The Sacraments: Baptism

I’m currently writing a series of articles on the sacraments for the cathedral website. They are being posted here in case anyone wants to comment or ask any further questions.

Around the font for a baptism

Several times a year there is the opportunity to receive baptism at St Mary’s. The primary time for baptisms to take place is at the Easter Vigil early on Easter Day. Other opportunities are available throughout the year though there is always a connection with the events of Easter. It is at the Easter Vigil that the font is filled with water and the Bishop breathes over the water praying that all who are baptised in the water will receive the holy spirit. It is also at the Easter Vigil that the great Paschal Candle is lit from the Easter Fire and brought into the church. Every baptism takes place in the light of Easter and the Paschal candle is lit near to the font to indicate this.

As with all the sacraments, the symbols surrounding baptism are rich. A number of different physical things happen in the course of a baptism which help to form our beliefs about what is happening when someone is baptised.

Baptism is intrinsically tied up with the events of Holy Week as the original symbolism of baptism – plunging someone into water and them rising out of it again is symbolic of Jesus dying and being buried and rising again. The bible speaks of us being baptised “into Christ’s death” in order that we might rise with Christ. For this reason, baptism cannot really be understood as anything other than one of the symbols of the new life and resurrection that we believe Jesus brought us.

Very many religious traditions use water symbolically and baptism is one of the ways that Christians use water to express theological truths. (Washing feet on Maundy Thursday is another vivid way in which water is used in the liturgy). In common with the way other religious people use water, there is an element of symbolic washing that is involved in the ceremony of baptism. Every week in church we say when we say the Creed together that we acknowledge “one baptism for the remission of sins”.

At the heart of the baptism ceremony is a beautiful prayer over the water which recalls some of the ways in which God’s people have seen the love of God in the world through watery symbols.

Holy God, well-spring of life,
in your love and justice,
you use the gift of water to declare your saving power.
In the beginning your Spirit moved over the face of the waters.
By the gentle dew, the steady rain,
you nourish and give increase to all that grows;
you make the desert a watered garden.
You command the wildness of the waves;
when the storm rages you calm our fear;
in the stillness you lead us to a deeper faith.
In the life-giving rivers and the rainbow
Israel discerned your mercy.
You divided the Red Sea to let them pass from slavery in Egypt
to freedom in the Promised Land.
In the waters of Jordan
penitents found forgiveness in the baptism of John.
There, Jesus your beloved child was anointed with the Holy Spirit,
that he might bring us
to the glorious liberty of the children of God.

As well as water, we use oil and light to symbolise what is happening at baptism. After being baptised in water, a sign of the cross is made on the person’s head using oil which the bishop blesses each year on Maundy Thursday – again connecting baptism with the events of Holy Week. At some point in the service, a candle will be kindled from the Pascal Candle and presented to the candidate. In the case of children who are baptised, parents or godparents can light the candle every year on the person’s birthday or the anniversary of the baptism until such a time as they ask why the candle is being lit and can hear the story of their own baptism.

At St Mary’s we gather everyone who is present around the font. Everyone who is baptised is surrounded by the love of the whole community. Together we have a responsibility to help all who are baptised to live out their Christian faith.

It is the ancient tradition of the church that you are only baptised once and so we don’t re-baptise anyone who has been baptised already. In common with many of the churches in Scotland we recognise that if someone has been baptised in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit within the context of a different denomination to our own then they have been properly baptised. You can’t be baptised into being an Episcopalian. You are baptised into the Christian faith.

Many people are brought for baptism when they are babies or very young children by those bringing them up. When we baptise infants who cannot comprehend what is happening to them or indeed make their own assent to what is being done, we are rejoicing that God’s love is there for everyone whether or not they know it. In baptism we celebrate our belief that everyone is utterly loved by God whether they know they are or even whether they want to be or not.

For those coming into the life of the church who are adults, baptism is a powerful statement that they themselves confess that they know that they are known and loved by God. people who are adults who wish to make a similar statement who were baptised as children sometimes find that the sacrament of Confirmation offers them an opportunity to do something similar in which some of the symbols of baptism are recalled.

Baptism is a sacrament – an outward sign of an inward spiritual grace, because we use physical things (water, oil, candles) to speak of deep spiritual truths – the passion of God in saving the the world through the actions of Christ that we remember in Holy Week, the fact that Christians have an expectation of rising to new life with Christ who rose from the grave and the joy of celebrating the uniqueness of each individual within the context of God’s overwhelming love.

Frequently Asked Questions
Do you baptise adults or children at St Mary’s?
Both adults and children are baptised in St Mary’s.

Can you be baptised by full immersion in St Mary’s?
Our font is not designed for full immersion baptisms but if you would like to explore the possibility of being baptised by full immersion, please speak to a member of the clergy.

I was baptised as a baby in St Mary’s does that mean I am a member and can vote at church meetings?
You are a member of the Christian faith by virtue of your baptism (and consequently welcome to receive communion in any Scottish Episcopal Church) but legal membership of a congregation is something different and you need to speak to a member of the clergy to ensure you are included on the membership roll.

Any further questions or comments?

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