My children love going to Baptisms. Maybe it is because they LOVE babies. Maybe it is because they know there will probably be cake later on. But I think it may be more than that. I will often watch them watch the ritual as the Sacrament is being conferred upon the infant and there is an interest and intensity that speaks of something more that cuteness and confections.
As we homeschool, we talk in depth about the Sacrament of Baptism at least once a year. I describe the physical happenings of claiming the baby for Christ with the Sign of the Cross on the baby’s forehead, the pouring of the water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the anointing with Chrism a symbol of strength for the new Christian, the lighting of the candle as a reminder to carry the Light of Christ within you and entrusted to the parents and Godparents to be kept burning brightly, the clothing with the white garment. They also learn about the spiritual affects of the Sacrament. They love the thought of being an adopted child of God, brother or sister of Christ, heir to the Heavenly Kingdom. They learn about the cleansing of the soul from Original Sin and being made new and pure in Christ. They learn the Matter (pouring of water), Minister (usually a priest or deacon, but anyone in emergencies) and Form (the words “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen). And I am always struck with how much they seem to understand this particular Sacrament.
I think what really makes this Sacrament so special for young children is that they can relate to it. They know from the pictures and the tales that they, too, have gone through this ritual. They understand that when they were tiny babies, they, too, were taken to church, dressed in the long white dress and made clean and new. The purity of heart with which children approach this Sacrament is beautiful and joyful. It seems that they are eager for the new baby to join God’s family. It is as if they understand on some level the special gift that is being given and they are excited to share that. They, perhaps being some of the newest members of the community of faith, wish to welcome wholeheartedly those who come after them.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether my children even know they newly baptized. When we lived in Michigan, our large parish held Baptisms during the 12:15 Mass every week. And although we regularly attended this Mass and the event should have become commonplace for our children, they still watched with rapt attention and still loved it. It served as a reminder to us all that we are participating is the miraculous; the Sacrament of Baptism and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At these moments, Jesus’ words become powerful and real to me. “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13) And that beats cake any day.