On the Purpose of Baptism

For the longest time, if someone had asked me what the purpose of Baptism was, I would have given a pretty weak reply. I would have said something like, “it takes away Original Sin” or “it makes us children of God.” These things are true in their own way, but such replies do not get at the heart of the sacrament.

The real purpose of any sacrament is to confer grace upon us by uniting us with Christ. Baptism is no exception. As St. Thomas says in his Summa Theologica, “by Baptism men are incorporated in Christ.” Baptism confers sanctifying grace on us for the first time in our lives. It places the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity in our souls. In other words, by uniting us to Christ, baptism allows us to believe, trust, and love God above all things.

As always, Christ is the key. Galatians 3:27 teaches that baptism clothes us in Christ. St. Paul attests that “we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3). This is the heart of the sacrament, and it explains why it is so necessary for our salvation. We are baptized into Christ’s death in order to escape the power of sin. Nothing but charity can make us love God more than we love our wrongful habits, and baptism gives us the grace of charity.

As St. Paul goes on to explain, “for if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Romans 6:4). This gives us a new answer to the question: what is the purpose of baptism? The sacrament buries us with Christ, so that we may rise with him as well. This union with Christ allows us to love God above all things, and this transforms us into new creations. We are given the power to truly live as holy sons and daughters of God, and not just in the next life, but right here and right now.

I mention this because many of us forget the connection between Christ and baptism. We think it is water and grace, and we’re right, but we can’t forget the reason those drops of mere water cause such profound grace. Without Christ, that water would be nothing but water. Its power comes from him and its purpose is to unite us to him. We must be ready for change. Baptism ought to actually make a visible difference in our lives.

“whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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