The following is part of a continuing series on the Church, salvation and the Sacraments. We’re beginning our exploration of the Sacraments themselves and where better to begin than with Baptism, the Sacrament by which we become members of the Body of Christ.
In the series to follow this one we’ll be looking more closely at the Old Testament background of the Church and the Sacraments, but I want to spend some time reflecting on the Church as the Barque of Peter, carrying the faithful safely across the crashing waves of the world, guiding them on their journey home to the Father. I’ll base these reflections mostly on the sources listed below in the acknowledgements. I offer the drawing below in the hopes that it will help you to visualize what I’m saying and will help me too.
Let’s look first at the entry into the Church, the Sacrament of Initiation par excellence: Baptism.
Note that Baptism is placed in our graphic showing the physical structure of the church building at a point that is just past the vestibule. You’ll see an opening there and some wavy lines. These lines represent the water of Baptism by which one becomes an adopted child of God and is received into His covenant as a member of the Body of Christ. This is the entry into the Church and the Sacrament itself usually takes place at the physical entryway to drive the point home to the faithful. A baby being baptized may not be able to reflect on the symbolism but the rest of the congregation is there too and it is the nature of symbols to speak to us whether we realize it or not. That is part of the reason the Church uses symbols, and not the oft-repeated idea that it was once the only way to teach the unwashed ignorant masses of uneducated Catholics. Symbols speak to us, the arts, speak to us all because we are all human. And, as we will see, the teachings of Christ are aimed at making us human, at restoring our humanity to us after the awful wounding of the Fall, and transforming it to a state that our first parents could not have imagined even when they were in Paradise before that Fall.
Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit…
In Baptism we enter into Christ’s Death with Him. And we rise to new Life with Him too. We receive Divine Grace, which is a participation in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. It is not a mere sign of a decision that we have made, an empty ritual that we perform. It is an act that God the Holy Spirit performs in our souls and changes us, causes us to actually be adopted into the Family of God, which is what the Trinity is. The Trinity is a Communion of Persons. We share, we participate in that Life, that Communion, when we receive Baptism from the Church, into the Church, into the Body of Christ.
That reminds me of another point: we receive Baptism. We are received into the Church. Later we will receive Confirmation and we will receive Holy Communion. We do not take any Sacraments; Holy Mother Church gives them to us and we receive them. I know that there are some people who think that this is all semantics and unimportant, but they could not be more wrong. Words mean something. Jesus, you’ll remember, was the Word. Is the Word, the Logos. He is the very meaning of Meaning itself.
This is no time to be imprecise or downright fuzzy or sloppy. We are speaking of eternal and sacred things here. It’s hard enough to speak of the mysteries without making them even more incomprehensible through lack of care in our use of language. Our language influences our behavior, as our behavior influences our language and both influence our hearts and minds, so we must take care not to think that we can take hold of Holy things, as if we were worldlings groping in the dark as we did before Christ drew us to Himself. Now is the time for walking in the light of day, in the Light of Him Who is the True Light Who enlightens all men.
Now I know that there will be some, mostly among our separated brethren, who will deny that Baptism is anything more than a mere sign, even after all I’ve said. So in the next section we’ll need to take a look at what the Church has to say about it. And the first place we will look is in Holy Writ itself, the word of God, Whose Author is the Word, the Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity.
Thank you for reading and I hope you’ll join me here again soon as we continue to explore the Church and the Sacraments and their role in our salvation.
All Scripture quotes in this article are from the Douay-Rheims Challoner version in The Word free Bible study software (or you can read Genesis in the DRC ). I owe much of the following line of thought to many sources over the years, not the least of whom are Scott Hahn in his many and marvelous works; Pope John Paul II in his staggering work of genius, the Theology of the Body; and Fr. Richard Hogan and Katrina Zeno in their series, The Theology of the Body, available as a free downloadable audio series in EWTN’s Audio Library (link broken, May 22 2019, will try to search for it and update this post).