Holy baptism is the basis of Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons and daughters of God; we become members of Christ, incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.
“Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water and word.”The word ‘baptism‘ comes from a Greek word that means to ‘plunge‘ or ‘immerse‘. To ‘plunge‘ someone in water represents the person dying, being buried and resurrecting with Christ as a ‘new creature.’ Some call this Sacrament ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit‘ because baptism results in a new birth. Without it, no one can enter the Kingdom of God. Christ Himself ordered His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations and to baptise those who accept the message of the Gospel. In His encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Christ made it clear that baptism was necessary for salvation: “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” For Catholics, the sacrament is not a mere formality; it is the very mark of a Christian, because it brings us into new life in Christ.
While the Church has an extended rite of baptism which is normally celebrated and includes roles for both parents and godparents, there are just two essential parts: the pouring of water over the head of the person to be baptised (or the immersion of the person in water) and the words “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This form of baptism requires just water and words and, like marriage, does not require a priest, in fact any baptised person can baptise another. When the life of a person is in danger, even a non-baptised person, (including someone who does not himself believe in Christ) can baptise, provided that the person performing the baptism follows the form of baptism and intends to bring the person being baptised into the fullness of the Church. In both cases, a priest may later perform a conditional baptism.
In the Catholic Church today, baptism is most commonly administered to infants. While some other Christians strenuously object to infant baptism believing that baptism requires assent on the part of the person being baptised. The Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and other mainline Protestants also practice infant baptism and there is evidence that it was practiced from the earliest days of the Church.
Since baptism removes both the guilt and the punishment due to Original Sin, delaying baptism until a child can understand the sacrament was thought to place the child’s salvation in danger.
The role of the godparent for baptism is rooted in the role of the sponsor in the catechumenate, which originated in the early Church. For infants, these sponsors would also make the Profession of Faith in the child’s name and accept the responsibility of instructing the child in the faith, especially if the parents failed in this duty. About the year 800 when infant baptism was truly the norm, these sponsors were called “patrinus,” or “godfather.” Traditionally, we identify the sponsor of a child for baptism as the godparent — godmother or godfather, but the technical term remains “sponsor.”
Strictly speaking, a person only needs one sponsor for baptism — male or female, but may have two or more sponsors. Also, in the case of an emergency, such as imminent death, no sponsor is needed.