Last week, I described my approach to theology as existential. This post is a classic example of existential theology in apologetics.
The penny catechism defines baptism as “a sacrament which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God, and members of the Church”. This definition identifies four effects of baptism, but I wish to focus on the juridical effect – making us members of the Church. Since the Catholic Church is simultaneously the Mystical Body of Christ, a sacrament, and a community; the only institution that blends becoming a child of God with the membership of an institution, I call this membership ecclesiastical citizenship.
When one acquires the citizenship of a country, the person enjoys the rights and obligations of that country. In the same way, a baptised person is configured to Christ by an indelible character and becomes a member of the Church (Can. 849). The one who is validly baptised enjoys the rights of Christ’s faithful and is bound by obligations of the Church’s laws. Hence, baptism cannot be repeated once validly received.
Therefore, apart from cleansing us from original sin, acquiring ecclesiastical citizenship is another reason why we need to baptise infants. At birth, every child automatically acquires the citizenship of the parents and in some cases, the citizenship of the place of birth. This citizenship enables the parents to immediately register the baby for his or her national identity card or passport, health insurance, and fiscal (tax) code – these documents contain the child’s unique biometric data. In other words, the newborn child needs to be included in government records for his or her welfare and security reasons. There is no option of not wanting to become a citizen.
Counter-intuitively, the child of a baptised person does not automatically become a Catholic (ecclesiastical citizen) at birth. The Catholic Church is perhaps the only institution with an international character that a child does not acquire citizenship at birth. This corresponds to the freedom God gives us to choose our actions – liberty that makes us responsible for our actions. Therefore, at baptism, parents and sponsors respond to multiple questions on behalf of the child and also pledge to do what is needed regarding the spiritual growth of the baby.
Since through baptism we acquire ecclesiastical citizenship, should we wait till children complete their eighteen birthday before they become members of Christ’s faithful? Since baptism is the gateway to all other sacraments (Can. 849; CCC 1213) and without prejudice to catechumens (Can. 206) merely ecclesiastical laws bind only those who are baptised or received in the Church (Can. 11), should children wait till adulthood before they receive sacraments which are not restricted to a specific age? Should they wait till their eighteenth birthday before they can enjoy the rights of being a Catholic or be bound by the obligations of a Catholic?😊
May God continue to bless our beloved diocese.🙏🏾