The Feast of Jesus’ Baptism is celebrated on January 13 in the Latin Rite liturgical calendar (January 6 in the Eastern Catholic rites). This is also the eighth day in the octave of the Epiphany and the final day of the Christmas season. On this feast day we celebrate this epiphany or manifestation of Our Lord, as well as the Sacrament of Baptism itself and the divine power it gives us. In fact, this feast day is a traditional occasion for many baby baptisms in both Eastern and Latin Rite Catholic Churches. Just last week I sat in on a lecture by an Eastern Rite Catholic deacon on baptism and the rich theological meaning of this beautiful Sacrament. He said again and again throughout his talk:
“God is more extravagant in re-creating us through baptism than in initially creating us.”
God created humans to be sinless corporeal beings, filled with divine life and in intimate communal relationship with Himself. When Adam and Eve marred this communion through disobedience, thereby plunging humanity into spiritual death and giving them a sinful nature to inherit in perpetuity, there was nothing that humans could ever do to restore this back to the way it was. When Adam and Eve fell from grace, God had to intervene and “undo” or “fix” our corrupted nature. And the way He did this was quite extravagant, even more extravagant than what was first done in the Garden of Eden.
God’s accomplishment of our redemption was as extravagant as it could be through the Incarnation of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and the Atonement he offered on our behalf on the cross. Jesus, as fully God and man, is the joining of two ways of being. The Incarnation is the perfect union of not just two natures but two different orders of existence, infinite being with finite being, creator with the created. Jesus was God, living and walking among us specifically in order to accomplish salvation for us and to bring us back to the Father. This is pretty much like the old adage, “moving heaven and earth”, or rather, “fusing heaven and earth” in the hypostatic union.
But Jesus was not only born for us, and not only died for us, but he actually lived for us (that is, he showed us how to live a life in self-giving, loving obedience to the Father) and left us with Sacraments that he instituted during his life that serve as means of divine grace along our way of salvation. The very first of these and the key to all the rest is the Sacrament of Baptism.
Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his public ministry. It is foreshadowed in the Old Testament by Israel passing through the waters of the Red Sea on their way to enter the Promised Land. Thus baptism is the gateway, the initiation into the Church and God’s heavenly kingdom. Jesus was baptized himself first, thus initiating the Sacrament and sanctifying the waters (the material substance through which grace or power of the Sacrament would be given to all of us). With Jesus’ baptism he left behind for us a sign, so that by us imitating His baptism we will receive his divine life.
Baptism is a renewal, a regeneration, a rebirth. At baptism the original sinful nature we inherited drowns or dies, or is buried, and we are recreated through the sanctifying waters and given a new “robe of incorruption”. It is a foretaste of our own resurrection. Through the Sacrament of Baptism we again become sons and daughters of God, free of our inherited sin nature, and raised to the dignity of angels . . . a new creation. Or, as the deacon said, “At baptism God becomes to the soul what the soul is to the body”. Through baptism we become participators in God’s divine life.
Catholic Gifts Related to the Sacrament of Baptism: