Sacraments of Initiation
Mt. 3:13-17 & 28:19; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-22; Jn. 3:3-8
Mt. 26:17-19, 26-30; Mk. 14: 12-16, 22-26;
Lk. 22:7-20 & 24:13-25; Jn. 6; 1 Cor. 11:23-29
Jn. 14:26 & 16:7-15; Acts 2:1-4 & 8:17
“The sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist – lay the foundations of every Christian life. ‘The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity.’”
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” From the earliest years of the Church, not only adults, but also children have been joined to Jesus and His Church through the sacrament of Baptism. Like all of the sacraments, Baptism is not only a sign of faith, but also a means of grace. This means that it has a real spiritual effect in the soul of the baptized infant. Responding to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus that “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit1,” the Catholic Church has always placed the highest value on the Sacrament of Baptism, believing that through Baptism, the soul is cleansed of original sin, and a person becomes a child of God, and an heir to eternal life.
For this reason, the Church has always striven to make sure that young children are not deprived of the grace of Baptism, obliging Christian parents to baptize their infants within the first few weeks of life2. This great urgency is redoubled if it appears that an infant may be in danger of death, as it would be a great loss for a child to depart this life without the grace of Baptism.
“Parents, sponsors, and the Pastor are to see that a name foreign to the Christian tradition is not given,” Compiled Policies no. 1.4; 1983 CIC c. 855.
While a distinction exists between godparent and sponsor in the Rite nos. 8-9 and 42- 43; see, note to 1983 CIC c. 872, the requirements are essentially the same:
- A sponsor assists the person, who is to receive Baptism and Confirmation, to lead a Christian life;
- There may be only one male and one female sponsor;
- A sponsor must be designated by the parents of an infant, by an adult himself or herself, or by the Pastor or other cleric who administers the Sacrament;
- A sponsor must have completed his or her 16th year;
- A sponsor must have received the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist;
- A sponsor must be a practicing Catholic;
- A sponsor must be free of any canonical penalty;
- A mother or father may not be a sponsor for their child;
- A baptized non-Catholic may only act as a witness where a Catholic sponsor has been designated.
- 1983 CIC c. 872-874 and 892-893; Compiled Policies no. 1.5.
In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17):
If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond “Amen” (“yes, it is true!”) and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, “the Body of Christ” and respond “Amen.” Be then a member of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true (St. Augustine, Sermon 272: PL 38, 1247).
Our Blessing Cup is a Communion
As Catholics we believe the Eucharist, or Communion, is the real presence of Jesus, who died for our sins. As we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, we also are nourished spiritually and brought closer to God.
Confirmation enriches the baptized with the strength of the Holy Spirit so that they can better witness to Christ in word and deed (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], no. 1285). Anointed by the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, Christians strengthen their bond with the Church and become better equipped to carry out the Church’s mission of love and service.
Confirmation, together with Baptism and Holy Communion or Holy Eucharist, form the Sacraments of Initiation that are all intimately connected. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the baptized person is “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” and is strengthened for service to the Body of Christ.
The prophets of the Old Testament foretold that God’s Spirit would rest upon the Messiah to sustain his mission. Their prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus the Messiah was conceived by the Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus on the occasion of his baptism by John.
Jesus’ entire mission occurred in communion with the Spirit. Before he died, Jesus promised that the Spirit would be given to the Apostles and to the entire Church. After his death, he was raised by the Father in the power of the Spirit.
Those who believed in the Apostles’ preaching were baptized and received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. The Apostles baptized believers in water and the Spirit. Then they imparted the special gift of the Spirit through the laying on of hands. “‘The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church'” (CCC, no. 1288, citing Pope Paul VI, Divinae Consortium Naturae, no. 659).
By the second century, Confirmation was also conferred by anointing with holy oil, which came to be called sacred Chrism. “This anointing highlights the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’ and derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit'” (CCC, no. 1289, citing Acts 10:38).
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