Why did you have your child baptised?
by Sr Tamsin Mary A talk for parents of first communicants
In the next couple of weeks we will be talking to your children about baptism, and they will perhaps ask you questions. This session is a reflection on the type of answer you might want to give to them.
Between seven and ten years ago you became the parents of a new little person. Your lives changed forever, and you entered (or re-entered) a world of sleep deprivation and nappies, baby-grows and feeding times. In among all of this you fell in love. And you chose to have your baby baptised.
What were you thinking, what were you doing when you did that?
You did it primarily because it was to be done, like the registering of the birth, the health checks and the weighing, the feeding and the washing. Much of what we do in our lives we do on a general principle, not in a very thought out manner. I suspect that if someone had put you on the spot and said 'why?' a great variety of answers would be given, but what you said might come to mind afterwards, without necessarily having been totally thought through.
You want the best for your children. You are a beloved child of God, made in His image and infinitely precious to Him, and He sent His only Son into the world to bring you into a relationship with Him. You want that for your child. This is the first and best reason to have your child baptised.
Baptism is the gateway to the Sacraments, as it were membership of the Heavenly Kingdom.
It reconstituted your child into the graced life, that freedom for excellence which is the privilege and responsibility of Christians.
What I am about to say is a rundown of the ceremony. It is possible that for some of you it is not quite what happened – but so long as the water was poured and the words ‘I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ were said, your child is properly baptised. The other parts of the ritual work as it were to symbol is what is implied by the sacrament. You remember how it went. At the physical entrance to the Church, symbolising the whole Church, the priest asked you what name you would give your child and what you were asking of the Church. You probably said 'baptism', but when I was baptised the set answer was 'faith'. These answers amount to the same thing, since at baptism a little seedling of potential faith was implanted in your child's life. You have watched this grow through the years. If you pray with your child you will have had ups and downs, struggles and sweetness. But all has been to secure the growth of faith in the heart of your child.
Then the priest, you parents, and the godparents of your child all drew a small cross with your finger on the forehead of the baby, to claim them for Christ. This symbolised the fact that your child was about to be brought into the Christian community. Your child was about to be baptized in the faith of the Church, a faith proclaimed for them by their parents and godparents, who represented both the local Church and the whole society of saints and believers. The Cross of Christ shows that the price of coming to that community is one which includes sacrifice, but in a context. The context is of a Saviour that has gone before us every step of the way, and a community which is there to support and sustain us in the journey.
The priest then said the prayer of exorcism, to drive away from your child the powers of darkness and sin (The devil!) This ritual relates to the fact that baptism is not simply about infancy, but has relevance for the whole of life, when we need protection from the dark things of so as to have our ears open to the good.
Then the word of God was read. The words of scripture remind us that our being in the Church is fundamentally about a relationship with God, a God Who addresses each of us personally in the words of Scripture. Whenever you go to Mass, it is a good idea to pray to the Holy Spirit to open your hearts and your ears to hear what God is saying to you in the particular words of Scripture that are read. There is always a particular message for you, mediated to you through His Church.
Then the priest anointed your child with the oil of Catechumens. A catechumen is a person preparing for baptism. This anointing relates to the use of oil in the ancient world by wrestlers going out to fight. It served the double purpose of making the muscles supple and making it difficult for the opponent to keep hold of the wrestler. In life your child, and all of us, need both, in the spiritual realm: the agility of heart and mind to be clever and strong in upholding the true the good and the beautiful, and agility of spirit to slip away from what would do us harm.
Then the priest blessed the water to be used for baptism, calling down the Holy Spirit upon the font. Baptism cleanses from original sin and from real sin, but the process is caused by, and is more about what the Fathers of the Church called deification. Baptism made your child a Temple of the most high God. Jesus said 'we will come to Him and dwell with him'. This indwelling is caused by the Holy Spirit coming down, cleansing and making holy.
The last thing before the actual baptism was the renewal of baptismal promises: let’s remind ourselves of what was said by renewing those promises So:
Do you reject Satan?
And all his works?
And all his empty promises?
Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
You made these baptismal promises on behalf of your child. You expressed your rejection of the devil, all his works, and all his empty promises, and restated your belief in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is not just a formula. As humans we are 'logikos' people of the word. What we say affects who we are. Rejecting evil in all its forms verbally is the beginning of the process of becoming real in our actions and words. Belief in -really 'into' the Holy Trinity and the Church expressed in words during the Creed each Sunday at Mass is one of the ways, though not the only way, of cementing our relationship with God, analogously to the way words like 'I love you' 'I trust you' 'thank you' and 'sorry' when they are spoken and received in the right way cement and strengthen our relationships with our families. The way we pray is the way we are.
There followed the baptism itself, the threefold dipping of your child in the font, or the three-fold sprinkling with holy water, while the priest said ‘I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ At this point your child became alive with the life of the Holy Trinity, a temple of the most high God, a new creation. Something so simple, and so quiet is said by St Thomas Aquinas to be more wonderful than the creation of the world, because through it your child entered into the very life of God. The water symbolises the passing through from death to life, the rebirth as a citizen of Heaven. From that moment your child had the dignity, beauty and responsibility of life in Christ.
This was re-emphasised by the next rite, where the priest anointed your child with the oil of Chrism. The prayer that was said was ‘God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life’
Your child is a priest, a prophet and a King! That is what you did for them when you brought them to be baptised.
How so? The priesthood of all the baptised is in part what you are now bringing your child to be prepared for – we are all able to participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass, to receive our Living Lord into our hearts and bodies.
It may have happened to you that an Evangelical friend asks you ‘Do you have a personal relationship with Christ?’ If your receive Holy Communion you do, right up close and personal, receiving Him, Body, blood soul and divinity into your own body. You do not get much more up close and personal than that!
The priesthood of the laity (that is all of us who are not ordained priests) is chiefly prophetic, in that we share our faith in our words and actions in places where the ministerial priesthood has no function – in our family life, our communities, our places of work, in our social lives. You can tell that there is a sense of this prophetic office because ‘being a Catholic’ is one of the things that is evidenced about politicians and criminals, saints and sinners if they reach public notice, and when Catholics fail there is an implicit sense that it is as Catholics that they have done so. We are to be ‘the salt of the earth, the light of the world, but if salt loses its saltiness it is not use and will be thrown out to be trampled under men’s feet.’
Your child is a King: Not a queen, even if she is a girl, because this Kingship is part of becoming part of the Body of Christ, sharing in His Kingship.
The oil of chrism is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In a few years time your child will again be anointed with chrism, when they are confirmed, receiving the Gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and becoming soldiers and witnesses of Christ, adult members of the Church.
After this, your child was given a lighted candle and a white garment. The white garment symbolises the being clothed with Christ, and the dignity and purity that this confers. We each have had that dignity, and it is our work now to maintain and support this in our children.
The lighted candle symbolises the light of Christ, the faith which you then undertook to take in trust, to keep burning brightly, as you endeavour to help your child to walk always as a child of the light. If you had an older child at the ceremony, many of you will have had to spend some effort in preventing them from immediately calling out ‘Candle, birthday, blow it out’. At least that is what I have seen more than once at baptisms. That was fun and funny, but in all seriousness, we live in a place and time where many people will strive actively to put out in your child the light of faith in Christ, and for the next few years what you do as parents will have a huge impact one way or the other in whether they succeed. So if you want your children to have the knowledge and light of faith, and when the Lord comes to go out to meet Him in the heavenly Kingdom, then show your children the example of love and forgiveness, pray with them and for them, and teach them the faith that you yourselves have received. If you feel unequal to the task, that is realistic, but if you yourselves build up your own practice, knowledge and love of the faith, your children will follow suit. The family that prays together stays together.
The next part of the rite was the Ephphetha or Prayer over Ears and Mouth The priest touched the ears and mouth of your child with his thumb, saying: ‘The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.’
This is called th ‘ephthetha’ prayer because Our Lord in one of His miracles used that very word in healing a deaf and dumb man. It means ‘be opened.’ your child was here given the power of hearing and speaking the word of God. One of the delights of teaching children their faith – which you will share in a particular way as parents if you share your faith with your children, is that this is proven again and again – there is so often on the lips of children a true and pure expression of the things of God, if we only had ears to hear.
The Conclusion of the rite was a prayer I shall say in a moment. You will see from it that you are as it were on track. Well done! The little experience I have had with children makes me feel the profoundest respect and admiration for all reasonable parents, but especially those who manage to bring their children up in the faith. Keep up the good work and God Bless you all:
Dearly beloved, your child has been reborn in baptism. He (she) is now called the child of God, for so indeed he (she) is. In confirmation he (she) will receive the fullness of God's Spirit. In Holy Communion he (she) will share the banquet of Christ's sacrifice, calling God his (her) Father in the midst of the Church. In the name of this child, in the Spirit of our common sonship, let us pray together in the words our Lord has given us: