This week we celebrate the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist so I thought it might be a good time to talk a little bit about baptism. Baptism is the sacrament by which we receive the remission of original and personal sin, begin a new life in Christ and the Holy Spirit, and are incorporated into the Church, the body of Christ. (CCC) We need to recognize that we not only recognize baptism in the Catholic Church but also the validity of other baptisms that may not share in the full intent of incorporating one into the Catholic Church but that it does share in the other characteristics of baptism. This is why if someone was baptized in the Lutheran Church and desires to come into the Catholic Church we don’t baptize them again since we believe they already have the indelible mark of baptism, but rather we will receive them into the Catholic Church by a profession of faith.
With baptism, as with most of our sacraments, we realize there is the minimum that is required but that normally, if at all possible, the sacrament is celebrated in a manner that more fully expresses its importance. For a valid baptism all that is needed is water and the appropriate words baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Also, in case of emergency, anyone is capable of baptizing, they do not even have to be baptized themselves as long as they have the proper intent of what they are doing. I know in nursing schools they used to teach how to baptize in case a nurse was delivering a baby and there was concern that the child was going to die. But as I said, those are the minimum requirements that are only to be used when there is an emergency or danger of death.
The proper minister for baptism is a bishop, priest or deacon. And even they are to obtain the permission of the local authority if they are outside of their territory (diocese or parish). And while baptism can be celebrated anywhere the proper place is in the parish church of the one being baptized. The water and the words may be all that is necessary for a baptism, but the normal celebration also includes a reading from Scripture, anointing with oil, a profession of faith, reception of a baptismal candle that is lit from the Easter Candle, and blessings of the parents for an infant baptism.
Like the other sacraments, and like so many things in our lives, there are times when it is necessary and we have to avail ourselves to the exceptions and minimal requirements, but when it is something as important as a sacrament, especially one that we only receive once, why wouldn’t we want to celebrate it as fully as possible?