The Sacrament of Baptism
8 Jan 2009
In school, prior to this Sunday or following it, Mark's account of Jesus' Baptism (Mark 1: 7-11) should be read to the children. Focusing
the children's attention on the Sacrament of Baptism is a natural follow-on.
The most fundamental way of exploring Baptism in the primary school classroom is by looking at the symbols of Baptism. Each symbol
conveys the spiritual richness of that Baptism and the more we know about and understand the symbols Baptism, the fuller our joyful
awareness of the presence of God's grace.
Addressing the symbols of Baptism can be done on an annual basis by placing the symbols on the classroom Sacred Space and
adapting the level of teaching about the symbols to suit the class level.
The White Robe
White is the colour which symbolises purity, innocence, simplicity, renewal, and hope. During the Baptism of infants, immediately after
the priest pours water over the head of the infant and anoints the infant with oil, the priest hands a white robe to a godparent to place
over the baby. Addressing the child by name, the priest says, ''You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ''.
The white robe represents putting on the pure and simple life of Christ and the hope of eternal life with God.
When we are physically dirty, we wash ourselves and water is a sign of purity. The baptismal water stands for moral cleansing and
purity of heart. Baptism is our welcome into a great belonging with God and God's family. Purified, cleansed, growing in love and spirit,
we receive the water of Baptism as a fresh start, a new beginning with pure hearts.
Water symbolises both death and life, dying and rising with Christ. Three steps remind us of Jesus' three days in the earth. Some in
order to appreciate the meaning behind the action of pouring drops of water on a baby's head during Baptism, it is important to
recognise the origin of the action. In the early Church, candidates were immersed in water three times and each time following
submersion, they experienced the sensation of rising from the choking waters of death. Symbolically they shared in the death of Jesus
and in his Resurrection to new life. In the waters of Baptism, we die to sin and evil and are born into new life in Jesus Christ.
Teach the children too that when we dip our fingers into a Holy Water font and bless ourselves, we are reminding ourselves of our
In the Old Testament, we read about oils being used to anoint priests, prophets, and kings (Exodus 40:13; 1 Samuel 16:1-3; 1 Kings
1:39). In the New Testament, Jesus was called ''the Christ'' (''Messiah'' in Hebrew) which means the ''Anointed One''.
When we are baptised, we, too, are anointed. The oil is called Holy Chrism and it consists of olive oil mixed with balsam (balm).
c.f. Oil of Chrism Alive-O 4 T3L9 & Video T3
During the Rite of Baptism, the Baptismal Candle is lit from the Paschal Candle. Light is a life-giving element and without it there would
be no growth. The passing on of the light from the Pasachal Candle signifies the passing on of the faith. The light from the Baptismal
candle represents the Light of Christ which will act as a beacon in the child's life as they are called to see all things through the eyes of
c.f. Alive-O T2L10; Alive-O2 T2L6; T2L10; Alive-O 4 T3L9 & Video T3.
The Symbols of Baptism - How do they work?
The first symbol of Christian life in teh Baptismal Ceremony is the assembled community which welcomes the child and
incorporates her into itself. It is not a random meeting of people, but is a worshipping community gathered to listen to
God's word and to celebrate its own identity in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Sign of the Cross
Usually when you enter the church the priest will trace the cross on the forehead of your baby and invite the parents
and godparents to do the same. The cross is a reminder of the love of Christ who gave his life for his friends. The tracing
of a cross on the forehead of the person being baptised is an invisible 'branding' that says 'you belong to Christ'.
The Word of God
The Scriptures are always read, whether a child is baptised during Mass or outside Mass. As the Scriptures are
proclaimed, Christ himself is present in the assembly, calling us to be his disciples just as surely as he called the first
You will gather around the baptismal font - a large bowl, usually of stone or marble or glass holding the waters of
baptism. Usually the mother holds the child. The celebrant asks the parents what they want for the child. You reply,
'Baptism.' Then you make the baptismal promises on behalf of your child. These promises are based on the Apostles
The priest pours water over the head of your baby (or immerses the baby in the water) and says "I baptise you in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This is for cleansing and is a sign that our sins are washed
away. Baptism cleanses us of original sin wih which we are all born and, in the baptism of adults, of every sin committed
prior to baptism. Water is also necessary for life and so is a sign, too, that the life of the risen Christ is ours. It is also a
sign of life. Without water nothing can grow. It is a sign of the new spiritual life into which the baptised person is
Oil of Baptism is olive oil rubbed on the breast of the baby, just as athletes used to rub themselves with oil to strengthen
and prepare for the fight ahead. It symbolises strengthening for the struggles of life ahead. Oil of Chrism is a mixutre of
olive oil and balsam (sweet-smelling ointment) and is rubbed on the crown of the head. It is a sign of sealing with the
gifts of the Holy Spirit. The profession of faith which you make on behalf of your child at Baptism will later be confirmed
personally by your child in the Sacrament of Confirmation when Oil of Chrism will be used again.
As a sign of the new life a Baptismal candle will be lit using the flame from the Easter Candle which symbolises the light
of Christ - the Light of the World. This is the light that darkness cannot overcome. Light warms and encourages, it gives
safety and illuminates the way ahead. It can burn and test substances. The baptised child, who has opened her eyes to
the light of creation, is now awakened by the flame of faith. She is called to see all things through the eyes of Jesus
Clothing in a white garment is part of the ceremony to symbolise your child’s new life in Christ. Your family might have a
Christening gown that you want to use or a shawl. If you want to use this, then let the priest know beforehand. You
might like to use a baptismal gown, either a white stole, a white scapular or a white bib - perhaps one that you have
made and bearing the sign of a cross. The colour white speaks of life, purity, newness and innocence. It is also a sign of
the new life of resurrection.
Baptismal certificate and Baptismal register
At the end of the ceremony you will be asked to sign the parish Baptismal register and you will be given a Baptismal
Certificate. Your baby's baptism will be recorded in the Parish Baptismal Register. You will want to keep the certificate
carefully as it may be needed when you enrol your child in a catholic school or before he or she receives the sacraments
of Eucharist and Confirmation. Your childs' confirmation, marriage or ordination will also be noted alongside thsi entry in
Water is the central symbol of baptism. Because water is essential to all life, the water of baptism symbolises the life-giving grace that
sustains those who have become children of God.
Oil is used twice in the ceremony. Before the baptism, the child’s breast is smeared with the oil of catechumens as a sign of healing and
strengthening. Afterwards the crown of the head is anointed with perfumed chrism as a symbol of joy and thanksgiving.
The white garment with which the newly baptised is then clothed symbolises their new life in Christ and is "the outward sign of Christian
A baptismal candle is lit from the paschal candle beside the font and presented to the new member as a sign of the light of Christ.
They are as follows
1. Cross- Is to show that there will be some evil in our lives.
2. White Garment - the white garment is a symbol of purity as well as a manifestation of the "new man". White
symbolizes that the stain of Original Sin is no longer upon the child whose soul is wiped clean by the sacrament of
baptism. The infant is now a child of God and that heaven is opened to him/her.
3. Oil Of Chrism - symbolizes the seal of the Holy Spirit
4. Water - water reminds us that it is God who gives us life. Symbolizes cleansing and purity. Water also washes away
5. Candle - The final symbol in baptism is the giving of a lighted candle. Light, like water, is essential for life. Without light
there could be no life on this planet. It particularly symbolizes Faith.
While these gifts are not visible to the human eye, we come to understand them through the visible,
tangible signs used in the sacrament.
“…God uses the sacrament of water to give his divine life to those who believe in him.”
“…cleanse him from sin in a new birth to innocence by water and the Spirit.”
- From the rite of baptism.
Reflecting on our history, we see how water was created to cleanse and give life. In the very beginning of creation
(Gen 1:2), the spirit of God breathed on the waters of the earth. In the great flood, water marks the end of sin and a
new beginning of goodness. The Israelites passed through the Red Sea and were delivered from slavery into
freedom. In the waters of the Jordan, Jesus was baptized by John and anointed with the Spirit.
In baptism we “pass through water” - a sign of our participation in the death of Christ and his emergence into
freedom. Freed from the power of evil; the power of God’s life and love will prevail.
“Receive the light of Christ.”
“These children have been enlightened by Christ. They are to walk always as children of the Light.”
- from the rite of Baptism
700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah the prophet told of a people walking in darkness seeing a great light.
(Isaiah 9:1). Jesus announces to us that he is “the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
At Easter, the Paschal candle is lit as a sign of the risen life of Christ. This life is stronger than death. It cannot be
put out but shines brightly in the world as a sign of hope and of the strength of love. At baptism, a small candle for
each child is lit from the Paschal candle. The priest says, “Receive the light of Christ.” Parents are instructed to
keep the light burning brightly and the flame of faith alive in their child’s heart.
“You have become a new creation , and have clothed yourself in Christ.” -From the rite of baptism
“Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one- and put it on him”
– Luke 15:22
At baptism the church wraps new members in a white garment – a sign of acceptance and belonging in the
community of faith. The garment is white, like Jesus’ light, and covers us from head to toe. The child is dressed in
this garment during the rite of baptism – a visible sign of Jesus’ light and life now present in the child.
Oil of the Catechumen
“Bless this oil and give wisdom and strength to all who are anointed with it in preparation for their baptism.”
-From the blessing of the oil of catechumens
“…may he strengthen you with his power…”
-From the rite of baptism
Oil softens, heals, comforts, and protects. The oil of catechumens is applied to the child’s chest with the sign of the
cross. This oil, a sign of strength, imparts the power to resist evil. The child, strengthened by the gift of God’s Spirit,
will be guided and guarded by God on every step of life’s journey.
Sacred Chrism Oil
“when they are anointed with this holy oil make them temples of your glory, radiant with the goodness of life that
has its source in you.”
-From the blessing of the chrism
“As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing
-From the blessing of the chrism
The chrism is composed of olive oil and balsam(fragrance). Perfumed oil has the unique quality of both attracting
others and setting apart the one who is using it. This oil, placed on the crown of the head, calls us to be the “good
fragrance of Christ.” 2 Cor 2:15.
Oil has been used through the centuries as a sign of God’s favor. In the Old Testament, solemn anointings
indicated those called for a specific task in God' kingdom. Being baptized into the anointed body of Christ, we are
called to be priest, by living a life of prayer; to be prophet, by announcing the Word of God; and to be king, by
leading with integrity.
Cross: The cross is perhaps the best known of all Christian symbols. In the ancient Church the cross was
usually depicted without the figure of Christ. It was adorned and decorated as a symbol of the victory Christ
won through His suffering. For the ancient world it was a symbol of humiliation, but for Christians it was a
symbol of victory and glory. In Christian art, the figure of the suffering Christ was added to the cross only in
Light and Darkness: Before the advent of electricity the symbols of light and darkness were, perhaps, more readily
appreciated. The Church's use of these symbols is elemental. Even the orientation of the church buliding (the altar at the
east end) is significant. The one liturgy of the Church year where the use of these symbols is most dramatic is the easter
Vigil, where the light of one candle representing Christ, is passed on to each one in the assembly, turning darkness into
Alpha and Omega: The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signifying the Beginning and the
End. In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, Jesus calls Himself the Alpha and the Omega, "The
first and the last, the beginning and the end, the one who was, who is, and who is to come." He is the Word, the First
Word through whom all was created, and the Last Word by whom all will be judged.
Chi Rho: The Greek letters chi and rho (resembling an "X" and a "P") are often superimposed one on the
other. Often the chi is rendered in the form of a cross. This symbol is used to indicate Christ since these letters are the
first two letters of the word "Christ" in Greek.
Bread and Wine/Wheat and Grapes: Because of the bread and wine they produce, the symbols of wheat and grapes
are often used to designate the Eucharist.
Bread is the basic food of every culture and of every age in human history. Made from the toil of human hands, the many
grains of wheat are transformed and become one to nourish and sustain us. A meal, in which bread is broken and
shared, becomes a means of bonding human beings together. This is the sign Jesus used to describe Himself as the
"Bread of Life." Following His command, in faith we take and eat this Bread, His Body, and become one with Him.
From ancient times wine is associated with banquets, joy and celebration, a gift of God to gladden our hearts. The
grapes, like the grains of wheat used for bread, are fruits of the earth and give of themselves in order that we might
celebrate and be glad. This sign which Jesus used for His Blood, speaks to us of giving and of sacrifice in order that we
might enjoy the benefits of His love in the banquet which is the foretaste of heavenly joy
IHS: The first three letters of the name Jesus in Greek.
INRI: These initials are often seen inscribed on a banner or sign on a crucifix. They indicate the first letters
of the Latin words which Pilate ordered inscribed above Jesus as He hung on the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the
Jews," "Iesus Nazerenus Rex Iudeorum."
Fish: the fish was one of the most important symbols of Christ to the early Christians. In Greek, the
phrase, "Jesus Christ, Son of God Savior," is "Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter." The first letters of each
of these Greek words, when put together, spell "ichthys," the Greek word for "fish" ().
Lamb: symbol of Christ as the Paschal Lamb and also a symbol for Christians
(as Christ is our Shepherd and Peter was told to feed His sheep).
Dove: symbol of the Holy Spirit and used especially in representations of our
Lord's Baptism and the Pentecost.
Ship: As those outside of Noah's Ark were destroyed, the
ship became a perfect early symbol of the Church. In the
same vein, the main part of a church's interior, the place
where the people worship, is called a "nave," from the Latin "navis" --
Rainbow: Sign of the Covenant with Noah. Its 7 colors (from the top down: red, orange, yellow,
green, blue, indigo, and violet) recall the 7 Sacraments (7 is the sign of Covenant and completion).
The Good Shepherd: Some of the earliest depictions of Christ showHim as the Good Shepherd.
Palm: victory and martyrdom. Palms are especially made use of on Palm Sunday. The ashes of
palms used on Palm Sunday are later burned and used on the next year's Ash Wednesday to
symbolize mortality and penance.
Scallop shell: the sea shell, especially the scallop shell, is the symbol of
Baptism, and is found frequently on Baptismal fonts. The dish used by priests to pour water over the
heads of catechumens in Baptism is often scallop-shaped
Butterfly: The beautiful butterfly, with the power of flight, emerging from
the apparently lifeless cocoon: what could be a more perfect symbol of the