Baptism in the Catholic Church is a holy sacrament whereby a person is blessed with water and Chrism oil and welcomed into the Church. Baptism removes original sin and places an indelible mark on the person’s soul. While a person is typically baptized as an infant, the sacrament can be received up until the point of death.
Whether you’re preparing to have yourself or your child baptized, you’re about to become a godparent, or you’re looking for a refresher or educational tool, we’ve created this guide to baptism in the Catholic Church to answer commonly asked questions.
From the purpose and meaning behind baptism to life after baptism, read on to learn more about this rite of passage in the Catholic Church.
The Purpose and Meaning Behind Baptism in the Catholic Church
Baptism is a sacramental ceremony that all Christian denominations practice. In the Catholic Church, it’s one of the holy seven sacraments and the first of three sacraments of initiation. Below, learn the meaning of baptism, what a typical ceremony looks like, and more.
1. What Is Baptism?
Baptism is a holy sacrament during which an infant or newly converted Catholic is blessed with holy water and chrism oil, and then welcomed into the Catholic Church. Most often, baptism takes place during Catholic Mass, or as its own, separate ceremony before or after Mass.
2. What Is the Meaning of Baptism?
The Catholic faith teaches us that baptism washes away original sin. Original sin isn’t a personal sin of the unborn, but rather it’s sin that’s passed from generation to generation by birth. Essentially, everyone is born with original sin, and baptism washes it away.
3. Where Did Baptism Come From and When Did Baptisms Start?
Jesus Christ instituted this sacrament. During His time and thereafter, John the Baptist adopted baptism as the central sacrament within his messianic movement. Early Christians were baptized as adults, but today infant baptism is often the norm.
4. What Does the Bible Say About Baptism?
In Acts 2:38, Peter says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In 1 Peter 3:21, he also writes: “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Did Jesus Command Baptism?
Yes. In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus says: “Go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.”
In John 3:5, Jesus also told Nicodemus, “I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
Symbols of Baptism in the Catholic Church
The Catholic faith is steeped in tradition and important symbols. Certain symbols are present for all of the holy sacraments, and the Sacrament of Baptism is represented by five symbols.
5. What Are the Five Symbols of Baptism?
The five symbols of a traditional Catholic baptism ceremony are:
1. The cross
2. A white garment
5. Light (fire)
6. What Is the Spiritual Meaning of Water During Baptism?
The Sacrament of Baptism has always been intertwined with water. Water is particularly symbolic because it represents the physical washing away of one’s sins. It also pays homage to other important Biblical stories such as Moses parting the Red Sea and Jesus turning water into wine.
7. Why Do Babies Wear White for Baptism?
White is the color of purity, and wearing white at baptism represents the clean slate a person receives. In addition, white symbolizes that a newly baptized Catholic is now clothed in the mantle of God, and that they’re beginning a new life in His image. Of course, white garments are also present during other holy sacraments such as First Communion, marriage, and Holy Orders.
8. What Does the Candle Represent in Baptism?
Candles and light have multiple symbolic meanings within the Catholic Church. At baptism, a person’s godparents light a candle, representing the person’s new life in Christ. Both light and water are needed to sustain life on earth. And in the same way, they’re needed to sustain one’s faith in Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus is affectionately known as “the light of the world.” So, when the baptism candle is burning, it signals that He’s present.
Being Baptized by the Catholic Church
While baptism in the Catholic Church is a sacrament of initiation, it’s also the sacrament of faith. According to the Vatican, “The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop.” This is also why we reaffirm our promise to God and the Church on Easter Sunday. Every year, we must renew our promise to live a life dedicated to God.
9. Who Can Perform a Baptism in the Catholic Church?
Baptisms can be performed by bishops, priests, and deacons. However, in some extreme situations, anyone with the right intention can technically baptize since baptism is necessary for salvation.
10. How Do You Explain Baptism to a Child?
Explaining baptism to a child doesn’t have to be difficult. One option for explaining this important rite of passage is to tell children that baptism is the first time a person gets to meet Jesus, and the ceremony itself is a welcoming party into the Catholic community.
Books, games, and videos can also help you explain baptism to your child. The Brother Francis “Born Into the Kingdom” DVD is one of our favorites.
Preparing for a Baptismal Ceremony in the Catholic Church
Depending on your role in the baptism ceremony, some preparation may be required. If you are the parent or godparent of an infant about to be baptized, or the sponsor of someone converting to Catholicism, you should know what to expect during the baptism ceremony. Read on for ideas, tips, and helpful guides for preparing for a baptismal Mass in the Catholic Church.
11. What Do You Wear to a Baptism Ceremony?
Dress in your Sunday Best! If you’re simply attending the baptism ceremony, wear what you’d normally wear to Mass. As a parent or godparent, however, you may want to dress up a bit more. All eyes will be on you as you’re called to the front of the church for your child’s blessing, and there’s a good chance grandma will be snapping pictures. Men typically wear a suit and tie, with or without the jacket. For women, a nice dress, skirt, or formal pants are all great options.
12. Where Do You Buy a Baptism Dress?
You can buy a baptism dress almost anywhere you buy baby clothes. Baptism dresses should be white, symbolizing purity and new life. Nordstrom has a wide selection of baptism outfits for girls and boys, as do other retailers like Buy Buy Baby, One Small Child, and even Amazon! Keep your baby’s toes warm throughout the ceremony in these adorable baptismal socks.
13. Do You Bring a Gift to a Baby Baptism?
Yes! Baptism is an important sacrament of initiation in the Catholic Church and should be celebrated as such. It’s common to give a newly baptized baby, or their family, a gift.
You may choose a keepsake they can keep forever, like a music box, ceramic cross, or a guardian angel night light. Or, maybe you want to give the baby something they can play with right away, like a quiet time church kit, lil’ prayer buddy, or a plush rosary.
14. Are Godparents Required for a Catholic Baptism?
Yes, Godparents are required for Catholic baptism. A person can have one or two godparents. Godparents must be confirmed Catholics who are at least 16 years old, who are not the parents of the child, and who promise to be a role model for the newly baptized. A baby’s parents typically choose friends or siblings to be their child’s godparents. Godparents attend the baptism and stand as witnesses while the child’s parents vow to raise the child in the Catholic Church.
Life After Baptism
Baptism is truly the first step in a lifelong journey through faith in Jesus Christ. Immediately following a baptism ceremony, families and loved ones typically hold a reception or party. But it’s after these festivities wrap up that we begin to appreciate our new union with Christ.
15. What Comes After Baptism in the Catholic Church?
Baptism is only the very beginning of a faith-filled life. Once baptized, you are officially a member of the Catholic Church. After baptism, you will receive other holy sacraments, in a specific order: Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation.
If you get married, you will receive the sacrament of marriage. Should you choose to become a priest or deacon you will receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, and, if you fall ill, you may receive the anointing of the sick. Whatever sacraments you receive, the Church encourages you to dedicate your life to serving Jesus and strengthening your Catholic faith.
16. How Do You Live Out Your Baptismal Promises?
Living your life in accordance with the Catholic faith, regularly attending Mass, confessing your sins, and giving back are easy ways to fulfill your baptismal promises. More tangibly, every time you enter a Catholic church, you can reaffirm the promises made at your baptism by making the Sign of the Cross with the holy water available in holy water fonts throughout the church.
17. Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
Yes, baptism is necessary for salvation. In order to meet God at the gates of Heaven, Catholics must be baptized. Those who die without being baptized enter Purgatory after death before they can ascend into Heaven. Those who die without a baptism of water can still be saved by a baptism of desire or blood and we entrust these people to the mercy of God. If a baby is at risk of death shortly after birth, a priest, deacon, or someone else with the required intent can perform the baptism at home, a hospital, or any other place in order to prepare the baby’s soul for salvation.
Baptism Is New Birth
Each of the seven holy sacraments of the Catholic Church are important rites of passage for Catholic parishioners. Baptism is the first of the seven sacraments, welcoming us into the Catholic Church for the first time, and inviting us to be an active member of the community.
Is someone you love about to be baptized? Shop our collection of baptismal gifts.