About infant baptism...
Other Christian churches wait until a person is old enough to understand what is happening at baptism and to make her own choice. Why does the Roman Catholic Church baptize babies?
In the first century of the church, adult baptism was the norm, and it was done through immersion into living (a stream) water. One symbolically was plunged into the death and resurrection of Jesus and came forth as "new"--a Christian. The newly baptized was then clothed in white, anointed (Confirmation) and brought into the community where the Eucharist was celebrated. Thus, the three sacraments of initiation into the Christian life were celebrated: Baptism, Conformation and Eucharist. A period of preparation took place before receiving these sacraments. It was called the Catechumenate--a time (one year or so) of study, prayer and being exorcised of bad and sinful habits.
In the second century, as the Church developed and numbers increased, more infants were born to christian families, and soon the adult ceremony was simplified for infants. The sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist were delayed until later in life when a person was maturer and could understand the meaning of Holy Communion. Over the centuries infant baptism became the norm and much of the ancient symbolism was modified.
The Second Vatican Council instituted liturgical reforms that restored some of the ancient symbolism where appropriate: immersion into flowing water, immediate Confirmation and Communion for adult converts and preparation of adults for Baptism by means of the Catechumenate.
Some final points in this too brief history:
Perhaps, early theologians considered the necessity of baptism of water too exclusively without remembering that God wills that all attain eternal blessedness and that Christ was born and died for all. Certainly, official church teaching now embraces the possibility of salvation for all.
Thomas Keevey contributed this "Ask a Catholic!" response.
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