Baptism - Part 1

Baptism: Part 1 - A general introduction to the Sacraments

Meeting Jesus Today

At the very heart of Catholic Christianity is the idea that God gives himself to us through human signs and symbols, actions and gestures.

Yes God works mysteriously and invisibly, but he does so in a way suited to us as human beings. Sacraments are about meeting God in a truly human way.

 

 Our use of signs and symbols

 

A couple holding hands

We use signs and symbols all the time in order to express our inner invisible selves to others. We have no other way of doing it! We are used to the idea of making the invisible present through something visible. This is true above all in our love for someone else. Love is above all giving oneself to another, sharing ones life with another. How else can we express love without making it visible in some way – a card or letter, some words spoken, a gift, touch. This is something we rarely think about; we take it for granted in our lives with others and because it is the human way of communicating, this is the way God freely chooses to communicate with and give himself to us: the invisible through the visible. Catholic Christianity makes no sense without this central idea.

Different kinds of sign

Signs range from “mere signs” which point to something which is somewhere else (e.g. a road sign) to deeper and richer signs which somehow make present what they point towards ( e.g. the gift which takes your love to another, or even better the kiss or hug which embodies your invisible feelings).

A sacrament is the deepest and richest kind of sign and involves the closest possible link between the visible sign and what it expresses. Each of the sacraments guarantees that the Lord is present, offering himself to us through the sign. In a sacrament the Lord is present personally, face-to-face, but in a human way, through something visible.

Jesus the Sacrament

The perfect example of what we mean by a sacrament is Jesus himself: He is the fullness of the invisible God made present to us as a fellow human being. Jesus is the supreme human way in which God speaks to us and gives himself to us.  

What is the sacramental sign of Jesus?

Now that he is risen from the dead, Jesus is no longer visible to us in the same way as before. We now need a sacrament of his presence with us. THE Sacrament of the Risen Lord is the community of the church. It is through our involvement in the Church and its life that we meet Jesus and are drawn closer to him. We together are the sacrament of Christ in the world. Our life together is meant to be the visible sign of Christ’s invisible presence. That is perhaps the greatest challenge to us and our greatest vocation.  

The Seven Sacraments

We are used to using the word “sacrament” about seven key actions of the Church. Just as you and I have certain key gestures which express and communicate our real selves to others, so it is with Christ’s Body, the Church. The seven Sacraments are all actions of the Christian community which Jesus himself uses to touch us in specific ways. They are the visible signs of Jesus’ invisible working among us. They are not the only way he works, but they are the main ones.

Any human community needs seven basic rituals to survive, especially when it spreads and gathers momentum:

  1.  A rite of Welcome, drawing someone into the community.

  2.  A rite of full membership, commissioning a person to take full responsibility.

  3.  A rite of coming together, especially at a meal where we share our lives together.

  4.  A rite to heal divisions and overcome weakness.

  5.  A rite coping with serious sickness.

  6.  A rite integrating love and family into the community.

  7.  A rite commissioning people for a gathering, guiding and leadership role.

Jesus himself does all these things in his Church through the Sacramental rites of the Church. It is important to see the Sacraments as Jesus himself, coming to meet us, reaching out to us and touching us in various ways. Without this idea of Jesus ministering to us through visible signs, the Catholic view of Baptism, Confirmation, Mass, Reconciliation (or Confession), Anointing of the sick, Marriage and Holy Orders, makes no sense, and just seems like imposing institutional ceremonies on people. No, a sacrament is all about Jesus himself coming into our lives and touching us in a very personal way, but in a way suited to us as human beings.

As in any personal relationship such signs do not work like magic Jesus guarantees his presence in each Sacrament; if we are to grow closer to him then we must respond with love.

The Catholic Bishops of Britain and Ireland in their document “One Bread, One Body” give a good summary of what Sacraments are.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 28 v 20), we read ..... The Risen Lord has promised to be with us always, to the end of time.

How can we be in touch today with Jesus Christ who no longer walks the earth in the same way as he once did? We believe that his invisible presence is made visible and tangible for us through special, “sacramental” signs. A sacrament is far more than simply a sign post pointing towards something greater elsewhere. Each Sacrament is a effective sign which makes present what it signifies. Sacraments are “specific ways in which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Jesus makes his saving presence and action effective in our midst. Because the Lord is present and at work in them, sacrament “bring into our lives the life-giving action and even the self-giving of Christ himself”. Through Sacramental signs, instituted by Christ himself, we are put “in touch”, with the saving mystery of Christ here and now. The more we respond in faith to His presence, the more a sacrament becomes a truly life-giving encounter with Jesus himself. This understanding of “sacrament” lies at the heart of our Catholic Faith.

During the preparation for the baptism of your child make a note of any points you would like explained further and you will have the opportunity to put these to the priest. Please don’t by shy about mentioning any point or action which worries either of you. It is important that the day of your baby’s baptism doesn’t become an ordeal but a family occasion to be enjoyed and celebrated by everyone present.

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