Archbishop Aguer: Infant baptism can help Christianize society if we recover ‘dynamism’ of Tradition – LifeSite

(LifeSiteNews) — Infant baptism is a practice of the Catholic Church whose origin dates back to post-apostolic antiquity. Recognizing the necessity of baptism for salvation, it was natural for parents to want this gift for their children. However, there are no testimonies from before the fourth century. The difficulty in affirming the existence of this practice comes from the necessity to profess faith in Christ the Savior, which accompanies conversion, in order to receive a new birth in the bath of baptismal regeneration.

For this reason, the Catholic tradition has discovered a formula: infants are baptized in the faith of the Church. The parents, and especially the godparents, contribute to the actualizing of this faith. This implies certain conditions that should be fulfilled – a pastoral requirement that, in my opinion, imposes certain catechetical conditions and, to some extent, the accompaniment of the community, which are obviously not easy to fulfill. That is why I maintain that the general practice should be reviewed so that infant baptism becomes an evangelizing event. In relation to this, we must recognize that today many parents do not baptize their children, nor are they concerned about doing so. This factual reality indisputably expresses the de-Christianization of society.

Another sign of the same problem: the baptismal rite includes the imposition of a name at the beginning of the celebration: “What name did you give your child?” There is a long list of Christian names; the most beautiful are Mary and Joseph. It was once tradition to give the child the name recorded in the saints’ calendar on the date of birth. But nowadays, having lost the memory of Christian tradition, children are given extravagant names downloaded from the internet according the fancy of the mother. Moreover, fads in certain periods favor a name taken from, say, a television series, and thus it turns out that a multitude of children have the same name. This phenomenon is very common.

What are we to do, then? It occurs to me that we must begin anew: as had happened in the first stages of ecclesial life, we now must return to the origins. It is necessary to speak about baptism as the beginning and foundation of Christian existence, the spiritual rebirth of the person, a union with Jesus Christ, and, through Him and with Him, communion with the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, whose presence in the baptized soul is received as a gift. These data of the faith can even be transmitted simply in the catechesis of parents and godparents, which nowadays is unavoidable in order not to fall into the routine of baptizing infants, as was done several decades ago when it was erroneously believed that a Christian conscience was still active throughout most of Argentine society. In fact, religious ignorance has been a historical characteristic of our country, a sign that the mission of the Church must still be committed to the evangelization of society.

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In the baptism of infants, generally performed by ablution with water poured on the head, the symbolism is preserved and becomes evident when the rite is not a modest washing, but rather an immersion in water, a sign of participation in the death of Jesus in order to rise with Him and receive the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a liberation from sin and in fact a liberation from the dominion of the devil, because we are all born with original sin and therefore under the devil’s rule. The water represents the source of new life through the sacramental contact of the Lord’s Resurrection and the joy that is the stamp of Christian existence.

The ancient tradition of the catechumenate suggests that the baptism of the infant be prepared with a catechesis, even a very brief one, in which it is made clear that the sacrament confers the grace of faith. This instruction is directed to parents and godparents and eventually to relatives attending the rite. The meaning of the crosses marking the forehead and chest should not be omitted, as well as the meaning of the anointings: the previous anointing with the Oil of Catechumens on the chest and after the washing, and the Consecration with the holy Chrism on the forehead, the anointing which represents the gift of the Holy Spirit that animates the new life. It should be added that the baptism of the Christian comes into contact with the baptism of Jesus administered by John in the Jordan River. Eastern icons present the Lord completely submerged under water, an image which has a theological, dogmatic character. This icon contrasts with the Western images that present Jesus standing in water that does not reach His knees.

Let us add another effect of baptism: the grace of God’s adoptive sonship. It is because we are His children that we can pray the Our Father. It is the Holy Spirit who impels us to address the Father in union with Jesus. Note the plural form of this prayer – we do not say “my Father,” but “our Father” – in reference to the community of the Church. By this rite of initiation we become members of the Catholic Church.

Parents and godparents are responsible for the Catholic formation and education of the baptized infant. The situation of society will change if this responsibility is truly fulfilled, for then it becomes more Christianized and makes the Church present. The godfather or godmother cannot be chosen purely for reasons of affection or commitment. They must be able to take charge, in the order of faith, of collaborating with the parents – and, eventually, replacing them – in the Christian formation of the child.

This article simply offers some data that can serve as a parameter for the pastoral care of baptism, which in my opinion must be decisively renewed. The weight of routine, which can affect the highest and noblest realities, must be shaken off without fears of enervation. Once we have recovered the dynamism that corresponds to living Tradition, the ecclesial fact that is infant baptism can be projected to the Christianization of society.

+ Héctor Aguer
Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata

Buenos Aires, Wednesday, June 26, 2024
Memorial of St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer

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