When I gave birth to each of my girls, I remember falling instantly in love with them. I remember the first time I laid eyes on my oldest, after a long and challenging labor. She was so beautiful, so perfect, that it made every minute of suffering worth it. I expected that that would be the case, and although I was surprised by the intensity of my feelings, I wasn’t surprised that I felt as I did.
What did surprise me was the intensity of joy surrounding her baptism. I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming joy and humility I would feel, in light of the realization that God had allowed me to be a part of bringing a new soul to life in Him.
The parish we attended as newlyweds was well-known for its baptisms. The Easter Vigil was long because of the number of baptisms that occurred each year. The baptismal font is often referred to as “the womb of the Church” and it is from the labor pains of the Triduum that the birth of these new children of God come. This reality strikes me anew each Triduum. Even when no baptisms are performed at the Vigil, a whole portion of the liturgy is set aside to recall and renew our own Baptismal promises. That practice carries over to Easter Sunday Masses, where the faithful also renew those same promises.
Why is Baptism such an integral part of the Easter liturgies? Because Baptism is everything.
All that occurs in the Paschal Triduum, all that we celebrate at Easter, only makes sense in light of the gift of our Baptism. For, if we can’t take part in the mystery, what is the point? Baptism is our own experience of the Paschal mystery. We descend (literally or figuratively) into the waters of Baptism, and there we die. We emerge alive anew – alive in Christ. The waters of Baptism are our own experience of the Triduum. “If we have died with Christ, then we shall live with Him.”
The Triduum, and the Easter season, are special in that they highlight the drama of that moment – the moment when the priest pours the water and utters the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” If you have ever been present at the Easter Vigil, you have experienced the solemnity of that moment. The baptisms that many of us attend – on a Sunday afternoon, during a morning Mass, may seem less dramatic. They may feel joy-filled, certainly, but they tend to have a lighter, cheerier feeling to them. It is easy to forget that they are that child’s partaking in the death and resurrection of Christ.
But the drama, the seriousness, of what happens at each baptism is real. Prior to baptism, heaven is not a given for the child. Certainly, we hope in Christ’s mercy, but there isn’t the surety that there is once a child has been baptized. In our modern world, where the child mortality rate is (thankfully) much lower than it once was, we take for granted the fragile state of a new child. It is not uncommon to postpone a baptism for months, rather than days or weeks. It is a given that the child will be healthy and strong, and there is no sense of urgency.
But with Baptism – there needs to be a sense of urgency. We cannot lose sight of the significance of this Sacrament. At the moment of Baptism, we are given an indelible mark on our souls and everything changes. In that instant, we can call God “Father,” the Church our Mother, and we become a part of the body of Christ.
As we continue in this Paschal season, my God bless you with a renewed love and appreciation for your own Baptism.