Christening or Baptism?
The word ‘to baptise’ means ‘to wash in water’. This describes the action of baptising. The word ‘to christen’ is an old English word that describes the effect of Baptism. ‘To blacken’ means to make something like ‘black’ – to Christen someone is to make a person like ‘Christ’. Christening is an expressive and beautiful description of Baptism.
Baptism is necessary for salvation. Without Baptism we cannot receive any of the other Sacraments of salvation.
The redemption that Jesus Christ won for us, conquering sin and death by dying on the Cross and rising again, was applied specifically and directly to you and to me on the day of our Baptism. That is the day our individual salvation began.
Baptism is the day:
- We were claimed for Christ our Saviour by the sign of his Cross;
- We were cleansed from original sin to a new birth to innocence, being washed clean by water and the Holy Spirit;
- We became a child of God – able to call God our Father, Jesus our brother and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, because we are adopted into God’s family; and
- We were welcomed as a member into the believing community of God’s people we call the Church.
A Path for Life
Obviously the parents or legal guardians (or at least one of them) have to consent to having a child baptised. Then there needs to be a realistic hope that the child will be brought up in the Catholic Religion (Can 868 §1).
A realistic hope is not the same as absolute certainty, nor is it only wishful thinking. Such a hope is easily verified when the parents are practising Catholics or where other family members or the Godparents or other members of the Church community can give reliable assurances to this effect.
Without such assurances, and where such realistic hope is truly lacking, an educational delay is necessary, aimed at pastorally helping the family to grow in faith or become more aware of the responsibility involved in having a child baptised. The deferral of Baptism (not refusal) leaves open the door to a future change of heart.
Urgency of Baptism
We seem to be losing the longstanding custom of having a child baptised within the early weeks after birth (Can §867). Infant mortality rates may not be high in Australia and you know, better than I, how very fragile babies are. But what about being anxious to have your child share in the grace of Christ’s salvation with undue delay? Even before the birth, contact can be made with your local parish to begin preparing for Baptism.
Of course, should a newborn infant be in danger of death, it is to be baptised without delay. When Can §867 says aborted foetuses, if they are alive, are to be baptised in so far as it is possible, the church is in no way condoning abortion but emphasising the necessity of Baptism in order to be saved. Baptism is necessary for salvation. As Jesus said, ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God, unless born of water and the Holy Spirit.’ (Jn 3:5).
The naming of children after a patron saint also seems to becoming something of a lost art. As followers of Jesus we ask the Saints to pray for us, to protect us with their prayers. The Saints are also role models for your child as a follower of Jesus. From earliest times the Church has encouraged parents to name their children at Baptism after a holy person from our long and rich tradition of Catholic faith and culture as a reflection of our desire that the child will grown up with something of the beauty and grace of the saint after whom he/she is named. The internet can provide you with ample suggestions of Christian names.
Lack of understanding of the role of Godparents or sponsors can lead people to choose them unwisely at times. It is not a mere social convention. Just as the person who sponsors you to join the Leagues Club or the RSL must be a full and active member of that club, similarly the sponsor or Godparent for Baptism and Confirmation has to be a fully initiated (Baptised, Confirmed and received first Holy Communion) member of the Catholic Church and live a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken. You cannot sponsor someone to join an organisation you don’t belong to or believe in yourself! The sponsor must accept his/her role (of assisting the parents in the Catholic upbringing of the child) with the intention of fulfilling it. A baptised and believing Christian, not belonging to the Catholic Church, may act as a Christian witness along with a Catholic Godparent for baptism. (can 874 §2).