As was mentioned in the first installment of “Sacraments 101,” the sacraments are the primary means by which Jesus gives us ongoing access to His treasury of grace. We now face the imposing task of unpacking what these gifts are and how we benefit from them.
If we think of the sacraments as a storehouse of grace from God, then the sacrament of Baptism is, in a way, the door which gives us access to that storehouse. Thus, Baptism has been called the “gateway sacrament” insofar as it is the one which grants us access to the other sacraments. In other words, without Baptism, we cannot receive the graces from the rest of the sacraments.
This is because, through Baptism, a person is visibly joined to Christ Jesus as a member of His Church. By being brought into God’s Holy Church, the newly baptized are granted access to all of the gifts and graces of Christ Jesus. Everything that belongs rightfully to Jesus as the True Son of God, He shares freely as a gift with all of the baptized: Blessed be God…who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him…He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will… (Eph 1:3-5).
Throughout the Church’s history, two general effects that come through Baptism have been identified: (1) the cleansing from sin and (2) new birth in the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a closer look at both.
(1) Being cleansed from sin encompasses both Original Sin and any personal sins that we may have committed prior to Baptism. Original Sin can be thought of as the “wound” which we have all inherited through the fall of our first parents, whereas personal sin describes those sins which we commit ourselves through either ignorance, weakness, or malice. However, since many Catholics are often baptized as infants, in such cases there are no personal sins to be forgiven.
(2) While forgiveness of sins is an important effect of Baptism, the main purpose of being forgiven is to clear the way for the second effect of Baptism, new birth in the Holy Spirit. The significance of this new birth cannot be emphasized enough. The new birth confirms us as beloved children of our Heavenly Father. And because of this, we are given a full share in the rights, responsibilities and blessings of being a child of God.
By being born into a natural family, the child is granted a share in all that their parents are and have -- this gift is irrevocable. So too, once a person is baptized, they are given a share in everything that God is and has. His very Divine life is poured into the heart of every newly-adopted child of God.
This is a free, total and irrevocable gift from God, and from here our mission is to grow and mature in the Christian life -- tasks which the other sacraments help us with. But before diving into the other sacraments, next month we will take a brief look at the structure and the Rite of Baptism.
By Father Michael Bovino