Born Anew and Strengthened in Faith

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CELEBRATING THE FEAST of Baptism of the Lord (this year on Jan. 10) reminds us that, in the course of his public ministry, the Lord gave the Church her sacramental life.

When asked how we become members of the Church, most of us rightly answer, “baptism.” yet, our answer would not be complete if we omitted the other two sacraments of initiation. We are “born anew in baptism, strengthened in confirmation, and nourished by the Eucharist” (Compendium, 251).


The word “baptize” means to immerse in water. Whether baptism is carried out through immersion or, more commonly, through the pouring of water, the effect is the same: The newly baptized person is immersed in the death and resurrection of Christ. In baptism, we receive an initial sharing of the holy Spirit and the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity (252).

In God’s plan of salvation, events such as noah’s building of the ark and the miraculous passage of the chosen people through the red Sea were like a “forecast” or a “prefiguring” of baptism.

The story of noah shows how water is both a source of death and of life, just as in baptism sin and death are “drowned” even as a new life of grace is engendered. In passing through the red Sea, Israel was freed from slavery to Egypt. So, too, when we pass through the waters of baptism we are freed from the slavery of sin. In crossing the Jordan, Israel inherited the Promised Land, an image of the eternal life that takes root in us (253). All of this was fulfilled in Christ.

To echo the thought of St. Leo the Great, Christ’s passage from death to life passed over into baptism. Accordingly, the risen Christ sent the Apostles out to preach the Gospel and to baptize them in the name of the Trinity from the day of Pentecost onward (254-255).

Who, then, can be baptized? The short answer is, “anyone not yet baptized” (257). This includes infants, who are born with original sin (see 75-78). Through baptism they are freed from the power of Satan and become children of God. When infants are baptized, their parents make a profession of faith for them. After attaining the use of reason, the baptized child makes his or her own profession of faith. The godparents and the whole Church, however, share in the responsibility of attracting people to the faith, helping them to prepare for baptism (in the catechumenate) and to grow in the new life of faith and grace (258-259).

Normally, in the Latin Church, the bishop, priest or deacon administers the sacrament of baptism. In case of necessity, anyone can do so, provided that he or she has the intention of “doing what the Church does” and employs the correct form of the sacrament (260). Such latitude regarding the minister of baptism is due to its importance. The words of the Compendium are instructive: “Baptism is necessary for salvation for all those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for the sacrament” (261).

In the strength of Christ’s salvific will, however, others are saved without ordinary baptism, including those who die for the faith (baptism of blood); those who wish for the sacrament but cannot receive it; or those who, moved by grace, sincerely seek God (baptism of desire). Children who die without baptism are also entrusted to the mercy of God (262).

We should be grateful for the gift of our baptism, particularly when we reflect on its effects. It not only removes original sin, but also takes away any sins committed prior to baptism. Through the sacrament, we share in the life of the Trinity. This is called “sanctifying grace,” and it joins us to Christ and makes us a member of his Body, the Church. Baptism also gives us a share in Christ’s priesthood. United to his self-offering and freed from sin, we are enabled to offer up every aspect of our lives to God.


The second sacrament of initiation, given to those already baptized, “is called confirmation because it confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.” In the Eastern Churches it is called chrismation to describe the heart of the rite itself — anointing with holy oil or chrism, blessed by the bishop on holy Thursday (271). Like baptism, confirmation can be received only once (269). In the West, the bishop normally administers the sacrament, although he can delegate a priest to do so. In the East, priests ordinarily confer chrismation immediately after baptism (270).

This sacrament has deep roots in Scripture and tradition. The Old Testament prophets were anointed by the holy Spirit. not only was Jesus conceived by the power of the holy Spirit, but he also lived his entire life and conducted his whole ministry in complete oneness with the holy Spirit. At Pentecost, the holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and enabled them to proclaim the teaching and saving deeds of Christ with courage and power. The Apostles imparted the gift of the holy Spirit to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands. Bishops, who are successors to the Apostles, continue to do so in the sacrament of confirmation (263).

In a sense, confirmation enables the recipient to share in the mystery of Pentecost. It brings about a special outpouring of the holy Spirit in whom we are “sealed.” We are permanently marked both as followers of Christ and as full members of the Church. Through this sacrament, the gifts of the holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, and wonder and awe) are deepened in us. Thus, we are now more able to bear witness to Christ (268).