The first mention of baptism in the New Testament is made in reference to John the Baptizer, who invited people to be “baptized” in the Jordan River as a sign of repentance (Matt 3:1-17). John’s baptism symbolized a desire to be freed of sin and to live more worthily. John baptized Jesus, not because he needed to repent but because he wanted to show his oneness with humanity.
John’s baptism was not the baptism given by Jesus. John said he was baptizing with water for repentance, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11). The baptism of Jesus is not merely a symbol of repentance but a powerful action of Jesus that brings God’s life to us. As Jesus explained, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit” (Jn 3:5-6).
It is within baptism that Christ unites us with himself in a new, deeper way, to live more truly and fully with him. Somehow, mysteriously, we now go with Christ through the great actions of his life, particularly his death and resurrection. We begin journeying with him to the Father. We will suffer, and die with him, and one day we shall rise with him to our real, full life after death. Baptism is the sacrament in which Christ joins us to himself as a member of his Church. Baptism is often called a “christening,” expressing how we are made one with Christ, a completely new person.
Baptism is the door to life and to the kingdom of God. Christ offered this first sacrament of the new law to all men that they might have eternal life (Jn 3:5). Jesus entrusted this sacrament and the gospel to his Church when he told his apostles: “Go, make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). Therefore, baptism is, above all, the sacrament of that faith by which men and women, enlightened by the Spirit’s grace, respond to the gospel of Christ.
The ceremony of baptism fulfills in a perfect way the deliverance to life and freedom that was begun in the Old Testament. God’s people were saved by the waters of the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s army, and given a new life of freedom. Christ leads us through the waters of baptism to free us from sin and death and give us the new and eternal life of grace. Baptism, for all intensive purposes, is our Christian Passover, our own personal exodus.
It is within baptism we are drawn into the new covenant. Under the old covenant God was present among his people in the Ark of the Covenant, which they brought with them through the desert and later enshrined in the temple at Jerusalem. Now, under the new covenant, God lives within each of his people, most intimately, and they in him. He is himself the new Promised Land; instead of a geographical territory, he gives us himself—and for all eternity.
The different effects of baptism are signified by the perceptible elements of the sacramental rite. Immersion in water symbolizes not only death and purification, but also regeneration and renewal. Thus, the two principal effects are purification from sins and new birth in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Jn 3:5).
Within baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin (Council of Florence 1439: DS 1316). In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas in response to question 69 (of the effects of baptism) in his Summa Theologica he contends that: “As the Apostle says (Rom 5:15-16) the sin of Adam was not so far-reaching as the gift of Christ, which is bestowed in Baptism: for judgment was by one unto condemnation; but grace is of many offense, unto justification.”
If one member suffers in the body of Christ which is the Church, all the members suffer with that member (1Cor 12:26). For this reason, those who are baptized into Christ and nourished at the same table of the Lord are responsible for one another. When Christians are sick, their brothers and sisters share a ministry of mutual charity and “do all that they can to help the sick return to health, by showing love for the sick, and by celebrating the sacraments with them” (Pastoral Care of the Sick). So too when a member of Christ’s Body dies, the faithful are called to a ministry of consolation to those who have suffered the loss of one whom they love. Christian consolation is rooted in that hope that comes from faith in the saving death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian hope faces the reality of death and the anguish of grief but trusts confidently; that the power of sin and death has been vanquished by the risen Lord.
In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity. Christ “achieved his task of redeeming humanity and giving perfect glory to God, principally by the paschal mystery of his blessed passion, resurrection from the dead and glorious ascension” (Vatican Council II).
The proclamation of Jesus Christ “who was put to death for our sins and raised to life to justify us” (Rom 4:25) is at the center of the Church’s life. The mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection gives power to all of the Church’s activity. “For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the sublime sacrament of the whole church” (Ibid). The Church’s liturgical and sacramental life and proclamation of the Gospel make this mystery present in the life of the faithful. Through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, men and women are initiated into this mystery. “You have been taught that when we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized into his death; in other words when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:3-5).
The Catholic Church believes that death is not just an end it is in fact a new beginning. Death is really a second birth, our life-support system, our body, will wear out because of age, illness, or accident. Everything that keeps us alive will seem to fall apart. However, death will turnout to be birth once again, as darkness turns into day and we find ourselves suddenly in the Light, fully alive at last, face to face with Jesus Christ in a new world with opportunities for growth, knowledge, and love which far surpass anything on earth.
Paul wrote: “What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind…so also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1Cor 15:36-37; 42-44).
Because Christ died and rose, death will be birth. Because Christ rose, Paul assures us, we too shall be “brought to life” (1 Cor 15:22). Our resurrection and the eternal life that will follow are essential doctrines of our faith. Trusting in Jesus, we can look forward to the moment when we shall be born and say, not just with resignation but with joy and hope: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
Finally, it is with Christ Resurrection that we are baptized into.It is also, within our expiration here that we are born anew within that same resurrection with Christ Jesus.The risen Christ himself is the principle and source of our future resurrection:“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20-22).The risen Christ lives in the hearts of his faithful while they await that fulfillment.In Christ, Christians “have tasted…the powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:5) and their lives are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that they may “live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15).