Baptism is celebrated according to a set liturgical rite that has evolved over the centuries. If I were to be honest with you, in order to fully explain Baptism, the Rite and its symbolism, I would need to write a book. For our purpose, we will only look at the essential parts of the Rite of Baptism, and speak to their symbolism and meaning. This reflection is based on the Rite of Baptism for Children, but the symbolism and meaning applies to adults who are baptized as well!
Beginning at the Entrance of the Church: The Baptism begins at the entrance of the Church. This is done as a symbolic gesture of what is happening. The child being baptized is being welcomed into the Church as a member of Christ’s body. The church building acts as a symbol of Christ’s spiritual Body, the Church. Therefore, the person is met at the entrance and welcomed into Christ Jesus.
Marked with the Sign of the Cross: The person to be baptized is then marked on the forehead with the sign of the Cross by a priest or deacon, the parents and the godparents. This symbolic gesture is an indication of what is soon to take place! The child will be marked by Baptism with an indelible spiritual marking from God on their soul.
Proclamation of the Scriptures: The Word of God is read and the priest or deacon gives a brief homily. This shows that faith comes through hearing the Word of God. Upon hearing the Word of God, we are reminded that it is through Our Lord Jesus baptism, we too, are called to the sacrament of regeneration and initiation into the Church.
Anointing with Oil of Catechumen: A prayer against evil is prayed over the child, and then the child is anointed with oil that was previously blessed by the bishop. This prayer acknowledges the reality of evil in our world and, at the beginning of the child’s Christian life, offers the grace of protection. The child is then anointed on the chest as a sign of receiving a breastplate of protection.
Blessing of Water: The minister moves to the baptismal font and prays a prayer of blessing upon the water. The most traditional of prayers used is one which recounts the history of God’s use of water. It recounts the events mentioned earlier in this chapter regarding the following: the Spirit breathed on the waters at Creation, the story of Noah, the Red Sea, the Jordan, and the Baptism of Jesus.
Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith: The parents and godparents are asked to profess their faith, and in so doing, to profess the faith in which the child is about to be baptized. In this Profession of Faith, they are promising to raise the child in Catholic Faith they profess.
Rite of Baptism: The essential part of Baptism is the pouring, sprinkling or immersion with water. While the water touches the person, the Trinitarian formula is said: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The minister must also have the intention to do what the Church intends to do, namely, to baptize.
Chrism: Chrism is a mixture of oil and perfume. It is blessed by the bishop at a special Mass during Holy Week called the Holy Chrism Mass. This chrism is also used in Confirmation and Holy Orders. The oil is a symbol of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the perfume is a symbol of the sweet fragrance of Christ which must always permeate their lives.
Baptismal Garment: The child is covered with a white garment, which is a symbol of being clothed in Christ. White is a symbol of purity and freedom from sin.
Candle: The parents and godparents then receive a lit candle. The candle is lit from the Easter candle, which is a symbol of Christ Himself. The light is entrusted to the parents and godparents as a way of telling them they are now responsible to keep this light of faith alive in the heart of this child through their words and actions so that the faith given in Baptism will reach culmination one day in Heaven.
Blessing of Parents: The rite concludes with a special blessing of the parents. This blessing acknowledges the fact that parents play an essential role in the Christian upbringing and formation of children who are baptized. They can only fulfill this role with the help of God!