I posted this last year right at this time as I prepared for the homily on the Baptism of the Lord. It seems like a good way to begin this week’s reflections by taking a trip back in time to define what we mean by baptism.
Those of us old enough will remember, with either fondness or dread, the Baltimore Catechism. According to this website, this Catechism (last updated in 1941) has 38 Lessons and as near as I can figure out it has 499 questions with answers. It makes you wonder why they did think up one more question to make it an even 500!
As a first grader I remember having to memorize these Q&As. Then you had to appear before a priest to answer a selected number of the questions before you were allowed to get dressed up in a shirt and tie and receive Holy Communion.
It was, as I recall it, a terrifying experience all around. That said there is one definition I never forgot and that was the answer to question # 304:
304. What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.
It is only a short trip from number 304 to number 315 which answers the question:
315. What is Baptism?
Baptism is the sacrament that gives our souls the new life of sanctifying grace by which we become children of God and heirs of heaven.
Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
As I look back on it one must admire the Baltimore Catechism’s gift of brevity.
These brief definitions are a good starting place for reflection on the meaning of the Baptism of our Lord.
(For trip down memory lane please click here or on the image of the Baltimore Catechism to have a virtual look at it.)