The Principal Catholic Practices, Chapter 1 – The First and Most Necessary Sacrament

The Principal Catholic Practices, by Father George Thomas SchmidtPrivate Baptism – Baptism in Church

If Baptism is the first and most necessary sacrament, it follows that no child born of Catholic parents should suffer the loss of this sacrament on account of the ignorance or incapability of those who either fail to baptize it, or attempt to administer the rite invalidly. For we must know that a person who departs from this hf e unbaptized can never be admitted to the glory of heaven. And even though these unfortunates are not condemned to hell or to other punishment, their loss is irreparable.

They have lost the vision of God. And even heaven would be but a poor substitute for complete happiness without the Beatific Vision.

It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that we exercise great solicitude to insure the eternal happiness of our children through the proper administration of Baptism.

Now, when the child is born in good health and there is no immediate danger of death, the matter is very simple. We take the child to church and have it baptized by the priest. However, this is not always possible. Infants sometimes die immediately or shortly after birth. Others expire during delivery. Here we see the advisability of employing a conscientious Catholic physician to assist in parturition. For if there is great danger for the life of the child, the physician will probably be the least excitable of the attendants and can, in a moment, pour the saving water of Baptism. But many conscientious Protestant physicians have been known always to administer Baptism to the children of Catholic parents when in danger of death.

Let us now suppose that a case of urgent necessity presents itself. An infant, or for that matter an adult, is in great danger of death, and private Baptism is to be administered. Get some water at once. No need to search all over the house for that bottle of holy-water; but take any clean water, pour it over the head of the person to be baptized, and at the same time – i.e., while pouring – say the words audibly: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Remember, it will not suffice to sprinkle the child with water, or to dip the thumb in water and make the sign of the cross on the forehead. The water must be poured over the head so that it flows, and the formula must be pronounced at the same time.

If the illness of the child thus baptized is but temporary and it recovers sufficiently, it should be brought to church. Tell the priest of the private Baptism and acquaint him with the manner in which it was administered. If the rite was validly performed, he will not repeat it, but will add the ceremonies that generally accompany the sacrament when administered in church.

When there is no immediate danger for the life of the child, and a resident priest is within a reasonable distance, it should be brought to him for Baptism. Courtesy would suggest that we inquire previously as to the time that is most suitable and convenient for the pastor.

One of the first things to do is to select good practical Catholics as sponsors for the child. It is immaterial whether or not the sponsors will be able to buy expensive presents for their godchild. The important question is. Will they, in the event that the child is orphaned, be capable of counseling it to a life in conformity with Catholic belief and practice?

About ten years ago the writer was called upon to baptize a child for which the fond parents had secured the services of a Jew as sponsor. The man may have been of unimpeachable character and in every way a gentleman, but he was utterly impossible as a sponsor for a Catholic child.

Having secured the sponsors, a matter of relative moment will be the choice of a name. Now let us get away from that modern un-Catholic practice of inflicting the names of stones, flowers, and villains upon defenseless children. We certainly have an abundance of Catholic names to draw from; and in selecting the name of a saint we are placing the child under the special protection of a friend of God. What better beginning could a human being make than to seek the aid of a powerful friend of God as a guide on the perilous journey through life. It used to be that you could know that a man was a Catholic by hearing his given name. Nowadays you can no more recognize his religion by his name than you can by the style of collar he wears. What can be the purpose in giving the outlandish modem names? Are they prettier? Not at all. But they are odd, you say, and not so common. True, they are odd; they are so unintelligible that they at once fasten upon the unfortunate bearer the stigma of oddity and lack of intelligence.

It will no doubt be interesting to know just what all the ceremonies mean that are employed by the priest in Baptism. First of all, you will observe that in the beginning of the rite the candidate either remains in the vestibule or at the rear of the church. This is to signify that as yet he is not a Catholic and must first be initiated into the society of the Church The priest puts the question: “What dost thou ask of the Church of God?” The sponsor answers, “Faith.” The next question is: “What does faith bring thee to?” The answer, “Life everlasting.” We now have the intention of the candidate to receive the sacrament signified by those who speak in his place.

The priest proceeds to proclaim the divine mandate of love of God and neighbor. He then breathes lightly three times over the face of the child and charges the evil spirit to leave it and give place to the Holy Ghost.

Thereupon he blesses the candidate on the forehead and breast that he may in truth be a temple of God. Now the salt is blessed, and a morsel thereof placed upon the tongue of the child with the words: “Receive the salt of wisdom; may it render thee favorable for life everlasting.” This prayer is enlarged upon in the oration (prayer) that follows.

Special attention should be given to the solemn words of the exorcism of the next ceremony: “I exorcise thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou leave and depart from this servant of God. For, cursed damned one. He Himself commands thee who walked the seas and held forth His right hand to the sinking Peter.

“Therefore, thou cursed devil, know thy sentence, and give honor to the true and living God, give honor to Jesus Christ His Son, and to the Holy Ghost, and depart from this servant of God, for God Himself and Our Lord Jesus Christ has called him to His holy grace and blessing and to the fount of Baptism.”

The priest again blesses the child on the forehead and, extending his hand over its head, invokes the divine benediction. You will now observe that he places the end of his stole upon the infant, which signifies that the candidate is to be admitted into the Church. His words are to this effect; namely, “Enter into the temple of God that thou mayest have part in Christ in life eternal.”

We now accompany the priest and sponsors with the candidate to the baptismal font. On the way the priest and sponsors, in an audible voice, recite the Apostles’ Creed and the Our Father. Upon arriving near the baptistery the priest pronounces the exorcism: “I exorcise thee, every evil spirit, in the name of the Father, omnipotent God, and in the name of Jesus Christ His Son and Our Lord and Judge, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, that thou depart from this creature of God whom Our Lord has deigned to call to His holy temple, that he may become a temple of the living God and that the Holy Ghost may live in him. Through the same Christ Our Lord, who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.”

What follows may seem strange to us. We see the priest moisten his thumb with spittle from his mouth and touch the ears and nostrils of the candidate. Do you remember when Our Saviour mixed the spittle of His mouth with the dust of the earth, and applied the mixture to the ears of one who was deaf and dumb? He, in miraculously curing the man before Him, pronounced the words: “Ephpheta, which is. Be thou opened.” These same words are used by the priest in the ceremony just mentioned. The senses of the candidate should become receptive to the sweetness of God’s holy religion.

What follows is the declaration of enmity with Satan and his works. The priest asks: “Dost thou renounce Satan?”

The sponsors answer: “I do renounce him.”

Q. “And all his works?”

A. “I do renounce them.”

Q. “And all his pomps?”

A. “I do renounce them.”

Then the priest anoints the infant in the form of a cross with the oil of Catechumens upon the breast and between the shoulders saying: “I mark thee with the oil of salvation in Christ Our Lord, that thou mayest have life eternal. Amen.”

And now we are brought face to face with the reasonableness of demanding practical Catholics as sponsors; for they must make the profession of faith in place of the child. The following are the questions and answers:

Q. “Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?”

A. “I do believe.”

Q. “Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord, who was born and who suffered for us?”

A. “I do believe.”

Q. Dost thou also believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?”

A. “I do believe.”

Q. “Wilt thou be baptized?”

A. “I will.”

If the child has been previously baptized in private, the sacrament is not repeated. Otherwise the child is held over the font and the priest pours the baptismal water over its head, at the same time saying the words as in private Baptism.

Immediately after baptizing, the priest anoints the crown of the head of the infant with holy chrism, saying the words: “May God Almighty, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has generated thee from water and the Holy Ghost, and who has given thee remission of all thy sins, mark thee with the chrism of salvation in the same Christ Jesus Our Lord for life everlasting. Amen.”

Taking a white linen cloth, which is at hand for the purpose, he places it upon the baptized child, pronouncing the words: “Receive this white garment, which mayest thou carry without stain before the judgment seat of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have life everlasting. Amen.” This garment or linen cloth symbolizes the garment of sanctifying grace with which the soul of the child has been clothed in Baptism.

Then the priest gives the sponsor a lighted candle, charging him as follows: “Receive this burning light and keep thy Baptism so as to be without blame: observe the commandments of God, that when Our Lord shall come to His nuptials, thou mayest meet Him together with all the saints in the heavenly court, and mayest have eternal life and live forever and ever. Amen. Go in peace, and the Lord be with thee. Amen.”

In the light of the foregoing, must it not be confessed that the Church has surrounded this, the first and most important sacrament, with very beautiful and expressive ceremonies? Indeed, the initiation into no lodge or society can compare with the pregnant ceremonies employed by the Church in Baptism.