The Importance of Baptism in our Active Participation
by Andy Milam
In my most recent article, I posited the following:
The difference between participation in the liturgy that can be called activa and participation that can be labeled actuosa rests in the characteristics of baptism. It is this very sacramental seal that grants one the right to participate. Without the baptismal mark, any action we conduct at Mass, singing, walking, kneeling or anything else can be termed “active,” but they do not constitute participatio actuosa. Only through the sacrament of baptism can any action be truly participatory.
The early Church saw baptism as a real participation in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. This translates directly into the liturgical action of the Mass, as it is the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary. In the Apostolic Constitutions (late AD 4th century), we find a prayer for the blessing of water so that the baptized person may be crucified with Christ:
Sanctify this water so that those who are baptized may be crucified with Christ, die with him, be buried with him, and rise again for adoption.
St. Gregory Nazianzen expresses something similar:
We are buried with Christ in baptism so we may rise again with him.
St. Cyril sees the three immersions as a symbol of the three days of the Paschal Triduum and therefore, through his immersion, the Catholic is plunged into Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. In responding to those who hold that baptism only forgives sin and procures divine adoption, but is not a participation in the sufferings of Christ, St. Cyril maintains:
We well know that not merely does [baptism] cleanse sin and bestow on us the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is also the sign of Christ’s suffering…. So in order that we may realize that Christ endured all his sufferings for us and our salvation actually, and not in make believe, and that we share in his pains.
It is understanding the link between the early Fathers, Sts. Gregory and Cryil which bring us to understand the sheer importance that the sacrament of baptism plays in the Catholic’s life. He is bound to the Church in a way which is wholly and completely unique. He is literally changed. The sharing in the passion, death, and resurrection allow for the Catholic Christian to actually participate in what Pope Pius XI called the source and summit of our faith. The liturgical action extends beyond the Mass insofar as it imbibes the faithful. It is a way for Catholics to commune with God the Father in a way that is so intimate, is so open, is so awesome that it is very hard to compare.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ. (CCC #1275)
One cannot completely share in the Eucharistic banquet unless he is baptized. And it is through baptism and with the Eucharist that we come to fully, consciously, and actively participate in the liturgical action.
In closing, Benedict XVI said in 2010:
With Baptism, [new Christians] become sharers in Christ’s death and Resurrection, they begin with him the joyful and exulting adventure of his disciples. The Liturgy presents it as an experience of light. In fact, in giving to each one the candle lit from the Easter candle, the Church says: “Receive the light of Christ!”
Participation with, in and through Christ is uniquely a Catholic teaching. Protestants and many Catholics do not understand this basic teaching.
In the Latin Mass, especially, one can see that each part of the Mass is a participation in the three year ministry of Christ condensed into one hour of worship.
A. Jesus begins his ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River whereby he changes John’s Baptist of just water into a baptism of water, spirit and blood.
So before Mass we come into Church, dip our finger into Holy Water and remember our baptism into Christ which makes us a part of his body here on earth.
B. Jesus then went out and preached repentance of sins.
Before Mass we kneel down, remember our sinfulnes, repent and even go to confession. At the beginning of Mass we kneel, pray the Confiteor and beg for mercy in the Kyrie. Knowing he will have mercy on a contrite singer we sing his praise in the Gloria.
C. Jesus gathered Apostles, preached on the kingdom, called out the be-attitudes, told parables BUT only revealed their meaning to the Apostles.
At Mass we sing prayers and the scriptural words of Christ as a song of praise since every action Christ did and every word he uttered is truth and a perfect worship of the Father. We his Children then sit quietly after the scriptures are sung and hear again the true meaning of Christ’s parables by the successor of the Apostles, the Bishops and his priests.
D. Jesus spent forty days in the desert in prayer, fasting and being temped by the devil, but he was victorious in the truth.
After the homily at Mass we stand victorious and sing out the truths Christ has revealed to his Body the Church by singing of the basic Christian truths in the Credo.
E. Jesus celebrated the Passover, the renewal of the covenant of Moses at the end of his three year ministry. He changed the unleavened bread into his body and wine into his blood that night changing the old covenant into the new covenant in his blood. He finished the Passover at his death the next day, and rose with his resurrected body on the third day.
At the Mass the priest offers up bread and wine and changes it into Christ’s body and blood which is the renewal of the new covenant, the once for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross in a sacramental unbloody way. We who are his body participate in this one sacrifice by our very presence, prayers, and penances because the Holy sanctifying Spirit is within us making us one family – one body of Christ.
F. Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, completing his mission on earth.
We at Mass who are in a state of baptismal grace can now receive his body and blood veiled by what looks and tastes like bread and wine. This is our foretaste of heaven divine, being one with Christ forever in the glory of the Father. This is the salvation Christ won for us by his mision here on earth.
Thus, we who are baptized in Christ, participate fully in Christ’s three year ministry at every Mass. It is the perfect worship of the Father through Chirst because everything Jesus said or did was and is a perfect worship of the Father. This is why we can sing everything at Mass as a song of praise and thanksgivng at every Mass.
This is why we sing “Deo gratias” or Thanks be to God” at the end of Mass after the priest sings “It missa est.” “Its missa est” most literally means in ancient latin- “The mission is over.” Whose mission is over? Christ’s mission. DEO GRATIAS!