• Readings for today's Mass

The Sacraments of Initiation

Summary of main ideas

This presentation aims to help parents who request baptism for their children – especially those who no longer take part in Catholic practice – to reflect upon what is implied in their request, and the responsibilities involved.

In the first part, we look at the 'big picture'. What do Christians believe ? From the first, Christians have believed that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought a turning point in the history of humanity. Jesus foretold that when he was raised up on the cross he would draw all things to himself – transforming the dynamism of creation and opening the way to a sharing with God in eternal life. According to the official Catholic teaching, this great turning point benefits all people of good will. Members of the Church, however, are privileged: as conscious sharers in what God has done for the world in Christ – through the story of the Scriptures, through rituals of the Church, and through a living relationship with Christ as they make their journey of life. Baptism is the basic ritual through which, by the power of God's Spirit, Christians are united to Christ. The Eucharist, the shared sacred meal which Christ gave as a parting gift to his followers - uniting them to what God had done for the world in his death and resurrection - is the central ritual of the Church's life.

Clearly, becoming a member of the Church through Baptism should be the beginning of the child's Christian life. In the baptismal ceremony, parents and godparents are asked whether they are prepared to assume responsibility for fostering the Catholic life of their child. The response they will give should be carefully considered beforehand.

The second part of the presentation looks at ritual initiation as it was practiced in the early Christian centuries. As those being received into the Christian community were adults for the most part, a long period of serious preparation was involved. They were supported, during their preparation, by the whole community. This preparation came to a dramatic climax on the night before Easter Sunday, when they were baptised and confirmed, and then joined the community for the first time in the celebration of the Eucharist.

Much of the seriousness of initiation was obscured in later centuries when most of the baptised were newborn infants. Today the Church seeks to reemphasise this seriousness through a greater involvement of parents in preparation for Baptism.

The decision families face in presenting their children for Baptism should not be taken lightly. If it is taken seriously, however, it will never be regretted, and may open a new chapter in the life of the family.