
bishop and priest and, in the Latin Church, also the deacon. In case
of necessity, any person, even someone not baptized, can baptize, if he
has the required intention. The intention required is to will to do what
the Church does when she baptizes, and to apply the Trinitarian baptismal
formula. The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal
saving will of God and the necessity of Baptism for salvation.
THE NECESSITY OF BAPTISM
The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is
necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim
the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is ecessary
for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who
have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.
The Church does not know of any means other
than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she
takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to
see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit."
God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is
not bound by his sacraments.
The Church has always held the firm conviction
that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received
Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of
blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism
without being a sacrament.
For catechumens who die before their Baptism,
their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their
sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to
receive through the sacrament.
"Since Christ died for all, and since all
men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we
must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made
partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." Every man
who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the
truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of
it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired
Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.
As regards children who have died without
Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does
in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires
that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which
caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"
allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have
died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent
little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
THE GRACE OF BAPTISM
The different effects of Baptism are signified
by the perceptible elements of the sacramental rite. Immersion in water
symbolizes not only death and purification, but also regeneration and renewal.
Thus the two principal effects are purification from sins and new birth
in the Holy Spirit.
For the forgiveness of sins . . .
By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original
sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those
who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into
the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences
of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.
Yet certain temporal consequences of sin
remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties
inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination
to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, "the tinder
for sin" (fomes peccati); since concupiscence "is left for us to wrestle
with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by
the grace of Jesus Christ." Indeed, "an athlete is not crowned unless
he competes according to the rules."
"A new creature"
Baptism not only purifies from all sins,
but also makes the neophyte "a new creature," an adopted son of God, who
has become a "partaker of the divine nature," member of Christ and
co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized
sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:
enabling them to believe in God, to hope in
him, and to love him through the theological virtues;
giving them the power to live and act under
the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
allowing them to grow in goodness through
the moral virtues. Thus the whole organism of the Christian's supernatural
life has its roots in Baptism.
Incorporated into the Church, the
Body of Christ
Baptism makes us members of the Body of
Christ: "Therefore . . . we are members one of another." Baptism incorporates
us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of
God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits
of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: "For by one Spirit we were all
baptized into one body."
The baptized have become "living stones"
to be "built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood." By Baptism
they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission.
They are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people,
that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out
of darkness into his marvelous light." Baptism gives a share in the
common priesthood of all believers.
Having become a member of the Church, the
person baptized belongs no longer to himself, but to him who died and rose
for us. From now on, he is called to be subject to others, to serve
them in the communion of the Church, and to "obey and submit" to the Church's
leaders, holding them in respect and affection. Just as Baptism
is the source of responsibilities and duties, the baptized person also
enjoys rights within the Church: to receive the sacraments, to be nourished
with the Word of God and to be sustained by the other spiritual helps of
"Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized]
must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the
Church" and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the
People of God.
The sacramental bond of the unity of
Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion
among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion
with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been
properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the
Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated
into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with
good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church."
"Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among
all who through it are reborn."
An indelible spiritual mark . . .
Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the
person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with
the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No
sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the
fruits of salvation. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.
Incorporated into the Church by Baptism,
the faithful have received the sacramental character that consecrates them
for Christian religious worship. The baptismal seal enables and commits
Christians to serve God by a vital participation in the holy liturgy of
the Church and to exercise their baptismal priesthood by the witness of
holy lives and practical charity.
The Holy Spirit has marked us with the
seal of the Lord ("Dominicus character") "for the day of redemption."
"Baptism indeed is the seal of eternal life." The faithful Christian
who has "kept the seal" until the end, remaining faithful to the demands
of his Baptism, will be able to depart this life "marked with the sign
of faith," with his baptismal faith, in expectation of the blessed
vision of God - the consummation of faith - and in the hope of resurrection.
Christian initiation is accomplished by
three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life;
Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes
the disciple with Christ's Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"
Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ.
In accordance with the Lord's will, it is necessary for salvation, as is
the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism.
The essential rite of Baptism consists
in immersing the candidate in water or pouring water on his head, while
pronouncing the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Spirit.
The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace,
is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal
sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the
Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. By this very
fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ,
and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ.
Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible
spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for
Christian worship. Because of the character Baptism cannot be repeated
(cf. DS 1609 and DS 1624).
Those who die for the faith, those who
are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting
under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill
his will, are saved even if they have not been baptized (cf. LG 16).
Since the earliest times, Baptism has been
administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does
not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the
Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom.
With respect to children who have died
without Baptism, the liturgy of the Church invites us to trust in God's
mercy and to pray for their salvation.
In case of necessity, any person can baptize
provided that he have the intention of doing that which the Church does
and provided that he pours water on the candidate's head while saying:
"I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy