The Meaning of the Catholic Tradition of Baptism in Simple Words

Baptism signifies a child's rebirth and entry into the Catholic Church.
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Baptism is the first of the seven Roman Catholic sacraments. It is considered to be the first because it usually is received early in life, removes original sin and makes the recipient a member of the church. The other Catholic sacraments cannot be received by a person until they have been baptized. The traditions of the sacrament include choosing a Christian name, choosing sponsors, joining with a priest in ceremony and prayer and celebrating with family and close friends.

1 The Purpose of Baptism

Catholic doctrine teaches that all humans are born with original sin on their souls. Original sin is inherited from Adam and Eve, who sinned when they disobeyed God's one command -- not to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Baptism restores the soul to a sinless state. It also marks a person's soul as belonging to God and fills the soul with virtue and sanctifying grace.

2 Choosing a Baptismal Name

Catholic parents once were required to give their children a saint's name for a baptismal name. The Church's Canon Law now indicates that a baptismal name should be a name that is not unfamiliar to Catholic sentiment. While the Catholic Church still recommends giving a child a saint's name so the child will feel a connection to a particular saint, other names are permissible. Names that would offend the Catholic community are not allowed.

3 The Godparents' Role

Catholic parents are obligated to baptize their children and are encouraged to arrange a baptism as soon as possible. Parents bear the major responsibility of ensuring their child grows in the Catholic faith. Parents also choose godparents for their child. The godparents act as spiritual guides for the child, reinforce the child's Catholic faith and pray for the child throughout the child's life. Godparents must be members of good standing in the church who can act as role models for the child as she is educated in the Catholic religion.

4 The Baptismal Ceremony

The baptismal ceremony is conducted by a priest at the church's baptismal font, or fountain. Parents promise to raise their child in the Catholic faith. The godparents agree to assist the family in this effort. The priest joyfully welcomes the child into the Catholic community and anoints the child with oil to signify his salvation from sin. The parents and godparents join in renouncing Satan and professing their faith. The top of the child's head is plunged into the water to signify rebirth of the soul. The child is anointed with sacred chrism (consecrated oil) and dressed in a white garment representing her new life. The baptismal candle is lit from the church's Easter candle, symbolizing the child's enlightenment by Christ, and given to the parents.

5 The Celebration of Baptism

It is a Catholic tradition to celebrate a child's baptism with a christening party usually attended by the family, godparents and close friends. Cards or small gifts, usually of a religious nature, often are presented to the child. The baptismal candle traditionally is used as an altar candle at the grown child's wedding.

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.