Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.(CCC 1275)
In the next few posts, I intend to make a few brief remarks about the Sacraments of initiation. At a later date, I will, of course, expand greatly upon these, Biblically and historically, and, God willing, we will explore the Summa Theologica, Part III as it deals with the Sacraments in depth, much as we are currently doing with the Incarnation.
“Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God.”
It is clear from Scripture that it is Christ Himself who instituted baptism, although exactly when is disputed. In the third part of his Summa, Question 66, article 2, Thomas Aquinas tells us that:
“Sacraments derive from their institution the power of conferring grace. Wherefore it seems that a sacrament is then instituted, when it receives the power of producing its effect. Now Baptism received this power when Christ was baptized. Consequently Baptism was truly instituted then, if we consider it as a sacrament. But the obligation of receiving this sacrament was proclaimed to mankind after the Passion and Resurrection.”
Thus Christ tells us in Mark 16:16 that “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Furthermore, he instructs the disciples, saying “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19)
But baptism, like any sacrament, binds us, but not God. Therefore, He can certainly save those that are not baptized. I offer here a few examples from the Catechism. However, this in no way implies that salvation is “universal” and somehow conferred on all.
CCC 1258-1259: The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.
Nevertheless, the normal way to enter the Church is through baptism, the first sacrament of initiation. Is immersion necessary for a proper baptism? Again, Thomas tells us:
“Although it is safer to baptize by immersion, because this is the more ordinary fashion, yet Baptism can be conferred by sprinkling or also by pouring, according to Ezekiel 36:25: “I will pour upon you clean water.” (III, Q.66)
One of the earliest Christian documents we have, after those of the New Testament itself, is the Didache. In chapter seven of this short work, it tells us, concerning baptism:
“And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”
What, then, is the importance of water? It symbolizes many things, one being a washing from sin. But more primarily, it is a symbol of death, as in the flood, or the parting of the Red Sea, when wickedness was destroyed. Paul tells us in Romans 6 what happens in baptism:
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:3-4)