Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
During the Easter Vigil, we will be baptizing three children from our parish. It will be a joyous evening. I hope that you will be able to join us. The Rite of Baptism has changed significantly in the history of the Church. I thought that you might be interested in who was baptized and how they were baptized in the Early Church.
In the years after Christ’s death and resurrection, at the beginning of the Christian community as it emerged from its Jewish roots, baptism was fundamental to the life of the community. This was when a person was born again into a life with the Risen Christ.
In Judaism, baptism was part of the ceremonies that were performed for those who wanted to join the faith and become Jewish. Baptism in Israel was re-birth into a new way of life. Both men and women were baptized. Baptism signified becoming one of God’s people: “Coming out of the water, the candidate was signed as God’s sheep, slave, and soldier by the marking on the forehead with a Taw (Τ), the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, symbol of the name of God.”83 This meaning and form of baptism had a significant influence on the early Christian Church.
In the early church, baptism was not simply administered because someone wanted to become Christian. The process of becoming Christian took up to three years. This was a period of probation, education, and nurturing in what it meant to be Christian. It is important to remember that many Christians at this time were persecuted by the Roman and Jewish authorities. Consequently, becoming a Christian meant that the person was willing to become a member of a community that might cost them their earthly life.
During the Eucharist services in the early church, those who were not baptized were allowed to take part in the opening part of the service, which included hymns, scripture readings, and sermon. Following the sermon, the catechumens, as those who were seeking to be baptized were called, were dismissed, the doors locked, and the deacon would declare that all was now ready to continue to the Eucharist. Only the baptized were allowed to hear the prayers, because it was believed that only those who had been incorporated into Christ’s body could pray through his Name.
In the early Church, the baptism occurred after the lengthy, three-year catechumenate. After the prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist, the candidate for baptism disrobed and removed all jewelry. Then nude, as at their first birth, the candidates entered the water. They were interrogated by the Bishop or Priest. Following each interrogation (“Do you believe … “) the person was immersed in the water. Following the baptism, they were anointed with oils of birth and clothed in new clothes. They had been reborn!
Go with God,