The Symbols of Baptism
The first symbol of Christian life in the Baptismal Ceremony is the assembled community which welcomes the child and incorporates her into itself. It is not a random meeting of people, but is a worshipping community gathered to listen to God's word and to celebrate its own identity in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Sign of the Cross
Usually when you enter the church the priest will trace the cross on the forehead of your baby and invite the parents and godparents to do the same. The cross is a reminder of the love of Christ who gave his life for his friends. The tracing of a cross on the forehead of the person being baptised is an invisible 'branding' that says 'you belong to Christ'.
The Word of God
The Scriptures are always read, whether a child is baptised during Mass or outside Mass. As the Scriptures are proclaimed, Christ himself is present in the assembly, calling us to be his disciples just as surely as he called the first disciples.
You will gather around the baptismal font - a large bowl, usually of stone or marble or glass holding the waters of baptism. Usually the mother holds the child. The celebrant asks the parents what they want for the child. You reply, 'Baptism.' Then you make the baptismal promises on behalf of your child. These promises are based on the Apostles Creed.
The priest pours water over the head of your baby (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." This is for cleansing and is a sign that our sins are washed away. Baptism cleanses us of original sin wih which we are all born and, in the baptism of adults, of every sin committed prior to baptism. Water is also necessary for life and so is a sign, too, that the life of the risen Christ is ours. It is also a sign of life. Without water nothing can grow. It is a sign of the new spiritual life into which the baptised person is entering.
Oil of Baptism is olive oil rubbed on the breast of the baby, just as athletes used to rub themselves with oil to strengthen and prepare for the fight ahead. It symbolises strengthening for the struggles of life ahead. Oil of Chrism is a mixutre of olive oil and balsam (sweet-smelling ointment) and is rubbed on the crown of the head. It is a sign of sealing with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The profession of faith which you make on behalf of your child at Baptism will later be confirmed personally by your child in the Sacrament of Confirmation when Oil of Chrism will be used again.
As a sign of the new life a Baptismal candle will be lit using the flame from the Easter Candle which symbolises the light of Christ - the Light of the World. This is the light that darkness cannot overcome. Light warms and encourages, it gives safety and illuminates the way ahead. It can burn and test substances. The baptised child, who has opened her eyes to the light of creation, is now awakened by the flame of faith. She is called to see all things through the eyes of Jesus Christ.
The Baptismal candle reminds us that the light of Christ has entered the child's life; and its flame symbolises the flame of faith which will burn throughout the life of the child.
Usually the father of the child or a godparent will stand by the child and hold this candle. You might ask the priest beforehand whether it is the custom in your parish for the parents to bring their own baptismal candle or whether the parish provides them. If you provide the candle, you can choose either to buy a baptismal candle or to decorate one yourself.
Clothing in a white garment is part of the ceremony to symbolise your child’s new life in Christ. Your family might have a Christening gown that you want to use or a shawl. If you want to use this, then let the priest know beforehand. You might like to use a baptismal gown, either a white stole, a white scapular or a white bib - perhaps one that you have made and bearing the sign of a cross. The colour white speaks of life, purity, newness and innocence. It is also a sign of the new life of resurrection.
Baptismal certificate and Baptismal register
At the end of the ceremony you will be asked to sign the parish Baptismal register and you will be given a Baptismal Certificate. Your baby's baptism will be recorded in the Parish Baptismal Register. You will want to keep the certificate carefully as it may be needed when you enrol your child in a catholic school or before he or she receives the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation. Your childs' confirmation, marriage or ordination will also be noted alongside this entry in the register.