THE FIRST SACRAMENT

Over the last few months, this article has described five of the seven sacraments. During the next few weeks, this article will discuss first baptism and then anointing of the sick, the sacraments that begin the Christian life and ensure the presence of Christ in illness and eventually at the end of this earthly journey. John the Baptist and other Jewish teachers prepared the way for the sacrament of baptism by baptizing people with water to show their repentance of sins and desire for cleansing from heaven. See Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:15-17; John 1:25-27, 33.

Those first baptisms were not the sacrament, for they were not instituted by Christ and could not of themselves confer this divine forgiveness. Rather, they reflected a longing for the spiritual healing long promised by the prophets and psalmists. See Ez. 36:25-27. Ps. 51:1, 9. Then, as His public ministry was beginning, Jesus came to John the Baptist to receive the ritual from him. John understandably wondered why Jesus came to him, for it was Jesus who would confer the grace and healing that John’s baptism only symbolized.

But Jesus told him that it was fitting to confer baptism and that it would result in true righteousness. See Matt. 3:13-16. And so, John baptized Jesus and three events followed: (1) the heavens were opened; (2) the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove; and (3) the Father said from the heavens, “You are My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” See Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22. Jesus then instructed His disciples to baptize the people in Israel. See John 3:22-24. And, just before ascending in heaven, He commissioned them, “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt. 28:19.

From that time on, the Christian leaders intuitively understood that, through baptism, we begin the Christians life. See Acts. 2:38, 8:12-13, 9:18, 10:48, 16:15; Rom. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 1:13-16, 12:13; Gal. 3:27. The three events that occurred at the baptism of Jesus reflect the three most central effects of baptism. First, the heavens are opened to us as we are cleansed of original sin. Second, the Holy Spirit comes to us as new temples of the Lord. Third, we become adopted sons and daughters of God. See Catechism 1263-65.

The next two articles will discuss these wondrous gifts conferred in baptism.