Baptism does not open the “gates of heaven”! The life, death and resurrection of Jesus opened the “gates” for all people. However, we are not always open to heavenly things. The Sacrament of Baptism is the first formal step in a lifelong journey of opening ourselves to heavenly things. Baptism is the Church’s way of celebrating and enacting the loving embrace of God through Jesus and the community of his Church.
Many people use the words “Baptism” and “Christening” interchangeably. “Christening” was introduced in England in the fourteenth century and is normally thought of as a ceremony of baptising and naming a child. “Baptism” is an ancient Greek word which means to plunge or to immerse and refers to initiating a person, usually through water. The Church uses the word Baptism for the sacrament marked by the ritual use of water and initiating the recipient into the Christian community.
Go to your local parish priest to discuss having your child(ren) baptised. If you are hesitant about approaching your local parish priest, there is usually a notice about Baptisms in the parish newsletter or on a bulletin board; both should easily be found in the back of the church. Hopefully, looking at such material should allay your hesitancy.
Please know that being single, married to a non-Catholic, divorced, remarried or not presently practicing the faith does not impede the Baptism of your child or children. You will be asked, however, to raise your child(ren) Catholic.
The good news is that to become a Catholic as an adult you may not have to be baptised! The Catholic Church recognises all Baptisms with water in the name of the Trinity – “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So if already baptised, a person is “Received” into the Church. That is, she or he merely has to declare his or her intention to become Catholic and profess the Creed in a brief ceremony in front of a priest and a witness to be Received. Ordinarily, the person would also receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at the time of “Reception.”
If you were not baptised previously, however, you would be baptised. In all probability you would also receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at the same time.
In either case, Reception or Baptism, you would have the opportunity to prepare for “becoming” a Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The RCIA is a process developed by the Catholic Church where prospective Catholics are gradually introduced to aspects of Catholic beliefs and practices. The RCIA Office’s contact details can be found here. Your local parish will guide your preparations in the RCIA or suggest other ways to prepare yourself to enter the Church.
Baptism is celebrated with water flowing over the forehead in accordance with the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel (28:19): “Go and baptise all people in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptisms usually take place on Sundays, during the parish Mass or in the early afternoon after all the Masses are over. A priest or deacon administers the sacrament by pouring (immersing is also possible) blessed water while proclaiming the words: “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He also anoints the person being baptised with blessed oils at the base of the throat and on the crown of the head – signifying God as our ultimate strength and the prophetic, priestly and royal identity of all the baptised, respectively. Infants, toddlers, children and adults of all ages are baptised in the Catholic Church.
One or more adult Godparents are commonly chosen to support the newly baptised person in the faith. It is common for the candidate to wear something white and have a candle to be lit from the Easter Candle signifying that the Resurrected Christ Jesus is the light of the world.
In case of the real possibility of death anyone can baptise another person, as long as the Baptism is administered with water, invoking the Trinity (“I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) and with the same intent as the Church.
There is also Baptism of Desire (a person desires Baptism but dies before receiving the Sacrament) and Baptism of Blood (a non-baptised person dies for the love of Jesus).
A Godparent is to support the baptised child(ren) or adult in growing in faith and living the Christian life. Only one Godparent is required. In some cultures it is a common and legitimate custom to allow a greater number. Usually in Australia there are two. One Godparent is to be a confirmed Catholic, usually 16 or over, who lives out the life of faith; the other does not have to be Catholic but must also be a faithful Christian.
This is a tricky question for all sorts of reasons: What happens after death? What is salvation and damnation? God is love (1 John 4:8) and all of us, baptised or not, must trust in God’s love.
To find out more about the Sacrament of Baptism have a chat with your parish priest. You can also check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 1213-1284. You may also enjoy this excellent short clip.