In this series of essays Father Manny considers the nature of The Sacraments and reflects upon their meaning in our lives.
The Sacrament of Baptism
The other day a gentleman came to the presbytery door to ask if he could host a christening in our Church. It was an unusual turn of phrase which said a lot about his concept of baptism. For him it was primarily a social occasion designed to celebrate with family and friends the birth of his child. The Church’s role was to provide the venue and ritual.
My initial instinct was to pounce with some sort of rebuke to the effect that it was not his place to ‘host ’anything in our Church. It was the House of God and not for hire. Happily I resisted this temptation and rather tried to understand this father’s good intention to celebrate the joy of his child’s birth.
In baptism we do of course give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of new life but for us this is not only the gift of life on earth but the gift of eternal life in heaven.
You may have noticed that in our older churches almost all the baptismal fonts are eight sided. Why? This is symbolic of the seven days of creation followed by the eight day of the New Creation brought about by Christ’s rising from the dead.
In baptism we go down into the tomb with Christ so as to rise with him. The font is the womb of the Church in which we are reborn to everlasting life. Usually we pour water on the child’s head at baptism but in actual fact the primary symbolism of baptism is total immersion in water. It is a ritual death. We are plunged in to the waters of death so as to rise again to new life.
Having been baptised by water and the Holy Spirit the rest of the service seeks to illustrate this great truth. The three prayers accompanying the anointing with chrism, the clothing with the white garment and the reception of the lighted candle all conclude with references to the everlasting life of Heaven.
In fact the title ‘Christ’, given to Jesus literally means ‘anointed one’. The anointing with chrism reminds us that through our baptism we have become other ‘Christs’, Anointed Ones, sharing in His divine and everlasting dignity. The white garment, usually a Christening Shawl signifies the New Creation, the garment of salvation. The lighted candle evokes the Risen Christ, that light which is dispels the darkness of sin and death.
If only that father at the presbytery door had realised the greatness of the gift which he had requested. Baptism is nothing less than the participation in the very life of Christ. He is the host inviting us share in this great celebration of His victory over sin and death.
Rev. Emmanuel Gribben