Baptism: The Door of the Church
The Sacrament of Baptism is often called “The door of the Church,” because it is the first of the seven sacraments not only in time (since most Catholics receive it as infants) but in priority, since the reception of the other sacraments depends on it. It is the first of the three Sacraments of Initiation, the other two being the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Once baptized, a person becomes a member of the Church. Traditionally, the rite (or ceremony) of baptism was held outside the doors of the main part of the church, to signify this fact.
Christ Himself ordered His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations and to baptize those who accept the message of the Gospel. In His encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Christ made it clear that baptism was necessary for salvation: “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” For Catholics, the sacrament is not a mere formality; it is the very mark of a Christian, because it brings us into new life in Christ.
The Form/Minister of the Sacrament of Baptism
While the Church has an extended rite of Baptism which is normally celebrated, which includes roles for both parents and godparents, the essentials of that rite are two: the pouring of water over the head of the person to be baptized (or the immersion of the person in water); and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Since the form of baptism requires just the water and the words, the sacrament, like the Sacrament of Marriage, does not require a priest; any baptized person can baptize another. In fact, when the life of a person is in danger, even a non-baptized person—including someone who does not himself believe in Christ—can baptize, provided that the person performing the baptism follows the form of baptism and intends, by the baptism, to do what the Church does—in other words, to bring the person being baptized into the fullness of the Church. In both cases, a priest may later perform a conditional baptism.
In the Catholic Church today, baptism is most commonly administered to infants. While some other Christians strenuously object to infant baptism, believing that baptism requires assent on the part of the person being baptized, the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and other mainline Protestants also practice infant baptism, and there is evidence that it was practiced from the earliest days of the Church.
Since baptism removes both the guilt and the punishment due to Original Sin, delaying baptism until a child can understand the sacrament may put the child’s salvation in danger, should he die unbaptized.
Adult converts to Catholicism also receive the sacrament, unless they have already received a Christian baptism. (If there is any doubt about whether an adult has already been baptized, the priest will perform a conditional baptism.) A person can only be baptized once as a Christian—if, say, he was baptized as a Lutheran, he cannot be rebaptized when he converts to Catholicism.
While an adult can be baptized after proper instruction in the Faith, adult baptism normally occurs today as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and is immediately followed by Confirmation and Communion.
The Effects of the Sacrament of Baptism
Baptism has six primary effects, which are all supernatural graces:
- The removal of the guilt of both Original Sin (the sin imparted to all mankind by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) and personal sin (the sins that we have committed ourselves).
- The remission of all punishment that we owe because of sin, both temporal (in this world and in Purgatory) and eternal (the punishment that we would suffer in hell).
- The infusion of grace in the form of sanctifying grace (the life of God within us); the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; and the three theological virtues.
- Becoming a part of Christ.
- Becoming a part of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.
- Enabling participation in the sacraments, the priesthood of all believers, and the growth in grace.
If you are looking to have your child baptized in St. Augustine’s parish, there are a few important things to consider. The normal conditions for the request of baptism in these cases are as follows:
- Parents should live within the geographical boundaries of St. Augustine’s parish
- Parents should regularly attend Holy Mass at St. Augustine’s each weekend
If the above conditions have been met, a request should be made by parents to Fr. Kane, the Parish Priest, in good time so that arrangements can be made. When arrangements have been finalised, parents should meet with one of the priests before the baptism. Parents are also normally required to attend a brief pre-baptismal meeting, held in the Chapel House usually on the second Tuesday of the month (7.00pm) in which the baptism is due to take place. Generally, baptisms in St. Augustine’s take place on the last Sunday of each month, usually with several children being baptised at the same time.
One Sponsor, male or female, is sufficient; but there may be two, one of each sex. Both Sponsors must be baptised. One, however, may be admitted as a Christian Witness if baptised in another Christian community. (Re. The Code of Canon Law, nn. 873, 874)
Holy Communion: Our Life in Christ
The Sacrament of Holy Communion is the third of the Sacraments of Initiation. Even though we are required to receive Communion at least once per year (our Easter Duty), and the Church urges us to receive Communion frequently (even daily, if possible), it is called a sacrament of initiation because, like Baptism and Confirmation, it brings us into the fullness of our life in Christ.
In Holy Communion, we are eating the True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, without which “you shall not have life in you” (John 6:53).
Preparing for the Sacrament of Holy Communion
Because of the intimate connection of the Sacrament of Holy Communion to our life in Christ, we must be free of any grave or mortal sin before receiving it, as St. Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Otherwise, as he warns, we receive the sacrament unworthily, and we “eateth and drinketh damnation” to ourselves.
If we are aware of having committed a mortal sin, we must participate in the Sacrament of Confession first. The Church sees the two sacraments as connected, and urges us, when we can, to join frequent Confession with frequent Communion.
Making a Spiritual Communion
If we cannot receive Holy Communion physically, either because we cannot make it to Mass or because we need to go to Confession first, we can pray an Act of Spiritual Communion, in which we express our desire to be united with Christ and ask Him to come into our soul. A spiritual communion is not sacramental, but prayed devoutly, it can be a source of grace that can strengthen us until we can receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion once again.
The Effects of the Sacrament of Holy Communion
Receiving Holy Communion worthily brings us graces that affect us both spiritually and physically. Spiritually, our souls become more united to Christ, both through the graces we receive and through the change in our actions that those graces effect. Frequent Communion increases our love for God and for our neighbour, which expresses itself in action, which makes us more like Christ.
Confirmation as the Perfection of Baptism
In Scotland confirmation is usually received as a teenager, several years after making First Communion. The Catholic Church considers it the second of the three Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism being the first and Communion the third). Confirmation is regarded as the perfection of Baptism, because, as the introduction to the Rite of Confirmation states:
“by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed”.
The Form of the Sacrament of Confirmation
Many people think of the laying on of hands, which signifies the descent of the Holy Spirit, as the central act in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The essential element, however, is the anointing of the confirmand (the person being confirmed) with chrism (an aromatic oil that has been consecrated by a bishop), accompanied by the words “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” (or, in the Eastern Catholic Churches, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”). This seal is a consecration, representing the safeguarding by the Holy Spirit of the graces conferred on the Christian at Baptism.
The Minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, “The original minister of Confirmation is the bishop.” Each bishop is a successor to the apostles, upon whom the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost—the first Confirmation. The Acts of the Apostles mentions the apostles imparting the Holy Spirit to believers by the laying on of hands (see, for example, Acts 8:15-17 and 19:6).
The Church has always stressed this connection of confirmation, through the bishop, to the ministry of the apostles, but She has developed two different ways of doing so.
In St. Augustine’s our young pupils receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in either Primary 6 or Primary 7 of schooling. Sacramental preparation is carried-out during RE lessons at St. Augustine’s Primary, together with input from the priests of the parish.
Guidelines for Marriage in the Catholic Church (PDF)
Organising your Wedding
If you wish to marry at St. Augustine’s there are a number of things to do in preparation.
Contact the Parish Priest Fr. Kane with details of the proposed date and time for your wedding.
About 6 months before the wedding contact one of the priests again to arrange a meeting to go over the the paper work.
When you come for that meeting please bring along the following:
For those who are Roman Catholics:
A) an up-to-date copy of your Baptism certificate from the parish where you were baptised
B) an up-to-date copy of your Confirmation details from the parish where you were Confirmed.
C) a letter from the parish where you were baptised to state that you are free to marry. This is called a Letter of Freedom.
All these can be obtained by contacting the priest of the parish where you were baptised/confirmed.
For those who are not Roman Catholics:
A) If you are baptised – please bring some evidence to show when and where you were baptised.
Several days before the wedding there would normally be a practice. At the practice the following should attend: the bride and groom, the two legal witnesses – normally the best man and bridesmaid, as well as readers.
Christian Marriage: a call to love and to serve
The whole Christian faith is about love in the richest meaning of the word, involving the real giving and sharing of oneself in selfless sacrifice. God is such love in its fullness, and the source of all real love. He seeks to draw humanity together into a deep unity within his own life. He does this in many ways, but human friendship, affection and love are his most ‘natural’ human way of doing so. God makes holy all that is truly human, including all true forms of love.
Friendship is a gift from God, a blessing to be cherished (Ecclesiasticus 6:14-17). Deep spiritual friendship between Christians can be a great support in their life as disciples, especially if they pray and worship together.
The intimate friendship of a man and woman in love is also something rooted in God and blessed by him. The Scriptures often compare God’s relationship with us to the love between bridegroom and bride, husband and wife (e.g. Isaiah 62.4-5). All real love is about self-giving, and the special bond of marriage involves two people giving themselves totally to each other until they are parted by death.
Christian marriage is not just an agreement to live together as husband and wife. It is a vocation, a calling from God to a special ‘two-some’ kind of discipleship. Their union is a sacrament, a living symbol of the holy wedding or ‘covenant’ of God with us, his Bride. The married couple in their joyful life of mutual love are meant to be the Good News come alive, a kind of visual aid of the intimacy God longs for with us (Ephesians 5:25-33). The Lord will use their love as an instrument to others of his own loving presence.
Christian marriage is no easy calling. It is a Gospel commitment, and like any form of discipleship it is a tough, demanding vocation which involves renouncing oneself and taking up the cross of Christ. It is also a calling filled with the joy of Easter.
Marriage involves the totally free, unreserved, unconditional giving of two people to each other. It is founded not just upon mutual feelings, but upon a promise of commitment. It is God who joins together their lives. Because their union is a sacrament of God’s faithful and never-ending love, any real marriage is permanent, even if one partner is unfaithful, just as the Lord remains totally faithful to us even if we turn our back on him. Jesus himself said, ‘What God has joined together, let no person put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). There can be no divorce when a marriage is truly sacramental and consummated. Christian marriage is for life, till death us do part.
There are couples who are not really married in the first place, perhaps because they were not seriously committing themselves on their wedding day to all that Christian marriage involves, or because they were personally incapable of giving themselves totally to each other with the degree of commitment required. In such cases, the Church can declare that no marriage actually existed at all (an ‘annulment’). This is not the same as divorce, which is the putting asunder of two people who are truly married.
Marriage is a complete giving of two people to each other, a commitment to be totally faithful. This obviously includes sexual faithfulness. Adultery is a very grave failure to live the meaning of marriage, striking deep at God’s work of ‘at-one-ment’.
This especially intimate unity, which only comes about on the wedding day when the couple give themselves totally to each other in a new way, is wonderfully expressed and deepened in the union of bodies involved in God’s holy gift of sexual intercourse. Bride and groom leave their parents, and become one flesh: ‘They are no longer two, therefore, but one body’ (Matthew 19:5). This is why sexual intercourse outside of marriage is a serious misuse of God’s great gift. It is only when a couple have reached the stage of final, no-turning-back commitment in marriage that sexual intercourse becomes the God-filled joy it is meant to be. The complete bodily union of husband and wife is the final sealing of the weaving together of their lives, the supreme physical expression of the deep and total love between them.
God’s creative work flows from uniting what he has already created. He brings forth new human life through the loving union of two of his beloved creatures. Permanently to refuse to allow God to work through their union is to shut their life to his creative love. Marriage involves a couple being responsibly but unselfishly open to God’s own life-making work through their love-making.
Christian marriage is a call to serve together within the Church, not just a personal agreement between a couple. A Catholic therefore must be married in the presence of the Catholic community, in a Catholic church, unless the Bishop gives permission to do otherwise.
Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA)
As part of the revision of the Liturgy of the Sacraments which followed the Second Vatican Council an English text of the revised rite for the baptism and reception into full communion with the Catholic Church was published in 1987 after several years of preparation. This Rite is now in common use. Like all the rites relating to the sacraments, RCIA has its roots in the early days of the Christian Church. With the foundation of new churches there was an evident need for a programme of instruction in the faith and such programmes are in evidence into the sixth century. However, as the baptism of infants gradually became the norm, the need for adult preparation was less evident. Vatican II, with its strong missionary awareness, recognised the need to address, once again, the preparation and admission of adults into the Church.
In keeping with the pastoral spirit of the Council, this programme was seen as a journey of faith inspired by the Gospel description of the vocation of the first disciples to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he made his way towards his death and resurrection. Today, candidates are invited to make this pilgrimage of faith and to do so in clearly defined stages, with each stage marked by its own Rites, till they are able to celebrate the Easter Mysteries in full communion with Christians throughout the world.
The entire parish community is engaged in prayerful support of the candidates with a smaller group of the faithful playing their part in directing the regular meetings and offering personal support as sponsors who pray for and encourage the candidates during the best part of their year of preparation. This will usually begin in the autumn and continue till Pentecost the following year.
Welcoming Rite: At the beginning of the programme, on one of the Sundays of Advent, the Candidates or Catechumens are given a warm welcome and presented with a copy of the Holy Bible in the conviction that the Word of God will hold pride of place in their preparation.
The Rite of Election takes place in the Cathedral, which is the mother church of the Diocese, on the First Sunday of Lent. This gives the bishop the opportunity to meet the candidates and catechumens and invite them to enter their names in the Book of the Elect. During Lent three other services take place in the home parishes of the candidates. These are known traditionally as The Scrutinies. Their original purpose was to allow the Christian communities to recognise those who were preparing for Easter. On each of these occasions the readings from the Lectionary are chosen from the Gospel of Saint John for Liturgical Year A because of their catechetical value. On the third and fifth Sundays respectively the Elect are presented with a copy of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The prayers on these occasions are concerned with the themes of exorcism, self-searching and repentance. They also serve to strengthen the resolve of the candidates to persevere in their pilgrimage of faith.
Shortly before Easter a Day of Prayer or Recollection is recommended to the Elect.
In the course of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, the Catechumens and Candidates are received into full communion with the Catholic Church with their reception of the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. Those who have already been baptised will receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. After Easter the Programme continues with reflections on the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection, his Ascension, and the Solemnity of Pentecost. With good reason all concerned gather for a social evening to share the happiness of their experiences.
Common Misunderstandings about Reconciliation/Penance
Confession is one of the least understood of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. In reconciling us to God, it is a great source of grace, and Catholics are encouraged to take advantage of it often.
What is Confession?
What is its purpose and its effects?
What are its requirements?
Can we confess our sins directly to God, or must we go through a priest?
Confession as a Sacrament
The Sacrament of Penance, commonly called Confession, is one of the seven sacraments recognized by the Catholic Church. Catholics believe that all of the sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ himself. In the case of Confession, that institution occurred on Easter Sunday, when Christ first appeared to the apostles after his Resurrection. Breathing on them, he said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23).
The Marks of the Sacrament
Catholics also believe that the sacraments are an outward sign of an inward grace. In this case, the outward sign is the absolution, or forgiveness of sins, that the priest grants to the penitent (the person confessing his sins); the inward grace is the reconciliation of the penitent to God (which is why the sacrament is also sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation).
The Purpose of Confession
That reconciling of man to God is the purpose of Confession. When we sin, we deprive ourselves of God’s grace. And by doing so, we make it even easier to sin some more. The only way out of this downward cycle is to acknowledge our sins, to repent of them, and to ask God’s forgiveness. Then, in the Sacrament of Confession, grace can be restored to our souls, and we can once again resist sin.
What Is Required?
Three things are required of a penitent in order to receive the sacrament worthily:
- He/she must be contrite—or, in other words, sorry for his sins.
- He/she must confess those sins fully, in kind and in number.
- He/she must be willing to do penance and make amends for his/her sins.
How Often Should You Go to Confession?
While Catholics are only required to go to Confession when they are aware that they have committed a mortal sin, the Church urges the faithful to take advantage of the sacrament often. A good rule of thumb is to go once per month. (The Church strongly recommends that, in preparation for fulfilling our Easter Duty to receive communion, we go to Confession even if we are aware of venial sin only.)
The Church especially urges the faithful to receive the Sacrament of Confession frequently during Lent, to help them in their spiritual preparation for Easter.
Why Is Confession Necessary?
Non-Catholics, and even many Catholics, often ask whether they can confess their sins directly to God, and whether God can forgive them without going through a priest. On the most basic level, of course, the answer is yes, and Catholics should make frequent acts of contrition, which are prayers in which we tell God that we are sorry for our sins and ask for His forgiveness.
But the question misses the point of the Sacrament of Confession. The sacrament, by its very nature, confers graces that help us to live a Christian life, which is why the Church requires us to receive it at least once per year. Moreover, it was instituted by Christ as the proper form for the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore, we should not only be willing to receive the sacrament, but we should embrace it as a gift from a loving God.
ANOINTING OF THE SICK
It is God who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every ill everyone of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion.
A Guide to Pastoral Care of the Sick
The sickness and incapacity of any member of the Church is not a matter only of private interest. The Church is the Body of Christ and we are all members of that Body:
‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured all rejoice together with it.’ I Corinthians 12.26
At the same time people have a right to a certain amount of privacy. It will always be a matter for each person concerned to agree to what and how information about their condition is made available to, for example, the Parish priest and how widely that information might be shared – for example in public prayers in the parish.
The Church desires to accompany any of her members through the trials of sickness with the comfort and encouragement that can be offered by prayer and the sacraments. Three sacraments in particular are regularly celebrated with the sick:
The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. This sacrament was formerly known as Extreme Unction and cele- brated as close as possible to the time of death, but now a sacrament which is celebrated as soon as serious illness begins and repeated as necessary during the illness
The sacrament of Penance. Often the experience of serious illness, as well as the experience of having time onOne’s hands means that people have the opportunity to reflect on their lives. Sometimes this will encourage them to seek the forgiveness of God for what has been sinful in their lives, and to know his faithfulness and mercy in the celebration of this sacrament
The sacrament of the Eucharist. Sometimes Mass might be celebrated in the home of the sick person. More commonly Holy Communion will be brought from the parish celebration of Mass and ministered to the sick person (and sometimes also to Catholic members of the family or friends) by the priest or commissioned ministers of Holy Communion.
Precisely how the priest and the parish will respond to the sickness of any member of the parish will depend on the resources they have to draw on, and the circumstances of the person concerned. However the following notes will give a guide.
If someone is seriously ill but can confidently expect to be well within two or three weeks ask for prayers to be said for them.
The parish may have the practice of including the names of sick people in the Prayer of the Faithful (Bidding Prayers) or have a Prayer Requests board in the church.
The priest may be able to visit, but more commonly visits will be paid by the sick person’s personal friends within the community.
If it is not possible for the person to attend Sunday Mass then a request may be made for Holy Communion to be brought to their home. For someone who has had the practice of taking part in daily Mass arrangements for more frequent reception of Holy Communion at home might also be possible.
If someone is seriously ill and/ or is housebound for more than two or three weeks, in addition to the points noted above:
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament for anyone whose health is seriously impaired,not only for the dying. It is a sacrament that is commonly ministered a number of times during an illness, sometimes because the illness worsens, or because the sick person would benefit from the spiritual encouragement it gives them.
The Sacrament of Penance (Confession/ Reconciliation) can be celebrated in the home.The experience of sickness can often prompt in the person who is incapacitated the desire to make confession and receive absolution.The topic will often be best first raised by the priest during his visit, rather than by friends or family members.
In addition to the need for the sacraments and prayer, someone who is ill and house-bound will often value other forms of pastoral care – perhaps the opportunity of a visit and a chat and cup of tea with another parishioner, perhaps some help with shop- ping or the care of the garden. Organisations such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Knights of St Columba and Legion of Mary have a proud tradition of offering this sort of support.
If someone is seriously ill and in hospital or a nursing home, in addition to the points noted above:
It is important that any desire to see a Catholic chaplain is made known to the administrators of the hospital/nursing home. Current regulations mean that this information cannot be given by the hospital/ nursing home to a chaplain without the explicit permission of the patient. This is a matter that should be addressed as part of the admission procedures, but if it has been overlooked at that time it can be dealt with later.
In a hospital the ministering of the sacraments (e.g. Holy Communion, Penance or Anointing of the Sick) is the responsibility of the chaplain. Ministers from elsewhere (priests or commissioned ministers of Holy Communion) should ask permission of the chaplain before agreeing to celebrate the sacramental rites.
If someone is dying
In many cases, by the time death is imminent the sick person will have received the sacrament of Anointing several times and will have been receiving Holy Communion weekly. So no longer do the ‘Last Rites’ have the same significance they had previously. That said the Church urges that those who are dying should receive Holy Communion as viaticum, and this will often be accompanied by a final celebration of Penance and Anointing of the Sick. Viaticum, food for the journey, may be received more than once, according to the needs of the dying person.
I was sick and you visited me
It is God who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every ill everyone of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion.
A Guide to Pastoral Care of the Sick
The Church’s ritual books, Pastoral Care of the Sick and In Sure and Certain Hope, contain a selection of prayers and readings both for the Commendation of the Dying and for Prayers after Death.
Jesus our Lord, we ask you to have mercy on all who are sick. Give them your strength and love, and help them to carry this cross with faith. May their sufferings be one with yours, overcome the power of evil, and lead others to our Father in heaven. Lord Jesus, hear our prayer, for you are Lord for ever and ever. Amen.
In the event that your loved one dies you should contact the local priest immediately to make formal arrangements for a Funeral Liturgy.
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1989 the Division. This resource was provided by The Liturgy Office of ENGLAND &WALES, with contributions from: The Office of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and are used by permission. All rights reserved. Psalm 102 © 1963 The Grail (England). Texts and layout prepared by the Liturgy Office © 2005 Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/Resources
Instruction on Preparing a Funeral Liturgy (PDF)