Saint John Baptizing (Poussin)

Sara and Justin Kraft

Who Can Receive the Sacrament of Baptism?

What defines a Christian? There are no other words which so simply summarize the meaning of Christianity as the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” It is through baptism that we enter into a restored relationship with God. But what is baptism?

More Than a Symbol?  

blog imageMany people believe that baptism is just a symbol, but the Catholic Church believes it is much more. The Catholic Church refers to baptism as a “sacrament of initiation.” Sacraments are comprised of actions that are more than merely symbolic. Rather, sacraments provide a visible sign which make present God’s grace in a particular way (CCC 1131). In other words, sacraments provide visible actions that help us to see the saving action of God.

Baptism is the sacrament by which we first enter (initiate) a restored relationship with God. Jesus, Himself, stresses the importance of baptism in both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:16) “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:5)

Baptism defines the Christian life because it is through baptism that we take on Christ’s name. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” In this action we take on the name of the Holy Trinity. Through baptism we receive a “sacramental character or “seal”’ which sets us apart, defines us, and “remains for ever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace” (CCC 1121). We are no longer called by our given name but now can truly be called by Christ’s name. We are Christian.  

Baptism FAQ

1. Who can be baptized?

The Catholic Church teaches that “Every person not yet baptized and only such a person is able to be baptized.” (CCC 1246)  Baptism can only be received once because the grace of baptism remains with us forever (CCC 1121). As such it is not possible to be baptized more than once.

2. Does it make sense to baptize infants?

Why do Catholics baptize infants? After all, how can they have faith in Christ? This is a very powerful objection if we view baptism as merely a symbolic action by which the believer declares his faith in Christ.

However, the objection begins to fade when we recall that sacraments are more than symbols. As Catholics we believe that sacraments are “… actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.” (CCC 1116) Baptism is much more than a declaration of belief and its effectiveness in no way relies on us.  

Furthermore, faith cannot be separated from the community of believers. Rather, “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it.” (CCC 1124) After all, we have all received the faith from someone else. “When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles” (CCC 1124) and “It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe.” (CCC 1253)

In this way, infants (and really all of us) are actually baptized on the faith of the community of believers rather than our own faith. As such, infants are dependent upon the faith of their parents for baptism as God grants the graces of baptism at the request of the parent rather than the infant. In this way, infant baptism exemplifies the “sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation” (CCC 1250) which comes from God alone. God reaches down to us as a free gift which we can in no way merit (whether we are an adult or an infant).

3. What am I promising if I baptize my child? Do I need to be perfect?

As stated above the baptism of a child is really a grace which flows from the faith of the community. The parents of the child are the most immediate representatives of this community. Parents, however, do not have to be perfect to ask for this grace. Circumstances such as separation, divorce, or mixed faith marriages are not obstacles to baptism. Nevertheless, parents who ask to have their children baptized do take on great responsibility in doing so.

In requesting to baptize a child on the basis of his/her own faith, parents enter into a number of promises before God which should not be taken lightly. Parents promise to renounce Satan and all his evil works and acknowledge the beliefs of our Christian faith. Parents also promise to pass on the faith to the child (who, as an infant, is incapable of making baptismal promises on their own). Parents who baptize children should be committed to the spiritual education of the child. This includes a commitment to weekly Mass attendance and preparation for other sacraments such as first communion, confession, and confirmation. They should be dedicated to instilling a Christian sense of morality within in their children, engendering good actions and repentance for failures. Because imitation is the primary way that children will learn these things, parents should be prepared to make a renewed dedication to their own spiritual growth as they baptize their children.   

4. What do Godparents Promise?

During an infant baptism, godparents (also called sponsors) promise to help the child “to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.” (Canon 872).  This means godparents must be prepared to both support and help the parents in the spiritual education of the child.  They must be prepared to solely take on the task of passing on the faith to their godchild if for any reason the parents are unable to fulfill the promises they made for the infant at baptism.  

Baptism is a defining moment in the life of every Christian (from infants to adults) and should be the defining moment in our life. For in baptism we become more. “Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ…”(CCC 1213). This day let us renew our commitment to the Lord and rededicate ourselves to our baptismal promises.