Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The MOST Theological Collection: A Basic Catholic Catechism

"Part XII: Baptism and Confirmation"


Browse by Title
New Search
Table of Contents for this Work

Baptism: Spiritual rebirth

1. Meaning and Conferral

Baptism is the Sacrament that makes us members of Christ. It is given in a rite of washing to signify spiritual cleansing and rebirth.

The matter used for Baptism must be natural water, not milk or some other liquid. If there are some natural impurities, as there would be in a running stream, these do not impede the effect. The candidate can be completely immersed, or water can be poured on the head, in such a way that the water flows, to signify cleansing. At the same time the one baptizing must say the words "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In case of necessity, anyone can baptize; however, outside of necessity the minister should be a Bishop, Priest, or Deacon.

2. Spiritual Effects

Baptism removes all guilt of every sin, original and personal, and cancels all punishment due to sin. The Sacrament of Penance can also forgive all sins committed after Baptism, but there may be a liability of temporal punishment remaining.

The infused virtues of faith, hope, and love are infused along with grace at Baptism. There is also a beginning of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, making possible the practice of the Beatitudes. There is some debate among theologians, which the Church has not settled about these Gifts, chiefly: are they really the same as the infused virtues? The best view is this: These Gifts could be compared to receptors, fitted onto the structure of infused virtues, that make it possible to receive inspirations and movements on the wavelength used by the Holy Spirit.

One of the things we can receive through these Gifts is a high form of guidance. The lowest kind of guidance a person may follow - much different from that of the Gifts - is the whim of the moment. Aristotle says to follow that is "a life fit for cattle" (Ethics 1. 5). On the much higher, second level, the guide is human reason - which as a matter of fact will be aided by actual graces, even if the person does not know about them. On that second level we often move from step to step to decide something. But on the third level, that of the Gifts, the answer is given by the Holy Spirit at once, without any step by step process. Of course, this needs great care to avoid imagination, or autosuggestion. Usually the guidance leaves one slightly uncertain: a signal to consult a superior or director. In special cases where that is not possible, certitude may be given.

There is a also a question about the number of the Gifts: The Hebrew original of the Old Testament in Isaiah 1:1-3 gives six; the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) gives seven. Really, there are very many kinds of Gifts God gives us.

The complete list of the seven Gifts is this: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord. The high form of guidance just described, and infused contemplation, are unlikely to appear until souls are well advanced spiritually. Some other helps, such as understanding, fear of the Lord, and fortitude, may make their effects felt earlier.

Wisdom makes a soul responsive to the Spirit in the contemplation of divine things, through a sort of affinity to them. Understanding is the gift for grasping revealed truths easily and profoundly, and gives insight into truths. Counsel perfects prudence, and is the channel for the special guidance of which we spoke. Fortitude strengthens one to carry out what faith suggests in spite of great difficulties. The gift of knowledge helps us to see how little things of the world are compared to eternity. . Piety leads to being devoted to God as our Father, in a reverential way. It also leads the soul to recognize Christ in others. Fear of the Lord is a deep reverence, not a servile fear. .

Baptism gives an indelible character, of conformity to Christ. The Gifts provide that conformity especially in accord with the same gifts in Jesus Himself, of which Isaiah the prophet spoke in 11:1-3.

Not even mortal sin removes this character; hence a person remains Christian even if he falls away from the faith. Hence too Baptism cannot be repeated.

3. Necessity for salvation

Baptism is necessary in the sense that one who knows of the obligation imposed by Christ and refuses to accept it could not be saved. However those who through no fault of their own do not know the Church, but yet keep the moral law as they know it, with the help of the grace God freely provides, can be saved (cf. Vatican II, LG ยง16). We call this situation that of baptism of desire, since the will to do what God wills implicitly includes the desire for Baptism and the Church.

The Church has never decided what happens to unbaptized infants who die without baptism. It is certain they do not suffer hell, from the teaching of Pius IX: "God in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishment who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault" (Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863). Sadly, some today deny this teaching, and want to say God eternally punishes these infants, and also adults who never had a chance to hear of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas held (De malo q. 5, a. 3, ad 4) that these infants can never reach the vision of God - since grace is needed to make their souls capable of it - but that they have a natural happiness, and do not know what they have missed. Some theologians today think God will find a way to go even beyond this. The Church has not pronounced on the matter.

So there is a grave duty to baptize an adult in danger of death, if the adult wants it, and to baptize a dying infant if the parents do not interfere.

If someone is baptized with only the essential rite, in emergency, and then survives, the solemn ceremonies should be supplied later.

Baptism should be received as soon as reasonably possible after birth, to fulfill the command of Christ. And also today we know there is such a thing as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, in which the baby dies abruptly nd without any warning.

4. Ceremonies, Ritual, Sponsors

The ceremonies are largely the same for infant baptism and for adults, except that the adult baptisms are usually done during Mass, and especially in the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

The chief elements are: 1) The reception, in which the sponsors and parents declare they want the child baptized; 2) readings from the New Testament and intercessions; 3) Exorcism and first anointing; 4) The baptismal promises: a renunciation of satan, and profession of faith; 5) the Baptism proper; 6)anointing with chrism, clothing with a white garment, giving of the lighted candle, the prayers over ears and mouth.

If a person is baptized after reaching the use of reason, he/she must believe the basic truths of the faith, have sorrow for sins (at least out of fear of God's just punishments) and a desire to receive the Sacrament.

There should be at least one sponsor, or godparent, even though that is not needed for the validity of the Baptism. Sponsors take on the obligation to watch over the child in case the parents fail to provide for its religious training.

The child should receive the name of a Saint, for Baptism symbolizes a new life in Christ. That Saint becomes a heavenly protector.

Commonly today for adults there is a period of preparation in which they are first admitted to the catechumenate, and then go through a period of learning and spiritual formation, in several stages, before the solemn Baptism in the Easter vigil.

Confirmation: Spiritual strengthening

1. Meaning and Conferral

The Old Testament prophets, even without a clear idea of the Holy Spirit, had foretold that the Spirit would be poured out over all mankind (cf. Joel 3:1, Isaiah 44:3-5, Ezekiel 39:29). Jesus Himself promised the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16-17 & 26; John 16:13; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5). This promise He fulfilled on the first Pentecost (Acts 2). On that day, the Holy Spirit coming down in the form of tongues of fire, gave them the gift of speaking in strange tongues so that those present could understand, and He gave also the seven Gifts, especially the gift of fortitude, which transformed the once timid Apostles into fearless messengers of Christ.

In the first age of the Church, many received the Gift of tongues and other charismatic Gifts at Baptism or at Confirmation. Later these gifts became rare in the mainline Church; But the seven Gifts are still given, routinely, by this Sacrament.

Confirmation is the second stage of initiation, Baptism the first. Confirmation is especially intended to give strength to hold firm in the difficulties of life. Part of this is the grace to be able to testify to Christ in a world that does not accept His principles. And in time of persecution, it is from this gift of fortitude that martyrs gain their strength and courage and also a the strong faith needed for endurance.

This special strength and light comes from the sacramental grace of Confirmation. It is not given all at once, but as it were a book of tickets is given, to be used to call for help at many times of need.

Confirmation, like Baptism, imprints a spiritual character of conformity to Christ.

Like Baptism, Confirmation makes one like to Christ especially in 1)being able to bear suffering like Christ the priest; 2) in witnessing to the truth like Christ the teacher, 3)in leadership like Christ the King, to draw others to follow Him and spread His kingdom on earth, which the Church.

Confirmation also increases sanctifying grace, that is, increases the capacity of the soul to take in the vision of God in the life to come.

The minister of confirmation is normally the Bishop, who does so by virtue of his office. However in the East, priests also have this right, In the West, it is often given today to priests.

Confirmation can and should be received by any baptized person who has not already received it. In the East, it is given right after Baptism, in the West, sometime after the use of reason is reached.

Since Confirmation imprints a spiritual character, it cannot be repeated. To receive the full effects of confirmation, one must be in the state of grace; if not, when that state of grace is regained, the effects of Confirmation follow.

2. The Rites

Vatican II changed the rites, making them more like what the Eastern Church has been using. The renewal of baptismal promises comes before the Sacrament; it is given during the Sacrifice of the Mass, and a new formula of words is now used, taken from ancient Eastern liturgy, to help bring out that the Holy Spirit who is received comes through apostolic succession going back to the first Pentecost, through the consecration which the minister received through the imposition of hands.

The present rite, modified by Paul VI in 1971, includes a first imposition of hands with a prayer (this is not essential but valuable) and then the Sacrament is conferred by the anointing on the forehead with chrism while the Bishop or priest says: "Receive the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit." Chrism is olive oil mixed with balsam and consecrated by the Bishop on Holy Thursday. The laying on of hands shows that the one passes on something to the other.

To Most Collection home page