Sunday, July 27, 2008

Baptism 9-1-1

It's Sunday once again, so time for the weekly spirituality/religious topic. I hope that you got yourself to Church today. If not, if it's not too late, turn off your computer and get there. But that was last week's topic, let's move on to the new one.

Not the usual subject of conversations, I have amazingly found myself for two straight days now among two different groups of people involved in conversations regarding 'emergency baptism', and these conversations have caused me to look into the facts behind my beliefs.

I suppose those conversations were not too amazing, considering that my eldest daughter is about to give birth to my 2nd grandchild, and that one of my nieces gave birth last year and is about to have her child baptized.

My first grandchild, my granddaughter Elysia, was not formally baptized in Church, despite my wife and I trying to encourage my daughter to do so. She simply feels that it is something that my granddaughter should seek for herself when she gets older, not something that should be 'forced on her' or 'decided for her'.

We love our daughter, and have no choice but to simply agree to disagree. Well, that's really not the only choice. I had heard of 'emergency baptism', the idea that any Christian could baptize someone simply by blessing them with water and saying a prayer over them, as long as the person doing the baptizing was sincere in the danger to the soul of the baptized.

That was how I felt on the day that I was alone with my granddaughter and simply took some tap water, made the sign of the cross on her head and said "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", held my hand on her head and said a prayer for her. But in the end, is she really now officially baptized?


The Roman Catechism defines baptism as 'the sacrament of regeneration by water in the word.' Pope Eugene IV is often seen as one of the best authorities on the subject within the Catholic Church, having said that "Baptism holds the first place among the sacraments, because it is the door of the spiritual life; for by it we are made members of Christ and incorporated with the Church."

He goes on to say that "The effect of the sacrament is the remission of all sin, original and actual." Basically, the sacrament of Baptism is the formal acceptance into the Church and into a Christian life that wipes away the 'Original Sin' of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (a topic for another day.)

Christ Himself instituted the sacrament by commanding his disciples to do it, and spoke in his own words of its importance: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."

The usual important matters concerning a legitimate baptism are what are known as its 'matter and form': what is used to perform the baptism, and how the baptism is performed.

Water is the only legitimate liquid to be used by all accounts, and so it seems that I have done the right thing in satisfying matter. The requisite form is the words used by Christ Himself to baptize, the same words that I wrote earlier here that I spoke over Elysia as I baptized her. So it would seem that I satisfied form.

It is written in New Advent, the online Catholic Encyclopedia, that 'if the proper matter and form be used and the one conferring the sacrament really intends to perform what the Church performs, the baptism is undoubtedly valid."

With validity assured, I am happy to report that my granddaughter has indeed been baptized. Not only that, but she has been twice, since in one of the conversations that I had the past couple days my own father revealed that he had done the same thing with her. Lucky girl, having been baptized by her grandfather and great-grandfather.

We now look forward to the birth of a new little miracle, and if necessary will again initiate that child's baptism. But perhaps this time we can nudge mom and dad into a more formal ceremony.

Either way, while it would be preferable to baptize a child formally within the Church, a 'conditional' or 'emergency baptism' is perfectly acceptable for the forgiveness of Original Sin and admittance to God's Kingdom.

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