Baptism: What really happens Print
Guest column
Thursday, Mar. 12, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Patrick Gorman

The last four articles have reflected upon the elements of the Baptismal ritual leading up to the actual Baptism.

Some of these elements are the welcoming of the candidate for Baptism, the sign of the cross, the blessing of the water, and the renunciation of sin and profession of faith.

The actual Baptism is really quite simple. The Baptism takes place with water which is either poured over the head of the person being baptized or in which he/she is immersed (standing or kneeling in the water), while the baptizer invokes the Trinity:

"I baptize you in the name of the Father (water), and of the Son (water), and of the Holy Spirit (water)."

What a sacrament does

It couldn't be simpler, and yet it is anything but simple! The Catechism defines "sacrament" as a visible sign of God's grace which was instituted by Christ, entrusted to the Church, "by which divine life is dispensed to us" through the Holy Spirit.(1)

In other words, the sacraments do something to the recipient. For example, we see what looks like bread and wine, but through the eyes of faith we believe that it has changed substance completely and now is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord. We can't see it, but we believe it.

What happens in Baptism

In Baptism, we experience or see a person immersed in the font or with water poured on the head while the baptizer invokes the Trinity. What we know and believe is that the baptized person is changed by God.

Baptism forgives all sins (original and personal); it cleanses our souls; it makes us a new creation, a co-heir with Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In Baptism we die to sin and rise in Christ, we are buried in Christ and we rise with Christ. We become members of Christ’s Body -- the Church. We become Priests, Prophets, and Kings.

We are crucified with Christ so that we may rise with Christ. Baptism leads us to the Eucharist, which can be called the repeatable Sacrament of Initiation. The list could go on and on because Baptism is the basis for the whole Christian life.(2)

Imagine that! You and I and all who are baptized are dead to sin, we've been crucified with Christ, our souls have been cleansed, and we are now alive in Christ, a new creation, a people set apart.

Like Noah and his family, God saved us through a great flood of water;(3) like the Hebrews in exile, God made a path for us through water;(4) and like Naaman the leper, God has cleansed us and healed our wounds.(5)

God's gift of grace

By God's grace we are changed. Grace is a free and gratuitous gift from God that he provides in many ways.

Grace helps us to seek and live out the will of God. I like to think of it as God's gift to conform our lives more fully to the perfect template of Jesus Christ, the God-Made-Man.

While God shares this freely, we still have the free will to decide whether or not we will cooperate with the grace. We cooperate with regular prayer and seeking God's will in all things.

We also cooperate by going to Confession. Penance (another sacrament) offers God’s forgiveness, healing, and mercy. There is no sin too big for God to forgive. Once again, we are filled with God's grace to continue doing his will every day.

One body

One final thought for reflection -- while we are each baptized as individuals, we are baptized into the Body of Christ (the Church). Therefore, we are compelled to love and respect everyone -- even if they belong to another political party, or if they cheer for another team, prefer more contemporary worship (or more traditional worship), if they are an immigrant or act differently from us, etc.

Be careful, because Jesus says that loving one another shows the world that we are his disciples.(6) The devil is the great divider. God seeks the unity of all.

Reflecting on Baptism

Perhaps you can reflect on your own Baptism this Lent. You may not remember what happened, but you know what happened.

How do you live life as a new creation, as one who has died to sin? What does it mean to be a Priest, Prophet, and King? Do our words and deeds give witness to the power of God's grace, or do they cover it up?

Do I admit to myself that I sometimes fail and need to seek God's forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance?

Baptism is more than a symbolic ritual. We know that it, like all sacraments, is an outward sign of an inward grace. Baptism does something to us that can't be taken away . . . it forgives, saves, unites.

(1) Catechism of the Catholic Church, glossary.

(2) Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1213.

(3) See Genesis 6:5 and following.

(4) See Exodus 14:1 and following.

(5) See 2 Kings 5:1 and following.

(6) See John 13:35.


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