Editor's note: Today, I'm thrilled to welcome a guest contribution from Father Thomas J. Scirghi, S.J., author of the wonderful new book Everything Is Sacred: An Introduction to the Sacrament of Baptism. Father Scirghi's book is not simply a great resource for parents anticipating the Baptism of a newborn child. It's also a terrific primer for anyone looking to learn more about the Sacrament and it's meaning for not only children, but for the adults who love them as well. We thank Father Scirghi for his contribution and encourage you to pick up a copy of Everything Is Sacred for your personal library. LMH
Good news must be shared. We never keep it to ourselves. The celebration of baptism allows us to share the good news, welcoming a new member of our family. All parents believe their newborn child to be a gift – and they’re right! The sacrament of baptism expresses the belief of the parents in ritual, story and symbol. Our sacraments help to tell people what they want to say: how they wish to express themselves in this special time. We celebrate with sacraments at some of the most significant moments of our lives: birth and death, marriage and sickness. In these moments our lives take on new meaning; they gain new purpose. The rituals of the Roman Catholic Church place these moments in perspective; we understand our lives within the story of Jesus Christ and his promise of salvation.
The newborn baby is a gift. And as we all know, there are two parts to receiving a gift. One is a worthy reception, being attentive to the giver and acknowledging the gift. The other is an appropriate expression of gratitude. Our celebration of baptism demonstrates both of these, first, through announcing the name of the child and requesting baptism; second, through the washing of the child in the font, then clothing the child in a white garment, and lighting the candle to light the way for the child’s entrance into the world. All of this shows the parents’ promise to care for, guide, and protect this gift from God.
We’re all familiar with the expression “It takes a village to raise a child.” We Catholics have supported this idea for a long time. The church acknowledges the parents as the first teachers of their children, and prays that they will be their best teachers. This hope is expressed beautifully in the prayer of final blessing in the ritual of baptism. The church also acknowledges that good parents need to be supported in their role, so we include godparents. They have the specific responsibility to assist the parents in the role of teacher and guardian of the child. The godparents may represent also the responsibility of the greater community. In other words, the welcoming of the child into the church is not a momentary celebration but a commitment by the community to accompany this child along the way to Christ.
The sacramental celebration connects us with an ancient tradition through which we meet Jesus Christ. The reason we baptize is in obedience to the Lord himself. For in his last instruction to his disciples, he said “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and know that I am with you to the end of time” (Matthew 28:18-20). Our simple celebration is an act of obedience to Jesus Christ. Like the first disciples, we hear his command and we respond in good faith.
Like with all of our sacraments, the celebration is never simply about the person receiving the sacrament. Rather, it is about what God is doing through this person. The newborn child is indeed a gift and baptism gives us a chance to glimpse the glory of God through this gift.
Copyright 2012 Thomas J. Scirghi, S.J.
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