In the contemporary church, the process of Christian initiation, even for newly assenting adults, is split into two parts: Baptism and Confirmation. In the early Church both rites took place during the Easter Vigil but were separated when Bishops could no longer be present at all Vigils; then Baptism was delegated to priests and confirmation had to await the visit of a bishop.

Baptism is one of the two (Dominical) Sacraments recorded in the New Testament; the Baptism of Jesus: opens Mark, the earliest Gospel (Mark 1:9-11); is the first recorded act of Jesus in John (John 1:32-34); and is given Trinitarian significance in all four Gospels (Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22). St. Paul, the earliest writer on baptism, describes it as sharing in the death and Resurrection of Jesus whereby we die to sin and attain new life in Christ (Romans 6:2; 6:4; 6:7; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 3:9-10). It is the only Sacrament common to all Christians and, as such, is the pivotal Christian identifier.

The initiation of Baptism, invoking the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17) consists of: cleansing (the pouring of or immersion in water); identity (the sign of the cross and anointing with oil); membership (citing of Creed and welcome); a new beginning (receipt of candle lit from Pascal Candle).

In some churches the sacrament has degenerated into a celebratory, private Christening with God parents oblivious of their responsibilities; this has led some to call for adult Baptism only.

Confirmation, continuing what was begun at Baptism, celebrates the adult affirmation of faith and the undertaking to bear public witness to Christ. The Bishop, representing the universal church, presides at the Sacrament in which the candidate: makes a public profession of faith; receives the power of the Holy Spirit (through the laying on of hands and anointing); receives the Eucharist.

Discussion Topics:

  1. The baptising of babies grew out of the belief that Baptism was a necessary precondition for entry into Heaven. In view of pronouncements on the salvation of non Christians and the Papal denial of Limbo (with all its implications for Baptism) is infant Baptism justified?
  2. If instant Baptism persists, should it always be in the presence of the worshipping community; and should God parents be Confirmed, regular church attendees?
  3. Should infant Baptism be replaced by:
    1. A combined childhood Baptism and first Eucharist
    2. A Combined childhood Baptism, Confirmation and first Eucharist
    3. A combined teenage (or later) Baptism, Confirmation and first Eucharist?
  4. What is the relationship between Baptism and salvation?

KC 1/06

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