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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Harvey

The Baptism of Jesus: Its Meaning and Celebrating it at Home


The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord is an invitation to understand this event in history that we liturgically remember and to allow the celebration to radiate from our homes.


baptism

The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins by stating that Jesus’ baptism at the hands of Saint John the Baptizer is the beginning of Jesus’ public life and public ministry (CCC 1223). The years preceding this have been private, veiled from our view, and now Jesus is bursting into the social, political, religious, cultural, and familial dynamics of Israel. The catechism speaks of Jesus’ solidarity with sinners and a manifestation of his self-emptying during this event (CCC 1224). Benedict XVI’s theological series on Jesus of Nazareth points out that Jesus stands in the Jordan, he stands where sinners stand and where, according to Mark’s gospel, they confess their sins. Jesus descends into all of this, arises, and the Holy Spirit descends in a way knowable to the senses. We could say that Jesus’ baptism as a manifestation of his self-emptying is also a prefiguring of His Paschal Mystery where he will descend into the place of sinners, arise or resurrect, and at Pentecost the Holy Spirit will descend (cf. CCC 1225). 


This event in history also manifests the Trinity. I was blessed to attend a Melkite Divine Liturgy for the Baptism of the Lord many years ago. I will never forget the theology of one of the chants. “At your baptism in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was revealed. For the Father's voice bore witness to you by calling you His beloved son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of these words. O Christ God, who have appeared to us and enlightened the world, Glory to you!” There was a heresy in the early Church called modalism. It viewed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not as persons but different modes or masks of the same god. Jesus’ baptism rebukes that theory.


Earlier I mentioned the link between the Paschal Mystery and the Baptism of the Lord. This link between this mystery and the Sacrament of Baptism is found in Scripture and the writings of the early Church. Jesus refers to his death as a baptism (cf. Mark 10:35-45), an immersion into the place of sinners. Saint Paul makes explicit the link with our own baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). 


Perhaps this day could be an occasion for each person and/or household to renew their baptismal promises, pray to grow in holiness, and pray for one’s godparents and any godchildren. It may seem odd at first. Try doing this each year on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Here are the promises to use: 


V. Do you renounce Satan?

R. I do. 


V. And all his works?

R. I do.


V. And all his empty show?

R. I do.


OR:


V. Do you renounce sin, so as to live in the freedom of the children of God?

R. I do.


V. Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you?

R. I do. 


V. Do you renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin?

R. I do. 


V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?

R. I do. 


V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?

R. I do. 


V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

R. I do.


V. And may almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit and bestowed on us forgiveness of our sins, keep us by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord, for eternal life.

R. Amen. 


[A great moment to use Holy Water!] 


Or you could use this prayer from Mass as the concluding prayer: 


Almighty ever-living God, who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him, solemnly declared him your beloved Son, grant that your children by adoption, reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, may always be well pleasing to you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.

-Collect Prayer 


If you have not yet begun the custom of celebrating and remembering baptisms on the day of your actual baptism, or that of your child, the Baptism of Jesus is a great opportunity to begin.

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