Baptism

Baptism

Being chosen as a Godparent is an incredible honor. Most of the time, parents want a set of Godparents, because the Godmother and Godfather are close to the family in some way. Sometimes, the choice is simply a way to honor that relationship.

The Godparents get to participate in the baptismal service, and they have a special connection to the child for the rest of their lives. Being a Godparent, however, is much more than an honor. It is also a responsibility, as that Godparents play a fundamental role in helping a child or adult grow in faith.

Role of Godparents

The Church has a different title for Godparents, which is sponsors. The Code of Canon Law (no. 872) reminds us what a sponsor is supposed to do: “Insofar as possible, one to be baptized is to be given a sponsor who is to assist an adult in Christian initiation, or, together with the parents, to present an infant at the baptism, and who will help the baptized to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism, and to fulfill faithfully the obligations connected with it."

It is about more than just giving gifts and the baptismal celebration. It is a lifelong commitment to care and guide a Godchild in the faith.

The only way for a sponsor to fulfill this holy duty is to live as a faithful Catholic, who will “lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism.” To be a sponsor, the Godparent should regularly attend mass, go to confession and participate in the work of the parish.

The sponsor should also pray regularly. A Godchild will see what the adults do and learn to imitate that more than he or she will the words that adults say.

The Baptismal Gift

The baptismal gift is a great way for a Godparent to begin helping the child lead a faithful life. Baptism is the beginning of a faithful Catholic’s new life in Christ. It is the moment when the child becomes adopted into the family of God, and that relationship stays with the child until Christ returns.

Baptism even plays a role in our funeral liturgy. The priest begins the service by reading a passage from Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

While there are many excellent options for baptismal gifts, a Godparent should choose baptism gifts the child will keep forever and see regularly. The goal is for the child to see your gift every day and remember their baptism. It can be a daily reminder of the special day your Godchild became a child of God.

Another wonderful way to help a Godchild to remember the day of baptism is to send a card or gifts on the anniversary of baptism. If you can turn the anniversary of baptism into a day the child (or adult) looks forward to, it will be a regular reminder of the importance of baptism in a Catholic’s life.

Child being baptised

Spiritual Guidance

A sponsor or Godparent helps the parents ensure their child is raised in the faith. A sponsor should take special interest in the faith of the child. To do that, you must start by growing a relationship with the child outside the church.

Attend family gatherings, and go to dance recitals or T-ball games. Your presence in the child’s life will help lay the foundation for spiritual conversations that will happen later.

A sponsor should try to spend some one-on-one time with his or her Godchild to talk about the faith. It doesn’t have to be a complex debate about the intricacies of canon law. When the child is young, it can be as simple as reading a children’s book designed to teach the faith, like a Biblical story or something about the lives of the saints.

As the child grows older, conversations will become more complex. The more connected a Godparent and Godchild are, the easier those conversations will be.

The Sacraments

Child carrying flowers in church

As a Godchild grows, he or she will begin learning more about the faith and participate in the sacraments. A Godparent should be involved in every stage. While the parents play a primary role in teaching about the sacraments, a Godparent should help support them.

When a Godchild is preparing for First Communion, a Godparent can play a key role. He or she should talk to the child’s parents about what might be most appropriate. They should be able to give advice about what to do.

The Godparent should also find out what the parish requires a child to do in preparation for First Communion. In their conversations with the child, the Godparents can ask about the classes.

The same sponsors who stood with the child in baptism should also be there for confirmation. Typically, confirmation is a long process, so there is a lot for a Godparent to do to support the child and the parents through it.

Regular conversations about what the child is learning are a great place to start. It’s also a good time to talk about what the Godparent’s personal devotional habits are. Since the child is about to be fully initiated into the faith, he or she should develop those habits, as well.

When parents choose a set of Godparents, it can be an honor, but it is more than that. It is also a holy duty to the Godchild.

Every Godparent should consider how to help a child grow in the faith. While it can be a lot of work, it will also be incredibly rewarding.

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Jesus baptism depicted on stained glass

The church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord on January 9th, the Sunday after Epiphany. While the Gospels tell the story in only a few sentences, it is one of the most important aspects of Jesus’ life, since the baptism of Jesus is the archetype for every baptism that follows his.

Sometimes we miss the rich meaning in the rites of the church. We speak our assigned parts and do the assigned actions, sometimes without knowing the symbolism behind each act. When you understand the Biblical stories behind the sacraments and the images we use, you will see the beautiful liturgical tradition the church has given us.

The Baptism of the Lord

The story is simple. Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. John, knowing that Jesus was the Son of God, tried to stop Jesus by saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) But Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). When John baptizes Jesus, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. The Father speaks to Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners, our baptisms are like Jesus’ baptism. We receive the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to live as faithful Christians. We are adopted as sons of God through the Son of God, which means we can pray the prayer of the church which begins, “Our Father.”

Symbols in the Sacrament of Baptism

The historical details of Jesus’ baptism play a role in our own rite of baptism. The first symbol a priest uses is in the reception of the child when the priest makes the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. The sign of the cross reminds us that baptism would just be water without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Water

Priest performing first sacrament

Other symbols focus on more concrete parts of the story. Jesus’ baptism begins when he enters the water. You can see images of water in most baptismal artwork. Sometimes the artist depicts the water as a flowing river, evoking the water of life that springs up inside us when we are baptized.

Other times, you will see three drops of water suspended below the bottom of the shell, representing the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom were present at the baptism of Jesus. They also recall Jesus’ own command regarding baptism, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

In the rite of baptism, the church confesses the Apostles Creed. The priest asks the parents and Godparents whether they believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. After each of the three questions, they recite together the relevant passage from the creed.

The Dove

After Jesus had been baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. While the Bible does not tell us whether the Spirit was visibly in the form of a dove or not, the image of a dove is a symbol that represents the Holy Spirit. When artists use the symbol of the dove, they depict it diving down to earth from heaven. In baptism, the Holy Spirit does not float around aimlessly. Rather, he dives from heaven to us just like he did when Jesus was baptized. A downward facing dove reminds us that the Spirit comes down to us.

The Fire

Holy Spirit depicted as fire in mosaic

Sometimes, fire, a common symbol for the Holy Spirit, accompanies the dove. In the gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist preaches to the crowds, and he predicts that Jesus would come to baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. On the day of Pentecost, in Acts chapter 2, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire float above their heads. Fire reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit that rests inside every Christian.

In the rite of baptism, fire also symbolizes the light of Christ entering into the child. The priest lights the child’s baptismal candle from the flame of Jesus Christ’s Easter candle. It shows both our connection to Christ through the one flame passed from him to us, as well as the scattering of the darkness of sin with that light.

Baptism may be the most recognizable sacrament in the Catholic Church. For infants, it is the beginning of their life as members of the church. For adults, it comes as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Either way, baptism is the first step in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. It enlightens the eyes of the heart and gives a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

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