The first sacrament is Baptism, and no other can be received without having first been baptized. Clearly it’s important, so why is there disagreement about when this sacrament should be received?
Chris called from Arizona to ask Patrick Madrid about the importance of infant baptism. He explained that he has a couple of friends with young children who have not been baptized. He asked for Patrick to help him explain why we should baptize infants right away rather than wait for the age of reason.
Patrick explains that it’s important to explain what baptism does in order for us to understand why it’s so important to have our children baptized without delay. For many non-Catholics, baptism is something you do because Jesus told us to in the Bible, but it doesn’t really do anything. It can, unfortunately, be seen as more of a symbolic event than anything else.
As Catholics, we recognize the incredible power of baptism as “the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (CCC 1213). It is not a symbolic welcoming into the Church, but the means by which we become sons and daughters of God and our souls are very literally washed free of sin.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the Jews in Jerusalem to be baptized:
Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
Notice that Peter instructs them all to be baptized, even the children, and gives no age limit for who should approach the sacrament of Baptism?
Patrick also makes the point that Baptism replaces the Jewish custom of circumcision for infant boys as a covenant with God. And clearly, an 8-day-old baby boy did not ask to be circumcised, but his parents covenanted with God on his behalf.
“In the new covenant, the perfected version of that—at the level of a sacrament—is Baptism. So it’s really an a fortiori argument—if the parents could covenant with God on behalf of the child through circumcision, how much more so can they covenant with God on behalf of a child who is being baptized?” said Patrick.
“Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.” (CCC 1250)
Tune in to The Patrick Madrid Show weekdays at 8-11am CT only on Relevant Radio.