During a baptism ceremony, the celebrant anoints the newly baptized with the sacred chrism oil, so that united with God’s people the child may remain forever as a member of Christ, who is priest, prophet and king. The child is given a white garment, to symbolize the condition of the baptized soul, cleansed from the guilt of original sin and infused with sanctifying grace. A lit candle is given to the family to remind all that as baptized people, we are called to carry the light of Christ to the world.
Baptism requires commitment to grow in this new life and to strive to acquire spiritual maturity.
In infant baptisms, parents are expected to raise the child in the Catholic faith, and godparents should be good role models in the faith and assist parents in passing on the faith. If a Catholic parent or their spouse has been away from the Church, that time of preparation before their child’s baptism should serve as a warm “welcome home.” It’s an opportunity for all to renew and deepen the grace received in baptism.
The Church welcomes those who seek to renew their faith and share this living faith with their children. A major concern is that often families intend to return to the Church only for the period of baptismal preparation and leave as soon as their child is baptized. Baptism should be seen as an opportunity to return to a fuller and more active membership in the Church, rather as something one is supposed to do when one has a newborn child.
In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the number of baptisms have fallen by 50 percent in the last 25 years. The percent of baptisms that involve children of registered parishioners has dropped from 87 percent to 76 percent since 2007, with similar trends seen nationwide. We all need to work to counter the declines.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops highlights some points about baptism that help us reflect and act on on our own baptism. The sacrament:
• Makes us members of the Body of Christ. It’s the rite of initiation into the Christian community. We’re unified with each other and Christ.
• Reveals the equality and dignity of each member of the community. There’s equality of race, nationality, social condition and sex.
• Requires us to reject sin and reassess our values, decisions and lifestyles.
• Commits us to the Church’s beliefs, values and vision.
• Invites us to a vocation of holiness and the practice of charity.
• Leads us to imitate Christ’s example. We commit to living the Beatitudes and love of God and neighbor, imitating the lives of the saints.
• Makes us apostles to the world. We teach the Catholic faith, care for the sick, the oppressed, the debilitated and sinners in our community and the world, extending truth, love, compassion and mercy to the world.
Baptism isn’t just a one-time thing. It is the beginning of a life of grace, meant to carry us to heaven.