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The Taste of Victory: Conference
The Symbols of Baptism — Our Claim in Christ’s Easter Victory
- When We Were Baptized, the Universe Changed Forever Renouncing Satan
- Renouncing Satan
- The White Garment
- The Light of the Easter Candle
- The Waters of Baptism
- The Astonishing Lack of Baptismal Awareness
- Keeping Our Baptism Fresh:
- Conclusion & Questionnaire
When We Were Baptized, the Universe Changed Forever
The day we were baptized, the universe was radically altered. We might think that it had been radically altered the day we were conceived, since on that day a new person with an everlasting spiritual soul had come into being. But at our conception, that everlasting spiritual soul of ours still had some serious problems. Its most serious problem was its being destined for eternal separation from God.
That sounds shocking, and it is, but we can fully appreciate the joy of baptism only if we fully appreciate what it saved us from, namely the flames of frustration that burn forever in Hell. That’s where we were headed, because we were born into a fallen race, one that had been conquered by the devil in the original sin of its first parents.
They trusted the devil more than God, using their freedom to abandon God instead of to love and serve him. As a result, they cut themselves and all their descendents off from friendship and communion with God, putting the whole human family under the devil’s power.
So on the day we were conceived, it’s true that a
new person came into existence, but it was a person destined for eternal destruction, which would be a real tragedy for us as individuals, but wouldn’t radically alter the rest of the universe.
This original condition of every human soul before baptism is explicitly acknowledged during the baptismal ceremony. After the Liturgy of the Word, the rite of baptism calls for a prayer of exorcism, in which the priest calls on God to free the un-baptized soul from the power of the devil.
The prayer of exorcism summarizes not only the meaning of baptism as the door to communion with God and membership in the Church – the family of God’s adopted children — but also the meaning of life itself, which, for Christians, is nothing more (and nothing less) than a difficult and dangerous journey to heaven and a battle against the forces of evil — but that journey and that battle are also joyful, because we don’t have to go it alone; Jesus, with his Easter victory, has paved the way ahead of us and travels the road with us.
One of the approved forms of this initial prayer of exorcism goes like this:
Almighty God, you sent your only Son to rescue us from the slavery of sin, and to give us the freedom only your sons and daughters enjoy. We now pray for these children who will have to face the world with its temptations, and fight the devil in all his cunning. Your Son died and rose again to save us. By his victory over sin and death, cleanse these children from the stain of original sin. Strengthen them with the grace of Christ, and watch over them at every step in life’s journey.
The prayer makes pretty clear what happened at our baptism, and what happens at every baptism: Christ’s victory over sin, death, and evil, is planted like a flag in our hearts, and becomes our victory over sin, death, and evil.
And the rest of the rich symbolism of the baptismal ceremony continues to expand on that same message.
The exorcism prayer is followed by another pre- requisite for baptism: the baptismal promises, which take the form of renouncing sin and Satan and professing faith and loyalty to Christ.
Sin is rebellion against God, and a soul that is in the state of sin cannot at the same time be a vessel of God’s grace. So the Church requires a renunciation of sin before calling God’s Spirit to take up residence in someone’s soul.
Un-baptized adults make this denunciation themselves, but infants depend on their parents and godparents
to make it for them — much as Jairus’ young daughter was miraculously raised to new life through her father’s intercession, as St. Mark narrates in Chapter 5 of his Gospel — and then to teach them about Christ and the Church so that when they reach the age of reason they can renew it freely on their own.
The words used in this renunciation make its seriousness clear. All of the various formulas involve an explicit, personal reference to Satan, the devil, the leader of the fallen angels.
In one formula, for instance, the priest asks the parents and godparents:
Do you reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God’s children? Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin? Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness?
Another formula gets even more specific:
Do you renounce Satan, and therefore sin as the negation of God, evil, as the sign of sin in the world, error, as the blotting out of truth, violence, as contrary to charity, selfishness, as lack of bearing witness to love?
These questions show how seriously the Church takes baptism, how seriously the Church takes sin and the devil, and how serious is the commitment that goes along with the grace of baptism.
The simple prayer of exorcism and the no-nonsense baptismal promises clearly express why the day of our baptism made such a considerable cosmic splash.
On that day our everlasting spiritual soul was rescued from original sin’s slavery to the devil.
On that day, Christ’s Easter victory became our Easter victory; his Resurrection became the promise of our resurrection.
On that day, the waters of baptism brought the very life of God into our souls, making us into children
of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, and active members of his Church.
Such is the astonishing dignity of a baptized soul.
The White Garment
The liturgy expresses this spiritual rebirth by clothing the newly baptized in a white garment.
The priest explains its meaning like this:
You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.
It is a very human thing to express your personal identity in the clothes you wear.
By giving the newly baptized a white garment, the Church adopts this custom to show that a baptized soul has taken on a new identity, the identity of Christ himself, who is reigning now in heaven, clothed, as the Book of Revelation describes, in a white robe.
White symbolizes glory, heaven, newness of life, and the fact that our souls have been cleansed from sin by the blood of our Savior.
The Light of the Easter Candle
The garment eloquently expresses the newness of life enjoyed by a baptized soul, but the liturgy uses another symbol to express the dynamism, the vitality of that life: the baptismal candle.
While one of the godparents lights the child’s baptismal candle from the burning Paschal, or Easter, Candle
— a symbol of the dynamism and force of Christ’s resurrection — the priest proclaims: “Receive the light of Christ.”
That Paschal Candle symbolizes the Old Testament pillars of fire and cloud that led God’s people safely out of their slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, through the wilderness of their Exodus, and into the Promised Land.
And of course the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud in the Old Testament foreshadowed Christ himself, who rose from the dead in order to lead us out of the slavery of sin and into the Promised Land of grace.
Every year, the Church blesses this Candle during the Easter Vigil, proclaiming Christ’s Lordship over every corner and space and time.
All of that symbolism, all of that power, is invoked by lighting the baptismal candle from the living flame of the Paschal Candle: through baptism, we become members of God’s people, pilgrims on our way to the Father’s House, living flames of grace lighting up the world.
Once the baptismal candle is lit, the priest continues:
This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He is to walk always as a child of the light. May he keep the flame of faith alive in his heart. When the Lord comes, may he go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly Kingdom.
When we were baptized, therefore, a divine flame sprang up in the depths of our soul; the very life of the resurrected Christ became the soul of our soul.
The Waters of Baptism
But the most powerful symbol of what happened on the day of our baptism, when we were born again, as Jesus himself puts it in the third chapter of John’s Gospel, is the water itself.
Before we were baptized, the priest blessed the water, calling to mind all the Old Testament prefigurations that reveal baptism’s immense power and significance:
the waters over which the Spirit of God hovered at the moment of creation;
the waters of the Flood that cleansed the earth from sin and saved Noah and his family, an image of the Papacy and the Church;
the waters of the Red Sea, through which the People of God passed in order to be freed from slavery and oppression in idolatrous Egypt;
the water that flowed from the rock to refresh the Israelites during their forty-year desert journey;
the waters of the Jordan, in which Christ himself was baptized, showing his mysterious identification with every member of the sinful human race…
Even as a merely natural element, regardless of
these and plenty of other biblical appearances, water eloquently expresses the rich meaning of baptism, as the Catechism makes clear:
its clarity symbolizes the brightness of faith;
its coolness symbolizes the calming of sinful passions accomplished by the coming of the Holy Spirit;
its cleansing properties symbolize the washing away of all sin;
its necessity for life of any kind symbolizes the reality of new, supernatural life that the baptized soul enjoys in Christ;
its importance for a fruitful harvest and a stable community symbolizes the eternal peace and prosperity of the heavenly Kingdom.
All this, and much more, was evoked when we were baptized. It was the most important day of our life, the day when Christ’s victory became our victory. It was a miracle, an astounding miracle.
An Astonishing Lack of Baptismal Awareness
But what’s even more astounding is how little difference it makes in the lives of so many Catholics.
For many of us, baptism is little more than a social ceremony, a quaint tradition and a vague religious obligation that serves as a convenient opportunity for family get-togethers and nice pictures.
The fact that the universe radically changes at every baptism often gets lost in the ribbons and cake.
The priceless gift of grace can be forgotten, ignored, or squandered, and baptized children of God end up being indistinguishable from the un-baptized, equally dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, popularity, and profit, as if they were merely citizens of this world, and not primarily citizens of Christ’s Kingdom on their way to heaven and soldiers of the Church engaged in the ongoing battle between good and evil.
Keeping Our Baptism Fresh: Conclusion & Questionnaire
A tested tool to avoid falling into that trap is to renew our baptismal promises on each anniversary of our baptism: we can have baptism parties in the same way that we have birthday parties — after all, our baptism was our spiritual birthday.
Baptismal promises can also be renewed at the conclusion of spiritual retreats, or during special liturgical celebrations, as we do during the Easter Vigil. Individually, we can renew those promises on a regular basis:
for example, every time we make the sign of the cross with water from the holy water fount in our parish church (that’s one of the reasons it’s there, by the way);
or every time we visit a chapel and see the sanctuary light burning near the Eucharist, a light that can remind us of our baptismal candle;
or every time we get dressed for Mass, we can intentionally put on clothes that will make us remember the white garment of our baptism, the garment which we promised to keep clean and spotless.
Easter was Christ’s Victory Day, the day that the unconquerable Paschal Joy first appeared in the world. Every baptism is an extension of Christ’s Victory Day into the life of another one of God’s beloved children. If we can increase our awareness of the reality of baptism, surely we will be able to increase our experience of the joy of Christ’s Easter victory.
You may want to take some time now to prayerfully reflect on the following ten questions, which are designed to help you listen to whatever God may be saying in the depths of your heart about how you can live Easter more deeply, enjoying more fully the Taste of Victory.
￼1. Remember the baptisms I have been to in the past. What struck me most about those ceremonies and why?
￼￼2. Why do many Catholics show little awareness of the real meaning of baptism?
3.Explain in my own words the connection between Christ’s Resurrection and the sacrament of baptism.
4. Of all the symbols surrounding the ceremony of baptism, which one strikes me as the most powerful and why?
5. Why would God choose to welcome us into
his family through a ceremony so full of material things: water, two anointings, candles, crying babies, godparents, etc…?
6. The ritual for baptism mentions Satan and the powers of evil multiple times. What do I think
of that? How firmly do I believe in the reality of spiritual warfare (that there are evil forces at work in the world trying to distance me from God)?
7. Why do we celebrate birthday anniversaries?
8. Why don’t more people celebrate baptism anniversaries?
In my own words, thank God for the miracle of my
10. From now own, what will I do to keep fresh my awareness of Christ’s Victory and my experience of the joy that comes from sharing in it?