Sacraments of Christian Initiation: baptism for infants Print
Year of Faith
Thursday, Dec. 06, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

By Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB

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The previous installment in this series spoke of Baptism for Adults. The Church has shown its understanding of this sacrament’s importance by creating the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

But the Church has always had the tradition of baptizing infants and children also. Thus, Acts 16 and 18 speak of three instances in which the “whole household” was baptized. Patristic evidence assures us that the practice of Infant Baptism continued unbroken in the first centuries — and so it has been down through the ages.

Faith of the Church

Faith is an essential component in the Sacrament of Baptism. It is not magic: sacraments work because of the faith of the Church and the participants, responding to the wonderful saving grace of God that is available in those sacraments. When it comes to infant baptism, the emphasis is placed very strongly and in a unique manner on the latter part of sacramental action — the action of God’s grace. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The sheer gratuitous-ness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant baptism” (1250).

God doesn’t have to love us, but He wants to. God wants to love us so much that He gave His only-begotten Son, Who by His passion, death, and resurrection has saved us and made us God’s own. Little children must not be excluded from this divine saving Love: baptism of infants makes that divine Love very concrete.

Gift of God

The child, to begin with, is a great gift of God to the parents. Such a gift, by its very nature of being an undeveloped person, calls for nurturing, formation, and education. This is so that when the child is mature he/she can negotiate the realities of daily life in a wholesome and fruitful way. The life of God in a child calls for something just like natural life: parents and godparents play a very special role in this sacrament, in a way that parallels the way children need to be cared for by others in the natural order.

In the Church’s Rite for the Baptism of Children, families, parents, and/or godparents are mentioned 24 times in the Introduction, and 32 times in the Rite itself — a total of 56 times! Stressing their role in the Rite is a way of stressing their role in the faith-development of the child, which necessarily must come after the celebration of the sacrament.

Signed with the cross

Thus, at the beginning of the Rite, the child is signed with the Sign of the Cross, to show that he/she is being claimed by Jesus Christ the Savior as His own — and the parents and godparents share the action of signing.

They are going to be the instruments of Jesus in carrying out His claim. They must speak for the child in the Renunciation of Sin and the Profession of the Faith. They help with the clothing with the white garment, which symbolizes the new dignity that the child has as a child of God. They voice the Lord’s Prayer — which they in turn will teach to the child as soon as he/she can pray — and thus they show their faith that this child is very definitely God’s child, and hence has the right to call God Father.

Throughout the Rite, we find reinforced the idea that as the parents are nurturers of the natural life of the child, so they must also be nurturers of the supernatural life, the life of God in their child.

Journey to heaven

Baptism launches the child on the great journey that leads to everlasting life in heaven, when the Kingdom of God will be fully experienced in love and endless joy. All of us, whether baptized as infants or as adults, should take a moment to renew our faith as we think about this great sacrament. This, in turn, should lead to gratitude, which in sacramental terms means, to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Abbot Marcel Rooney, O.S.B., is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music and Art, resident in the Madison Diocese. The Institute is devoted to helping people understand more and pray better the sacred liturgy.