What is the Sacrament of Baptism?

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.

Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word."

Through Baptism a person is welcomed into the Church community. The person – infant, child or adult – through the waters of Baptism enters more deeply into the life of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He or she is dedicated to God and all that is good. The bond of Baptism binds a person to God forever; the bond is unbreakable and unrepeatable.

What happens during the Baptismal Ceremony?

You’ve been invited to the Church to attend the Baptism of the baby of your friend or relative and you might be wondering what to expect…

Baptismal Promises
The family will gather around the baptismal font – a large bowl, usually made of stone, marble or glass which holds the water used for baptism. The priest or deacon asks the parents what they ask for their child and they reply “Baptism”. Later the parents make the baptismal promises on behalf of their child. These promises are based on the Apostles Creed.

Sign of the Cross

The cross is a reminder of the love that Jesus Christ showed by giving his life for his friends. The tracing of a cross on the forehead of the person being baptised is an invisible “marking” that says “they belong to Jesus”. The priest or deacon will trace the cross on the forehead of the baby and invite the parents and godparents to do the same.

Word of God
Every liturgy is based around the word of God in Scripture. The priest gives a short homily or reflection on the readings.

Baptism with Water
The priest pours water over the baby’s head (or immerses the baby in the water) and says “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. The water is a sign of cleansing, symbolically washing away all the sin of the person being baptised. It is also a sign of life, because without water nothing can grow. And it is a sign of the new spiritual life into which the baptised person is entering.

Anointing with Oil
The priest anoints the baby on the chest with the Oil of Baptism. After baptism, he then anoints the baby’s forehead with the Oil of Chrism. The Oil of Baptism (Catechumens) is olive oil which has been specially blessed. It is associated with the days when athletes used to rub oil into their bodies before events to strengthen them and make their skin more supple, and symbolises strengthening for the challenges of life ahead. The Oil of Chrism is a combination of olive oil and balsam, and symbolises the sealing with the Holy Spirit.

White Garment
The child is clothed in a white garment which is a symbol of purity and innocence. Sometimes families like to use a christening gown or shawl that has been used by previous generations while others will use a white baptismal gown, a stole or a white bib.


A candle will be lit as a sign of this new life. It is usually lit from the Easter Candle which symbolises the light of Christ, and will be held by a parent or godparent.

Baptismal certificate
At the end of the ceremony the parents are given a Baptismal Certificate which they will keep as a record of their child’s initiation into the Church and present at future sacraments.


Infant Baptism

The usual church for Baptism is the parish church of the family whose baby is to be baptised.

Contact should be made with the Parish Priest to arrange for the baptismal preparation and a suitable date for the baptism.

Most parishes offer baptismal preparation and the opportunity to meet parishioners and other families with children for baptism. This enables those seeking baptism to feel part of the parish community and heightens the significance of the baptism being celebrated in the local parish community.

Where for some good reason, the family is seeking to celebrate the baptism outside their parish church, the permission of their parish priest needs to be obtained and given to the celebrant of the baptism.

Godparents share in the responsibility with the parents, of introducing to, instructing in, supporting and forming the Catholic faith in their godchildren. For this reason, parents need to take great care in choosing godparents and take into account in their choice the commitment to and practice of the Catholic faith and preparedness of the godparents to be involved in the faith development of the child for whom they are accepting this responsibility. Because of the importance of the godparents’ role as a model and mentor of the Catholic faith they must be Catholics. Provision is made for further support by non-Catholics through the role of Witnesses of Faith who stand with the godparents.

Usually there are several babies baptised at the one ceremony to symbolise that each baby is joining the universal Church, which is made up of over a billion people. In fact, the gathered community is also a symbol of the Church. The priest says to each child, calling him or her by name, ‘The Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our saviour by the sign of the cross.’

Adult Baptism

Many people are Catholic because they were born into a Catholic family. But others make the decision to become Catholic during their adult life. Each year thousands of people enquire about the Catholic faith and go on to be received into the Catholic Church. Others who were baptised as an infant make an adult decision to follow Jesus more closely in the Church.

Christian Initiation

If you are an adult who has not been baptised a Christian, but are thinking about becoming a Catholic, then the first step is to go to the local church and ask how they go about receiving people into the Church. Most churches are delighted to welcome new people into their church.

You will probably be asked to participate in instructions. Sometimes the priest does this himself; some churches have a programme - the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults or R.C.I.A. - to prepare people for baptism.

Joining the Community
When you ask for Baptism you are asking to become a member of the Catholic Church. You will be expected to take part in the life of that community on a regular basis.

Like any community, hopefully, you will find people there you get on with.

Committing your life to God
Baptism is the sacrament in which we commit ourselves to God. We proclaim our faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we promise to avoid evil and to do good.

The baptism ceremony for adults is similar to baptism of children except that you make the baptismal promises yourself. Instead of godparents adults have sponsors whose role is to encourage you in the catholic faith.

Traditionally adult baptisms take place during the ceremony of the Easter Vigil. In some parishes, therefore, you might be asked to wait for Easter for Baptism.