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!”