Dr. Christine E. Wood, Director of the Office of Evangelisation & Catechesis
This Easter hundreds of thousands of adults will be brought into the Church through reception of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. In baptism we are incorporated into Christ; we throw off our “old nature” and “put on Christ.” St Paul indicates that entering the baptismal waters we die with Christ, while exiting the waters we rise with Christ. Hence, the baptismal font becomes both a tomb of death, and a womb of new life.
If we travel back to the early Church we discover that they understood the symbolism of the baptismal rites in this way. Baptism of adults occurred on Holy Saturday night as symbol of entering into the death of Christ – Christ having entered the tomb on Good Friday – and rising from the dead with Christ on Easter Sunday morning. Descriptions of adult baptisms dating back to the fourth century relate that adults would strip-off their clothes before entering into the baptismal waters as a symbol of stripping off one’s former sinful life and the mortality associated with it. They knew they would be clothed in baptism with the new life and incorruptibility which Christ offers. In another sense, they were imitating Christ who was stripped naked on the cross. If we are to receive everlasting life, we must let go of the things of this world, in order to enter into the new life of the resurrected Christ.
St Cyril of Jerusalem speaks in this way to the newly baptised: “Then you were led to the pool of divine baptism, as Christ taken down from the cross was laid in the tomb already prepared. Each one was questioned in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You made the profession of salvation and three times were you plunged in the water and came forth, signifying Christ’s burial for three days. By this action, you died and you were born, and for you the saving water was at once a grave and the womb of a mother.”
Baptism consists in the remission of sins, our adoption as children of God, and the pledge of the gift of the Holy Spirit. But what St Paul and the early Church Fathers were very clear about is that baptism is also our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Baptism is no mere naming ceremony. It is far richer than that—baptism really changes us! Baptism is the gateway into the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Christ died, not so that we don’t have to, but so that we can die and triumph over the grave with him. This triumph begins in baptism, and will be fully manifest—if we hold fast to Christ and keep his commandments—when Christ raises our mortal bodies from the grave at the end of time. As we celebrate this Sacred Triduum from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, let’s renew our baptismal promises, and rejoice in the wondrous gift of dying and rising with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.