In Part 1 on Baptism, we looked at the origins of baptism as found in the Scriptures, along with a few details of its development in the history of the Church. In this installment, we look at the essential parts of the ritual for baptism, along with the graces received or “effects” of the sacrament.
In every sacrament, the most important elements of the rite that make each sacrament what it is are the “matter” of the sacrament and the “form” of the sacrament. The matter is that visible or perceivable part of the sacrament – or the “stuff” through which God wills to give us grace. Meanwhile, the form is the prayers/actions that are said/done so that the matter of the sacrament may effectively communicate that which God wants to give us. In the rite of baptism, the matter of the sacrament is the water that is used; the form of the sacrament is the three-fold washing or immersion in the water with the pronouncing of the baptismal formula: “[Name of person], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These being the essential elements of the sacrament, the baptism ritual includes other prayers with anointings with oil, along with the conferral of various visible elements (such as the lighted candle, the white garment, etc.) which further express the received graces of baptism. Likewise, the ritual usually includes readings from the Scriptures, prayers over the child to indicate their belonging to Christ and being delivered by Him from sin, prayers of petition to God with the intercession of the saints, and prayers of blessing upon all gathered. However, it is to be emphasized that the graces of baptism are conferred through the washing with water while saying the formula – as these elements are the matter and form of the sacrament.
As for the “effects” or graces received, baptism above all confers the forgiveness of all sins – and in particular, forgiveness of the “original sin” that is upon each soul from the moment of conception, which we inherit from Adam and Eve and which separates us from God. Due to this original sin (as was covered in earlier installments on the creed) we come into this world separated from God, with the eternal life of heaven remaining closed off to us. Through baptism in Christ (which receives its power through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ as do all the sacraments) this original sin is washed away, uniting the one baptized with God and opening up the gates of heaven. We accordingly become children of God and rightful heirs to His Kingdom to live in perfect unity with Him and all His own.
The primary effect of baptism being forgiveness, baptism includes other effects that flow from this forgiveness of sin. First of all, we recognize baptism as the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the one baptized, as the Spirit comes to dwell in their hearts (this descent of the Holy Spirit is symbolized by anointing with chrism oil). Likewise, through baptism we become members of Christ and his Church, able to participate in the other sacraments. Finally, we note that through baptism our souls receive an “indelible mark,” or character that expresses that we forever belong to Christ, as baptism in Christ can never be removed (which is why we are only baptized once). This indelible mark can be envisioned as a stamping of the cross on our soul that remains eternally, claiming us for Christ.
In the next part, we will look at who administers baptism along with the right recipient of this sacrament.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the paragraphs 1229-1245 speaks of the ritual of baptism, and paragraphs 1262-1274 speak of the effects of the sacrament.