The basics of Baptism

The Church teaches that Baptism is the sacramental entry into the life of faith, writes Cathal Barry

The meaning and grace of the Sacrament of Baptism are clearly seen in the rites of its celebration, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “By following the gestures and words of this celebration with attentive participation, the faithful are initiated into the riches this sacrament signifies and actually brings about in each newly baptised person,” the key teaching document states.

“The sign of the cross, on the threshold of the celebration, marks with the imprint of Christ the one who is going to belong to him and signifies the grace of the redemption Christ won for us by his cross,” it adds.

The proclamation of the Word of God, according to Church teaching, enlightens the candidates and the assembly with the revealed truth and elicits the response of faith, which is inseparable from Baptism. Indeed, the Church teaches that Baptism is “the sacrament of faith” in a particular way, since it is the “sacramental entry” into the life of faith. 


The Catechism states that Baptism “signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ”. 

Baptism, according to the Church, is performed in the “most expressive way” by triple immersion in the baptismal water. 

However, the Catechism notes that from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate’s head.

Church teaching states that the anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, “signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptised, who has become a Christian, that is, one ‘anointed’ by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet and king”. 

The white garment, according to Church teaching, symbolises that the person baptised has “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). The candle, lit from the Easter candle, signifies that Christ has “enlightened the neophyte”. In him the baptised are “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14).

The newly baptised is now, according to the Church, entitled to say the prayer of the children of God, the Our Father.

The solemn blessing concludes the celebration of Baptism according to the Catechism. At the Baptism of new-borns the blessing of the mother occupies a special place, it states. 

The Church acknowledges that “faith needs the community of believers”. “It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop,” the Catechism states.

For all the baptised, children or adults, “faith must grow” after Baptism, the Church teaches. 

“Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth,” the Catechism states.

Likewise, for the grace of Baptism to unfold, the Church recognises that the parents’ help is important. 

So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who, according to the Church “must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptised – child or adult on the road of Christian life”.