Recently, I attempted to describe the beauty surrounding the Sacrament of the Last Anointing. At least it is beautiful when circumstances allow it to be carried out in the fullness of its liturgy. I think that came into my mind because of late I have been saying goodbye to a number of lifetime friends. That happens when you are in your 80’s!
Today, permit me to go in the other direction. I would like to talk about baptism which centers around birth and new life. Today we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism more effectively than we did before the Second Vatican Council. It may be that in the past many saw baptism as a sweet, cute little ceremony involving this beautiful baby and a family that was so happy because of that child’s arrival. There is nothing wrong with that but there is much more involved. In baptism, the mother and father have given birth to another wonderful human being. Their life has been passed on to the next generation and there is more to life and more levels of life than simply that of natural birth. When the parents have faith they want that child to have their faith which is belief in Jesus Christ and a desire to live a life walking in the footsteps of Christ.
Today baptism is seldom celebrated with just one child or for one family. More properly, families are clustered together so that five, six sets or even maybe ten or more babies may be baptized at one time. Many parishes conduct baptism on one particular Sunday of the month with the entire congregation present. This can produce some logistical problems for families on a tight schedule but it is a reflection of a profound reality about baptism. When a person is baptized he or she enters into the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. He or she is absorbed into the community of faith which binds us to God the Father through Jesus and binds all of us together at the same time.
In baptisms, symbols abound! Candles are burning, the priest or deacon is vested, a large baptistery is present containing water that was blessed by the bishop during the previous Holy Week. The baby or babies are anointed which is a traditional way of declaring the sacredness of the child’s body and the sacredness of the soul that is soon to be joined to Jesus of Nazareth. The central symbol, of course, is water. Water is a symbol of life and was used even in the Old Testament to symbolize a new life, a life that is closer to Yahweh, a life that now makes us one with Jesus. Following the actual Rite of Baptism, the newly baptized is clothed with a beautiful white garment, again symbolizing a change in state of life and of its relationship to God through Jesus, and then finally, an Easter candle is lit which symbolizes Christ’s resurrection, and now symbolizes that the effectiveness of Jesus’ resurrection transcends time and reaches out to embrace this new baby. Altogether it is a beautiful and meaningful ceremony.
I am happy about the fact that people instinctively understand this and you usually find that people are exuberantly happy when present at the celebration of baptism.