Baptism is the first of the Sacraments and the starting point to all Christian life. It is the gateway to life in the Spirit and the doorway that gives access to all of the other Sacraments. Without baptism you cannot receive any of the other Sacraments.
Baptism is from the Greek word “baptizein” meaning to plunge or immerse. The “plunging” into water symbolizes our burial into Jesus’ death while rising up from the water symbolizes our rebirth through Jesus’ resurrection as a new creature and an adopted child of God. This is the Catholic understanding of being “born again in the water and the Spirit”.
Baptism washes away the stain of original sin and restores us to the pure state Adam and Eve were created in. Because we come from fallen parents it does not remove our desire for sin, known as “concupiscence”. Baptism leaves an indelible mark on our souls and consecrates us or “sets us aside” for God. We become His adopted children.
The Catholic practice of baptism differs greatly from many of the non-Catholic Christian denominations. Some of the things we believe about baptism they believe are wrong. Some of them are:
1: Infant baptism. Some believe that baptism has to be a conscious choice made by the person being baptized and therefore infant baptism is wrong. Catholics believe that baptism is a conduit for conferring grace from God and therefore should not be denied to an infant. There are several scriptural passages that show whole families being baptized together. One can assume that infants existed in those families and that they were also baptized at the same time.
2: Submersion, pouring or sprinkling of water. Some believe that the only valid baptism requires one to be completely submersed or plunged into the water. Catholics and many mainstream Protestants usually use pouring of water. Submersion is the ordinary means for baptism but isn’t always possible or practical. The pouring of water in the proper form is thereby acceptable. In the event of an emergency sometimes even pouring of water isn’t possible. Sprinkling of water during those times is then also acceptable. One shouldn’t get caught up in the method or amount of water used. The gift of God’s grace is what is important. We allow Him to work through us to deliver grace, even if that is only one drop at a time.
3: A one-time event. For a Catholic and most main stream Protestants baptism is a one-time event. Once baptized you cannot be baptized again. There are some Christian churches out there that believe in multiple baptisms. They use baptism in much the same way Catholics use the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
4: Other forms of Baptism. Catholics accept two other forms of Baptism that aren’t commonly accepted outside of Catholicism. They are the Baptism of Desire and the Baptism of Blood.
Catholic adults entering the Church are usually baptized as part of the Easter vigil. If a catechumen, a Christian convert under instruction before baptism, expresses the desire for baptism but dies suddenly before they can receive baptism we believe that God, in His great mercy, accepts that person’s desire to be baptized in the same manner as if they were baptized. Scripture tells us of the good thief on the cross next to Jesus. He was not Jewish and therefore most likely not baptized either. His desire was enough to get him into paradise.
We also believe that unbaptized people who are martyred for their faith are then considered baptized by their own blood.
In both cases the baptism did not happen using water or the ordinary form for baptism but we believe that God, in His great mercy, accepts the person as baptized because they would have been had they been given the opportunity.
So how is the Sacrament of Baptism an oath to the death?
For an adult this is simple. They pledge to live their life for Jesus when they accept Him as their Lord and Savior as part of their baptism. They affirm that they believe ALL of the teachings of the Catholic Church during their baptism when they affirm the precepts of the Church listed out in the Apostles Creed. Baptism opens the door to a life in Christ that they freely walk through when they choose to be baptized. If one leaves baptism and lives their life in blatant opposition to Church teaching they perjure themselves at best or renege on their oath at worse. To renege on an oath in which you have pledged your life forfeits your life.
But how about infant baptism? How can you hold an infant accountable for an oath they could not freely take? You can’t. But it isn’t the infant taking the oath. The parents and god-parents are one ones taking the oath. They are the ones taking the oath that they believe all that the Church teaches and that they will raise this infant with instruction on such. The true role of a god-parent is to insure that the child gets to Church and gets properly instructed on what the Church believes and teaches. They are not to be just another gift giver at Christmas and the kid’s birthday. How many god-parents take this responsibility seriously?
When a parent and a god-parent sponsor an infant being baptized and they do not raise that child with any instruction they have reneged on the oath that they have taken. The seriousness and sin is not put on the child but on the parent and god-parent who fail to live up to the conditions of their oath. Being a god-parent is a serious role and not just another opportunity for a title and photo opportunity.
Baptism is the first of the seven Sacraments. It opens the door and brings one into the Body of Jesus. From there all life begins.