What is baptism?
‘Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God which continues for the rest of our lives, the first step in response to God’s love.’ (BCP page 357)Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan by John and this marked the beginning of his earthly ministry’ (Mark 1:9-11). Near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry he commanded his disciples to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. (Matthew 28:18). For over two thousand years Jesus’ followers have begun their Christian lives with the sacrament of baptism. The water of baptism is a visible sign of the grace which God conveys in the sacrament. God’s gift in baptism is new birth in Christ, a new direction in life as God’s child, and a calling to be a lifelong, faithful disciple of Christ.
Is there a particular age for Baptism?
No. Baptism can take place at any age. In the Church of Ireland most people are baptised as infants. Children are baptised before they can answer for themselves so that they become fully included in the life of the Church. Adults who have not been baptised, or who convert to Christianity, also receive the sacrament of baptism. If they do not know whether or not they have been baptised, they should receive conditional baptism. Baptism is a sacrament which, for any individual, cannot be repeated or undone, because it represents God’s once-for-all gift and calling to those baptised. If baptised persons want to affirm their faith at a later stage, the proper procedure is to present themselves for Confirmation or to renew their baptismal vows.
What are godparents/sponsors?
It is both a privilege and a responsibility to be asked to be a godparent (also known as sponsor). The godparent promises to help care for the spiritual welfare of the child. It is important therefore that the godparents can answer honestly the declarations of faith and that they will be committed to supporting and praying for their godchild.
What happens in the Baptism service?
Baptism welcomes the candidates into the Christian family and the congregation promises to support and pray for them and their parents and godparents (or sponsors). Therefore, the baptism service ideally takes place within a time of public worship. In some situations, or in the case of an emergency baptism, it will be appropriate to have the baptism at another time. At the baptism of infants, parents and godparents are required to make promises on behalf of the child and to undertake to ‘encourage them in the life and faith of the Christian Community’ and to ‘care for them, and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church’ (BCP page 361).
As they are answering on behalf of the child, they must also affirm their own Christian faith. Those being presented for baptism will then have water poured on their heads. Water declares God’s presence in the life of the candidates and signifies that they become God’s adopted children and members of the Church. The sign of the cross is made on the forehead as a visible sign of belonging to Christ: ‘Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of the cross. Live as a disciple of Christ’ (BCP page 362). As baptism is the beginning of the Christian life, a lighted candle may be presented with the words ‘You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’ (BCP page 367).
What happens after baptism?
After baptism it is the responsibility of the parents, godparents and the wider Church to ensure that each newly baptised child or adult is welcomed and nurtured in the faith as a member of the local and worldwide Christian family. In the fellowship of the Christian community, it is the responsibility of the baptised to make God’s gift in baptism their own by sincere faith and resolute commitment to Christ. Otherwise God’s gift in baptism is not accepted. Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity does not confer membership of just one denomination, but rather of the whole Christian family.
What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is the rite at which those who have been baptised seek the blessing of the Holy Spirit for their growth as Christians. The confirmation candidates first confirm the promises of their baptism. Then the bishop lays hands on them, praying that God’s Spirit will confirm, strengthen and guide them to live out their faith in their everyday lives.
As children we often adopt our parents’ beliefs and practices but as we grow older we develop our own opinions and beliefs. This is part of the transition into adulthood, which is marked by many different stages – moving to secondary school, becoming a teenager, wanting to choose our own styles of clothes and music. In the Christian faith there is also a stage of transition when young people may feel that they want to make their own declaration of faith and commit their life to Christ. This transition is normally marked by confirmation. It is a service in which the young people confirm for themselves, and publicly before family, friends and the wider Church, the promises made on their behalf at their baptism. However, confirmation is not just something for teenagers but can take place whenever an individual desires to make a faith commitment. Sometimes young people come before they reach their teens and others come as adults.
What happens at Confirmation?
The candidates renew their baptismal vows before the bishop; and as in baptism, the congregation is asked to support the candidates in their life of faith. The bishop then asks each candidate by name, ‘Do you …. believe and accept the Christian faith into which you are baptized?’
The candidates then affirm their faith, together with the congregation, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. After this, they kneel before the bishop, who lays hands on each one, praying, ‘Confirm …. O Lord, with your heavenly grace, that he/she may continue to be yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he/she comes to your eternal kingdom. Amen.’
How is Confirmation related to Holy Communion?
Holy Communion or Eucharist is when Christians draw especially close to God. In some parts of the Anglican Communion individuals who have been baptised do not have to be ‘confirmed’ to receive Holy Communion. In the Church of Ireland, admission to Holy Communion has usually presupposed confirmation.
What happens after Confirmation?
By making a public affirmation of faith the candidates take responsibility for themselves as members of Christ’s Church. When the bishop asks, ‘Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?’ and ‘Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?’, the candidates respond, ‘With the help of God, I will’. This demonstrates both their commitment and their recognition of their dependence on God to live a Christian life.
Quotations from The Book of Common Prayer 2004, © The Representative Church Body, of the Church of Ireland, 2004
The above information copyright © 2007 APCK, Church of Ireland House, Dublin 6