September is Catechetical Month in this archdiocese. Fr Gabriel Julien offers some thoughts in a two-part series on the Sacraments.
The Sacraments are an outward sign of inward grace. They are also a personal, religious experience from God. The Sacraments reflect power and grace that come from God. This is ever-living and life-giving because they display the masterworks of God. They involve the working of the Holy Spirit and bring us into the new and everlasting covenant.
The Gospels often speak about the power of Jesus. It is stated that power left Jesus when He healed the woman who was suffering from haemorrhage. Jesus also exercised the power to forgive sins (Mk 2:9). Thus, Jesus used signs in His healing. He used mud and spittle when He healed the blind man (Jn 9: 6–7), and He gave the spoken word (Mk 10:52) as well as eye contact (Lk 22:61).
Signs are visible symbols that speak of the invisible. They reveal qualities about the object they represent. In a similar way, the Sacraments signify the grace of God which is the invisible reality.
Generally speaking, the Sacraments of initiation are Baptism and Confirmation. The Sacraments of healing are Penance and Anointing of Sick. The Sacraments of service are Marriage and Holy Orders.
The Sacrament of Baptism
Baptism, according to John 3:3–5, is a Sacrament whereby people are reborn spiritually by water and the Holy Spirit. Galatians 4:5–7 states that people become adopted children of God, and 2 Corinthians 5:17 teaches that they become a new creation.
Furthermore, 2 Peter 1:4 says that they become partakers in the divine and share in the very life of God. Because Baptism is a sign of washing and new birth in Christ, it cleanses the soul from all sins.
Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders produce a permanent change in people. They also imprint an indelible character on the soul and can be received validly only once.
Matthew 28:19 teaches that Baptism is a Sacrament commissioned by Christ. It is the first Sacrament of Christian initiation. It brings new members into the Church and into a relationship with Christ. It is a new birth, new life and a new creation and according to Romans 5:12, it takes away original sin.
Water is very important in most religious traditions. It signifies life-giving and blessings from God and it is used in Baptism. Water is a natural symbol of life because it sustains all forms of biological life. It renews, cleanses and refreshes the human body as well as quenches thirst.
Water is necessary to sustain the growth fertility of plants. Although water could be considered a sign of prosperity and happiness, it can be destructive. Floods destroy crops, lives and homes. Polluted water brings diseases and consequently death.
In the Old Testaments, Exodus 40: 12, 30–32, the priests purified themselves through a washing ceremony before they carried out their rites in the Tents of Meeting. On the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16, the high priest bathed before putting on the priestly garments and performing sacrifices.
Furthermore, the books of Leviticus 11:24–40, 14:1–8, 15:1–13 and Numbers 19:1–24 also prescribed washing as part of rites intended to end ritual uncleanness brought about through contact with unclean objects. Because ritual washing was very familiar in the Old Testament, Psalms 24:4, 51:7, it was used as a metaphor with spiritual and moral signifying. In some instances, Ezekiel 36:25, Zachariah 13:1 there were eschatological overtones.
Christian Baptism is done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Baptism according to Romans 8:23 brings the first fruits of the Holy Spirit a foretaste of what is to be received in the future (2 Cor 1:22, 5:5 and Eph 1:14).
Paul, in Romans 6, presents a profound reflection on the significance of Baptism. He makes the apt connection between Baptism and the death of Jesus. Through Baptism, people die to the vices of the world and rise to a new life with Christ. This new life must be in accordance with the Holy Spirit.
Baptism has a communal dimension since it incorporates everyone into God’s family. Galatians 3: 27–29 states that through Baptism all people belong to God.
The Rite of Acceptance into the order of Catechumens is the first major ritual step of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The question that is asked is: ‘What do you ask of God’s Church?’.
The Rite of Baptism for Children begins with the reception of the children. Then the parents are asked what names they have given to the child and what they ask of the Church.
With the beginning of Christianity, new communities developed through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there was a need to introduce new members into these communities.
Acts of the Apostles says that 5,000 were baptised. The New Testament teaches that Baptism developed very early as a means of initiation for those who wanted to join the Christian community. Later, in addition to initiation, Baptism was seen as a Sacrament that removes sin and prepares people on the path to Heaven.
Baptism is a rite through which people become members of the Church. It is not the only rite of initiation. The RCIA considers Baptism with Confirmation and First Communion as Sacraments of initiation.
By Fr Gabriel Julien