The practice of infant baptism in the Catholic Faith has garnered some criticism especially from fundamentalists who believe that baptism should be reserved for adults and older children.
To fundamentalists, a person can only be baptized if he has experienced being born again which is only possible when he accepts Jesus Christ’s gift of salvation.
Ever since the New Testament era, the Catholic Church has viewed baptism differently. Here are some of the early teachings on the sacrament of infant baptism.
The Sacrament of Baptism
Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized,* every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:28
The sacrament of baptism is derived from the Greek word, baptizein which means to “plunge” and to “immerse.” To plunge into the water is a meaningful act that symbolizes one’s total surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. When we are immersed into the water, we are acknowledging His burial and death and as soon as we are raised out of it, we are symbolically resurrected, rising up with Christ as a new and resurrected creature.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church considers water baptism as the first sacrament and the gateway to the other sacraments. It is an act of forgiveness, spiritual rebirth and initiation into the church.
The Catholic Church teaches that baptism is required in order to receive eternal life. Baptism accomplishes several things such as the remission of sin which includes both original sin and actual sin. Baptism is said to be the gateway to life in the Holy Spirit and it gives us access to the other sacraments.
Baby's Baptism Standing Cross
Catholic Teachings on Infant Baptism
Original sin taints every one of us, not just adults but infants as well. Children, therefore, should not be exempted from the sacrament of baptism and must be given the gracious opportunity to experience restoration to a state of grace which is possible through baptism.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1250:
Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.
Cross Baby Pin
Criticism against infant baptism is not new. Since the Middle Ages, groups such as the Waldenses and Catharists rejected the practice, calling it invalid. The Catholic Church has maintained its stand, however, that the sacrament of baptism is not just for adults but for infants as well.
Nowhere in the bible does it say that baptism is restricted to adults only. In fact, even Jesus asserted that no one should hinder children from coming to him.
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:13-14
Furthermore, early accounts in the Bible mention that entire households have been baptized. There is no reason to believe that infants were not included in the ritual. One example is the account of a woman named Lydia in Luke.
Silver Baptism Shell
One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us. Acts 16:14-15
The Catholic Church upholds infant baptism as a precious gift from God. The church also teaches that an unbaptized child who passes away will either end up in hell or in purgatory. With respect to these children, we must trust in God’s mercy and pray earnestly for their salvation.
The Grace of Infant Baptism
Infant baptism is not just a centuries old tradition of the Catholic Faith, it is a symbolic act that beautifully captures the grace that God bestowed upon us, His beloved children. Through baptism, all sins are forgiven and we are reborn as a new creature in Christ.
Baptism makes us a part of the church, the Body of Christ and leaves us with an enduring spiritual mark. For those of us who have been resurrected in Christ, there is nothing that will keep us from entering the Kingdom of God.
What meaning does infant baptism have for you? How do you live out this blessing that God has given to you?