We read GICI 3-6 under the heading of “Dignity of Baptism.” I would suggest these paragraphs provide the core of Church teaching on Baptism, drawing from the primary Scriptural references.
First we read the Gospel foundation for Baptism:
3. Baptism, the door to life and to the kingdom of God, is the first sacrament of the New Law, which Christ offered to all, that they might have eternal life. (John 3:5) He later entrusted this sacrament and the Gospel to his Church, when he told his apostles: “Go, make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
A key explanation is next:
Baptism is therefore, above all, the sacrament of that faith by which, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we respond to the Gospel of Christ. That is why the Church believes that it is its most basic and necessary duty to inspire all, catechumens, parents of children still to be baptized, and godparents to hold to that true and living faith by which they hold fast to Christ and enter into or confirm their commitment to the New Covenant. In order to enliven such faith, the Church prescribes the pastoral instruction of catechumens, the preparation of the children’s parents, the celebration of God’s word, and the profession of faith at the celebration of baptism.
The Church means that Baptism, at its core, is a sacrament, a liturgical act, inspired by our response to the proclamation of the Word of God. The Church’s role is listed first of all as “inspire,” not “teach.” The Church sees Baptism as the human response to grace, not (necessarily) knowledge.
“Enliven,” another important verb informs us how the basic faith of believers can and should be magnified, one might say, to a significant role in one’s life. That last sentence from GICI 3 instructs us:
- The pastoral instruction of catechumens is meant to enliven a faith already present.
- The Church’s ministry to parents of infants and children is preparation, assuming the faith has already taken root in these adults.
- Two liturgical acts are mentioned: the celebration of God’s Word and the ritual profession of faith.
Commentary on that last item:
As a liturgist, I’ve witnessed and I’m convinced that excellence in the celebration of liturgy does indeed have an effect on believers, even people with seemingly weak or dormant faith. When the Church speaks of “celebration,” I would interpret this as an expansion of the single act of “proclamation.” How do we celebrate the Word at Sunday Mass? Most often with trained lectors, music, and preaching. Pastors and parishes, it would seem, would be obligated to provide a full celebration of the Word at every celebration of Baptism. Too often, I’ve seen the Word treated very slightly at Baptism outside of Mass. Sometimes people aren’t even seated, often there is no music or homily. Last point: that renewal of baptismal vows is a key moment as well. A sung setting might add dignity to the moment–I’ll leave that for the commentariat to struggle with–but certainly the profession of faith should be a ritual highlighted and taken seriously.
Quite a bit for a little paragraph tucked in the Roman-numeraled pages of the RCIA. Any thoughts on the liturgical commentary or the expressed theology here?