“Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life . . .Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” (CCC 1213)
Holy Baptism is the foundational sacrament of the Christian life. This sacrament was clearly given by Christ as part of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19). We are called to baptize all people! But what exactly does this mean? Is it necessary to be baptized in order to enter Heaven and behold the beatific vision? Also, who is permitted to baptize?
Those are just a few of the many questions many have regarding baptism. One of the best tools to answer these questions is the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Here are some answers to these questions taken from the Catholic Catechism.
QUESTION: Is baptism necessary for salvation? ANSWER: Yes. The Church points to John 3:5 and Christ's answer to this question which states: “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” Christ makes it clear that baptism is necessary.
FOLLOW-UP Q: Since baptism is necessary, can it only be performed in the visible church? ANSWER: No. The Church holds that baptism does exist outside the visible church. For example, those who die for the faith but have not yet received baptism are baptized by blood (CCC 1258). Catechumens who explicitly desire to receive baptism and repent of their sins, but die before receiving the Sacrament, are said to receive the salvation that baptism would provide. Lastly, those who are ignorant of the “Gospel of Christ and of his Church” yet seek the truth and do the will of God, as they understand it, can be saved through a baptism of desire (CCC 1261).
QUESTION: Who can baptize? ANSWER: Technically, anyone can. “Wait . . . you're telling me that even the non-baptized can baptize?” According to the CCC, if someone has the right intention to do “what the Church does when she baptizes” and uses a Trinitarian baptismal formula to baptize someone in a “case of necessity,” then yes, a non-baptized person can indeed baptize (CCC 1256). However, the typical ministers of baptism are priests, bishops, and, in the Latin Rite, deacons.
-QUESTION: Can someone be baptized more than once? ANSWER: No. Baptism leaves an indelible spiritual mark and gives us “the seal of the Lord” (CCC 1272, 1274). No sin can erase this mark. Because we are brought into new life through baptism and become adopted children of God, we cannot be brought again, or re-adopted, into the same new life in Christ.
-QUESTION: What does the word baptism mean? ANSWER: 'Baptism' is the noun version of the verb 'to baptize'. This verb has its roots in the Greek word baptize in which means to 'plunge' or 'immerse' (CCC 1214). In baptism we are plunged into the death of Christ and are then risen up “by resurrection with him, as 'a new creature'.” (CCC 1214)
These questions are not easy to answer, but thankfully the Catholic Catechism has many of the answers. Baptism is beautiful, essential, and life-changing. Add every little thing adds to the beauty of the sacrament from baptism accessories to baptism gowns. I urge you to celebrate with those receiving the Sacrament of baptism in your life. Perhaps you can get them a small baptism gift to celebrate the special occasion, or simply talk to them about the beauty of the Sacrament. There are many gifts for a baptism can help your loved one to better understand this Sacrament now and in the future, such as Catholic books. Perhaps some of these questions will spark a conversation with a loved one who hasn't yet received the Sacrament. What questions do you have about baptism? What baptism gifts have helped you in your faith life?