Concerning Holy Baptism
Holy Baptism stands at the beginning of Christian Life, not principally because it is frequently administered to young children, but because it is the beginning of all sacramental grace. This is clear from the fourfold nature of the "inward and spiritual grace" of the sacrament.
Baptism is first of all the washing away of sin. When Baptism is administered to those old enough to know right from wrong, their past sinful actions are forgiven; their actual sins are washed away. Even more, all those who are baptized are forgiven what has been traditionally known as original sin. This means that all of the fallenness of our nature which stands as an obstacle to a true relationship with God is done away. God establishes a relationship with us by removing the guilt of our fallen condition.
This new relationship is God’s adoption of Christians as His children. Thus - and this is the second part of the grace of the sacrament - we are reborn. The font is a kind of womb bringing forth the new life in Christ. Just as we were born to a physical life from our earthly mothers, so from the font we are born to a spiritual life. This is a life which partakes of the life of God and thus of immortality. As spiritual birth, it is the beginning of Christian life. That life must still be lived, and there is much growth which must follow the birth. But the birth is real, and like our earthly birth, unrepeatable.
In being reborn we are incorporated into Christ and especially into His death and resurrection. St. Paul has termed it "putting on Christ" and putting off "the old man." Coming to the font, we first renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh, and then turn to Jesus and accept His Lordship over our lives. This incorporation into the death and resurrection of Christ is graphically symbolized when the baptism is by immersion: going down into the waters under which human life cannot survive and being raised up through death to a new life.
As a result of the putting on of Christ, we are made members of His Body, the Church. For all of its profound effects on our individual souls, Baptism is also profoundly corporate. In uniting us with Christ, it unites us also with all other Christians who are similarly united with the Head of the Church. Symbolizing this entrance into the Church, the font is often placed near the door to remind us how it is that we have come here.
All of these four elements of the Sacramental grace of Baptism emphasize God’s initiative in the Sacrament. This properly expresses the comfortable Gospel of grace: that God saves us quite apart from any merits or good deeds of our own. In Baptism, God takes us to Himself, establishing by His own sovereign mercy a relationship which is intended to bear fruit both in this life and the next.
Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany). It is also appropriate to reserve Baptisms for the visitation of a Bishop.