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Baptism: Claimed for Christ Print
Guest column
Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Patrick Gorman

Lent is a season of preparation and recollection of our Baptism. This is the second in a series of several articles reflecting upon the Sacrament of Baptism.

One of the first things that we do when we meet someone is learn their name. It's so basic, yet so important.

In Baptism, the Church does the same thing.

The Rite of Baptism of Infants calls for the priest to welcome the child, parents, and godparents at the doors of the church (he does the same with adults when he welcomes catechumens). (1)

This meeting on the threshold of the church is symbolic of the greater reality of entering Christ’s Church through the Sacrament of Baptism.

Called by name

The first question that is asked by the priest is "What is your name?" or "What is your child's name?" This is both practical -- introducing the new member to the community -- and symbolic, for God calls each of us by name. (2)

While God knows everything about each of us, he calls us to the community of the Church. The word "church" is derived from a Greek word for a convocation or assembly. (3) In our case, we are a community of the baptized that is convened at the invitation of God himself.

I have heard people say, "My goal is to get to heaven and take as many people with me as I can." While this may sound good, it is not consistent with Catholic thought.

First of all, no one can save himself/herself, and no one can take another to heaven. Only God saves through his infinite mercy. This is why the way we treat others is such an important part of Christ’s message -- we all are a part of his Body.

Secondly, Baptism immediately unites us with the Body of Christ and our reception of Holy Communion continually heals and strengthens this union.

Pope Benedict XVI once observed that none of us can become a Christian on our own. First of all, we need someone else to baptize us! We also need a community (the Church) to form us.

He said, "An autonomous, self-produced Christianity is a contradiction in itself." (4) This is one reason why the Catholic Church so carefully discerns answers to difficult questions. The Church is not just me; it's not just my parish or diocese; it is universal, uniting the entire world as well as those who have gone before us in faith.

Claimed for Christ

When baptizing an infant, after the child's name is announced, the priest traces the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead while saying, "I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross." (5)

He invites the parents and godparents to do the same. For adults this takes place when they are welcomed as catechumens. Often the cross is traced on the ears, eyes, hands, etc., to show that Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection guide everything in their lives.

From the very earliest of times, Christians used the sign of the cross in prayer (even though it didn’t enter into the Mass until the medieval period). The sign of the cross proclaims victory in Christ and professes our belief in one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.

It mocks death even while proclaiming life. We are signed with the cross at our Baptism, our funeral, and countless times in between. Without the cross, there is no resurrection. The cross claims us for Christ!

Each time we make the sign of the cross we are reminded of our baptism -- that we are baptized in the cross of Christ and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One famous scholar wrote that when we make the sign of the cross, "Let it be a real sign of the cross . . . let us make a large, unhurried sign, from forehead to breast, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously feeling how it includes the whole of us . . . it is the holiest of all signs." (6)

In other words, it is neither a magical sign nor an empty ritual, so we need to be aware of why we are doing what we do.

Since Lent is a time for baptized Catholics to recall our Baptism, think about the sign of the cross next time you pray. Through this sign, carefully traced over the upper half of the body, we remind ourselves a great deal about our Baptism and our faith.

(1) The Rite of Baptism also allows the priest to begin in another place.

(2) Isaiah 43:1.

(3) Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 751.

(4) Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, December 10, 2008.

(5) Rite of Baptism, No. 41.

(6) Romano Guardini (1885-1968), Sacred Signs.

Patrick Gorman is the director of the Office of Worship of the Diocese of Madison.