General Audience Catechesis – 18 April

Pope Francis continues his catechesis on the sacrament of baptism…

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

In this Easter Season we continue the catecheses on Baptism. The meaning of Baptism stands out clearly by its celebration; therefore we turn our attention to it. Considering the gestures and words of the liturgy, we can receive the grace and the commitment of this Sacrament, which is ever to be rediscovered. We recall it with the aspersion of blessed water, which can be done on Sunday at the beginning of the Mass, as well as in the renewal of the baptismal promises during the Easter Vigil. In fact, what happens in the celebration of Baptism arouses a spiritual dynamic that runs through the whole life of the baptized; it’s the start of a process, which enables one to live united to Christ in the Church. Therefore, to return to the source of the Christian life leads us to understand better the gift received on the day of our Baptism, and to renew our commitment to respond to it in the condition in which we find ourselves today — to renew the commitment, to understand this gift better, which is Baptism, and to remember the day of our Baptism. Last Wednesday I asked that tasks be done at home and for every one of us to remember the day of Baptism — on what day we were baptized. I know that some of you know it, others don’t. Those that don’t know it must ask their parents, those persons, godfathers, godmothers . . . ask them: “What is the date of my Baptism?” Because Baptism is a rebirth and it is as if it were a second birthday. Understood? Do this task at home. Ask: “What is the date of my Baptism?”

First of all, in the welcoming rite, the candidate is asked his name, because the name indicates a person’s identity. When we introduce ourselves, we say our name immediately: “I’m called thus,” to come out of anonymity; the anonymous is he who has no name. To come out of anonymity we say our name immediately. Without a name, one remains unknown, without rights and duties. God calls each one of us by name, loving us individually, in the concreteness of our history. Baptism kindles our personal vocation to live as Christians, which is developed throughout life. And it implies a personal response and not borrowed, with a “copy and paste.” In fact, the Christian life is woven of a series of calls and responses: God continues to pronounce our name in the course of the years, having His call resound in a thousand ways to become conformed to His Son Jesus. Therefore, the name is important! It’s very important! Parents already think of the name they will give their child before the birth: this is also part of expecting a child that, in his name, will have his original identity, also for his Christian life connected to God.

To become Christians is, certainly, a gift that comes from on high (Cf. John 3:3-8). Faith can’t be bought, but it can be asked for and received as a gift. “Lord, give me the gift of faith,” it’s a beautiful prayer! “That I may have faith,” is a beautiful prayer. To ask for it as a gift, but it can’t be bought, it is requested. In fact, “Baptism is the Sacrament of that faith with which men, illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit, respond to Christ’s Gospel” ((Rite of the Baptism of Children, General Introduction, n. 3). The formation of the catechumens and the preparation of the parents tend to arouse and awaken a sincere faith in response to the Gospel, as the listening of the Word of God in the celebration of Baptism itself.

If adult catechumens express personally what they want to receive as a gift from the Church, parents, with the godparents, present the children. The dialogue with them enables them to express the desire that the little ones receive Baptism and the Church’s intention to celebrate it. “Expression of all this is the cross, which the Celebrant and parents trace on the children’s forehead” (Rite of the Baptism of Children, Introduction, n. 16). “The sign of the cross, on the threshold of the celebration, marks with the imprint of Christ the one who is going to belong to Him and signifies the grace of the redemption that Christ won for us by His cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1235). In the ceremony we make the sign of the cross on the children. But I want to return to an argument of which I have spoken to you. Do our children know how to make the sign of the cross well? Many times I’ve seen children who don’t know how to make the sign of the cross. And you, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, godfathers, godmothers must teach them to do well the sign of the cross because it is to repeat what was done in Baptism. Have you understood well? Teach the children to make the sign of the cross well.  If they learn it as children, they will do it well later, as grownups.

The cross is the badge that manifests who we are: our speaking, thinking, looking, working is under the sign of the cross, namely, under the sign of Jesus’ love to the end. The children are marked on the forehead. The adult catechumens are also marked on the senses with these words: “Receive the sign of the cross on the ears to listen to the voice of the Lord”; “on the eyes to see the splendour of the face of God”; on the mouth, to respond to the word of God”; on the breast, so that through faith, Christ will dwell in your hearts.”; “on the shoulders, to support Christ’s gentle yoke” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, n. 85). One becomes a Christian to the degree in which the cross is imprinted in us as a “paschal” sign (Cf. Revelation 14:1; 22:4), making visible, also externally, the Christian way of facing life. To do the sign of the cross when we wake up, before meals, before a danger, as a defense against evil, in the evening before sleeping, means to say to ourselves, and to others, to whom we belong, who we want to be. This is why it’s so important to teach children to make well the sign of the cross.  And, as we do on entering a church, we can do so also at home, keeping in a small appropriate glass some blessed water – some families do it: thus every time we come in or go out, by doing the sign of the cross with that water we remember that we are baptized. Don’t forget, I repeat: teach the children to make the sign of the cross.

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

Translation from the Italian by Virginia M. Forrester, © ZENIT,