Baptism is the formal sacramental initiation into the Catholic Church. In the Catholic Church, we baptise small babies to ensure they are welcomed into the Church and cleansed from original sin as soon as possible. In other Christian churches, people are fully immersed into water as adults.
I went to a baptism of a close friend that took place in the Tamaki Estuary many years ago. Her dad is a Baptist pastor, and she was baptised by walking fully clothed into the water! I thought she was very brave. This practice reminds us of how Jesus himself was baptised in the River Jordan by St John the Baptist. We have a special feast day in January to remember Jesus’ baptism.
For children to be baptised in the Catholic Church, parents need to undergo a baptism course. Baptising your child as a Catholic comes with a serious responsibility. You are agreeing to raise your child as a Catholic, teach them the values of the Catholic Church and attend Mass. It is not just a piece of paper to help get a child into Catholic schools! It does seem to be treated this way by some.
It can be seen as a way of the Church evangelising parents who are not attending Mass regularly, and offering a way of coming back home to the Church. For some, they will have non-Catholic spouses, so it’s important they feel welcomed and not judged as they come back into our Church family.
Talking with colleagues this week, they acknowledged (none of them attend church regularly) that secular people still feel a pull to celebrate and acknowledge their children’s arrivals. One of them had naming ceremonies for their children in lieu of baptism. They talked about how the term “godparents” is so loosely applied now; there is a secular view that godparents are the people who will take on the care of your child if the parents die. Ours will be pleased to know godparents aren’t named in our wills for that purpose, and when you have multiple children with different godparents — if that was the case — they would all end up living with different families.
The true purpose of godparents has been lost. At the baptism, a child’s godparents have to acknowledge the Creed, and agree to support the parents in raising the child in the Catholic Church.
For us, baptisms were the first time that our children were part of the larger family and friends group. It was a pivotal time when they were physically and spiritually welcomed into the Catholic Church. The candle they had at their baptism can be used again — for example, at the sacrament of confirmation. The symbolism of light is an important part of baptism — “May the child keep the flame of faith alive in their heart”. The journey is only starting on the day of baptism. Attendance at Mass is the most important part of bringing a child up in the faith. Even when they think it’s boring, even when they don’t want to be there.
Baptism can be filled with big words (like the “Oil of Catechumens”) and unfashionable concepts (Do you believe in Satan?), and this can put off people who aren’t members of the Catholic family. It is important to help people see and respect the ritual of this sacrament. Traditionally, the child is to be changed after baptism into their white clothes, which is a visual symbol of the cleansing of sin, but this often doesn’t happen now for practical reasons. Every baptism is a potential point of conversion for anyone attending, and plays a vital role in continuing to grow our Church. Even talking at work about attending a baptism led to a conversation in which I could bear witness to my faith with a group of people, with whom I wouldn’t normally talk about faith. Lord help us to bring souls to heaven!
John 3:5; “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit’.”
Helen Luxford is a physician, working part-time. She is a parishioner of St Michael’s, Remuera. Together with her husband Michael, they are raising their children in the Catholic Faith and reflecting on the challenges and joys that brings.