The mark of a Christian

Two big things happen to us when we are baptized.

  • We receive the supernatural life, called sanctifying grace, which dissipates the spiritual emptiness of original sin.
  • And there is imparted to the soul a permanent and distinctive quality which we call the character or the mark of Baptism.

If we commit mortal sin after Baptism, then we cut ourselves off from God and from the flow of His divine life, as a severed artery would cause an organ to be cut off from the flow of the heart’s blood. We lose sanctifying grace. But we do not lose the baptismal character, by which the soul has been forever transformed.

Precisely because we possess the baptismal character, we have the right to receive the sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation, or Confession) and regain the grace that we have lost through our individual sins after Baptism. If our soul did not have that character, then we could go to confession a dozen times or a hundred times and nothing would happen. The mortal sin would remain unforgiven; the soul would remain spiritually dead.

That is true, also, of the other five sacraments. None of them can mean a thing to us until first the capacity for receiving the other sacraments has been established in the soul by the character of Baptism.

This is because it is by the character of actual Baptism that we “put on Christ,” in the words of St. Paul. It is the character of Baptism, according to St. Thomas, that “configures” us to Christ and makes us participants in His eternal priesthood.

By Baptism we are given the power—and the obligation—to share with Christ in those things which pertain to divine worship: the Mass and the sacraments.

We enter the Church

The impression of the baptismal character upon the soul also makes us members of the Church.

The “mark” of Baptism is what differentiates between those who are members of the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body, and those who are not.

This membership also imposes upon us an obligation to discharge the duties that go with our Christlikeness, our membership in Christ’s Church. This means to:

  • Lead a life according to the pattern that Christ has given us
  • Give obedience to Christ’s representatives, our bishops and especially our Holy Father the Pope.

Every baptized person is a member of Christ’s Church as long as the bond of union is not broken by heresy, schism, or the most severe form of excommunication.

But even these latter—baptized persons who are severed from actual membership in the Church—still are subject (as are all people) to Christ and subject to His Church (as are all baptized persons).

Unless specifically exempted (as the Church does exempt baptized non-Catholics in regard to certain laws), they still are subject to the laws of the Church. It still would be mortal sin, for example, for an excommunicated Catholic to deliberately ignore fasting on a day like Good Friday.

Baptism is necessary for salvation

Baptism is necessary for salvation for anyone who has heard the Gospel of Christ and has the possibility of requesting Baptism.

If a man has lived to be a hundred and had a healthy and “successful” life, it means nothing without Baptism. Once he dies, how could health or worldly success matter at all if this person has missed out on the one thing for which he was made—eternal union with God?

There is no escaping the absolute necessity of Baptism.

“Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:5). And His command to the Apostles was: “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe” (and, by inference, is not baptized) “shall be condemned” (Mark 16: 15-16).

There is no “if” or “maybe” about those two statements; no way around them.

(The Catechism’s section on Baptism also describes this requirement; see numbers 1257-1261.)

Infant baptism

We can understand, then, why it is that the Church insists that babies be baptized as soon as possible after birth—as soon as the infant can safely be carried to church.

It is an article of faith that anyone who dies in the state of original sin is excluded from heaven, from the vision of God. However, the Church has never officially taught that the souls of infants who die without Baptism do not see God; it may be that God has some way of compensating in such souls for their lack of Baptism. But if so, God has not revealed it to us.

Most theologians are of the opinion that the souls of unbaptized infants enjoy a high degree of natural happiness (to which they give the name of “limbo”) but not the supernatural and supreme happiness of the beatific vision. In any event, our obligation is to follow the safer course: never through our fault to let a soul enter eternity without Baptism.

For parents, this means that they should not unduly delay the Baptism of their newborn child. Parents who unnecessarily delay or neglect the Baptism of their child become guilty of grave sin.

It would be very wrong, for example, for parents to put off Baptism simply because Uncle George is coming to town next month, and they want Uncle George to be godfather of the baby. Right now, the baby needs Baptism more than he needs Uncle George—and Uncle George still can be godfather by proxy.

It would be still worse to postpone Baptism so the parents can put together an elaborate party. The baby’s big party is with God and the angels and saints at the baptismal font; none of them are interested in a keg of beer.

Who can baptize?

The ordinary minister of Baptism is a priest or a deacon.

But in an emergency, anyone can baptize—even a non-Catholic or non-Christian. All that is required is that the person baptizing:

  • Intend to do what the Catholic Church does in this sacrament
  • Pour water upon the head (ordinary tap water is fine in an emergency)
  • Say audibly the words of Baptism while pouring water, similar to: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

These are words that every Catholic should know as well as he knows his own name. Someone’s eternal salvation may one day depend upon the knowing of these words.

If the person receiving emergency Baptism is of the age of reason (at least seven years old or so), then they must have the necessary faith to receive Baptism:

  • Faith in God the Blessed Trinity as the rewarder of the just and the punisher of the wicked and in Jesus Christ as God’s own Son and our Redeemer
  • The willingness to accept all that the Catholic Church teaches

Such opportunities to administer Baptism may never come to us, but it is of profound importance that we be prepared.


Go back to Page 1