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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Holy Saturday 16th April 2022 – Easter Vigil Readings

    The earliest Latin text on baptism, Tertullian’s De baptismo, begins by contrasting the spectacular and flamboyant rites of paganism with the simplicity and modesty of Christian ones. With his characteristic sense of paradox he makes this very unimpressiveness the badge of credibility, cf. credibile est, quia ineptum est (De carne Christi 5.4).

    Later, in the third century, infant baptism came into practice, making the outer form of the sacrament even less impressive, because of the subject’s lack of conscious participation. Calvin reduced baptism to a rite confirming church membership, comparable to circumcision for the Jews. Karl Barth, in the last volume of his Church Dogmatics (IV/4) rejects infant baptism and Catholic sacramentalism and speaks of baptism as a manmade gesture expressive of the commitment of faith. He fondly imagined that his viewpoint would win support in the post Vatican II church (encouraged perhaps by his compatriot Hans Küng’s ecclesiology), though cannily fearing that a new Pius IX would clamp down the brakes.

    The doctrine of baptismal regeneration (along with that of the apostolic succession) was under attack in Anglicanism in the nineteenth century, and effectively ceased to be mandatory articles of faith. Their defence was taken up by S. J. Stone in a well-known hymn of 1866:

    The Church’s one foundation
    is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
    she is his new creation
    by water and the Word….
    Her charter of salvation
    One Lord, one faith one birth.

    The Holy Saturday readings drive home this understanding of baptism as a sacramental event. The water of baptism is linked with the primordial waters of the Creation narrative of Genesis 1 and with the liberation of Israel, led miraculously through the Red Sea. The Christian is born again, born from above, of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8). The power of the event lies in our faith, in our hearing of the Word, in the sustaining presence of the Community; but it has a further reach to which we should remain open. We cannot set limits to the power of Christ’s word (in this case the formula of Matthew 28:19) and to the grace that God will pour out on the newly baptized.

    The simple words exchanged in a marriage ceremony change one’s whole life. So do the simple words and signs of baptism, though which Christ claims one as His own and sets one off on the great adventure of a life lived with Him.

    The most powerful words written about baptism are no doubt those of Paul:

    Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom 6:3-5)

    Paul links baptism indissolubly with the Paschal Mystery. To enter into the waters of baptism is to enter the death of Christ, to be united with him in death, as it were anticipating our actual death as a passage into eternal life.

    This sacrament was the gate of entry that linked us concretely with the one who died and was raised from the dead, though we were unconscious infants when our parents carried us through it. When we renew our baptismal promises we are reaching back to that blessed day, and reaching out to the Christ who then made us his own and to his church, our ark, where so many graces flow. We might say that the day of our baptism was the day of our resurrection, our Easter Day, when the event of Jesus’s resurrection ceased to be only an objective gift of redemption but was subjectively appropriated in the depth of our soul. Likewise, we might say that the day of our confirmation was our day of Pentecost, when the outpouring of the Spirit on the infant church became a reality for us too, making us full-grown Christians, equipped for great things.

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