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What does Baptism do?
What does Baptism do?
I know of parishes where adult catechumens preparing for full initiation at the Easter Vigil are required to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance as part of the preparation rites on Holy Saturday. Their Baptism the next day is a washing away of sin, for heaven’s sake! And how can people be reconciled through Penance with a Church to which they do not as yet belong?
At one parish Mass, a girl was baptised and immediately afterwards joined her peers in celebrating first reconciliation. Did the sacramental coordinator and celebrant not understand what Baptism is all about – or Penance too for that matter? There was not the remotest possibility that the child committed mortal sin in the few minutes between her baptism and reconciliation, so what did the latter mean?
What is the reason for such poor liturgical practice? Perhaps it is it a matter of ‘just in case’, that is, you can never have too much of a good thing, so there is no harm in doubling up, or doing extra penance?
Or is it a case of having everyone follow the same pattern so that no one looks different? I guess it’s less messy and more convenient that way, but it is certainly not helpful in forming the faithful in a sound theology of the sacraments!
Many Catholics seem not to understand fully or really value their own baptism and the sacrament of Baptism in general. The simple fact is that Baptism is the FIRST sacrament - NO other sacrament is celebrated before it. This is spelt out clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (emphasis added):
Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins. (977)
The sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism. (980)
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission. (1213)
By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God. (1263)
Clearly, no one receives any sacraments before he or she is baptised. Penance is celebrated by those who have fallen away from their baptismal promises and are in need of reconciliation with God and the Church into which they have been incorporated through Baptism.
In the case of the girl made to celebrate penance immediately after baptism, what a great catechetical opportunity was lost by not explaining to the assembly that she had just been washed free from sin and so would not be joining her peers in celebrating Penance.
Of course, it would have been even better for her to have been baptised, confirmed and given Eucharist together, as the rites and diocesan sacramental policy stipulate, at the Mass when her peers celebrated confirmation and first communion!