Baptism is not only the first of the seven sacraments; it is also the basic sacrament. How? Unless a person is baptized, none of the other six sacraments can be received. Only a baptized person can be confirmed. Only a baptized person can receive absolution in the Sacrament of Confession. Only a baptized person can receive the Sacrament of Matrimony. Only a baptized man can be validly ordained a priest.
Baptism first gives a person the supernatural life, whereas the other sacraments provide for the restoration, or growth, of that supernatural life. As we shall see, the moment we are conceived, we receive the principle of the natural life of our body, called the soul. When we are baptized, our soul receives its principle of the supernatural life. The foundation of supernatural existence is conferred by the Sacrament of Baptism.
Baptism clearly shows what the Catholic Church understands by the sacraments. They actually give the grace which they signify. A newborn child doesn't have to be able to do anything. The sacrament itself gives grace from God just because the infant is baptized.
Baptism can be defined as the sacrament of supernatural rebirth. Notice the “re” when we speak of Baptism as rebirth. Although we are indeed born naturally of our human parents, Baptism gives us a new life. Why do we need this life? Because we hope to reach heaven after our natural life expires when we die. What we call death is merely the separation of our immortal soul from our body. But the soul is meant to be alive. As a spiritual reality, our soul will never cease to exist. But if our soul is not animated by the grace we received at Baptism, we shall die the double death of both body and soul.
Institution by Christ
Jesus Christ tells us about Baptism during his conversation with Nicodemus. This Pharisee had just complimented Jesus. The Savior replied by saying, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is begotten from above.” To which Nicodemus objected, “How can a man be born again? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” This was a perfect question to introduce Christ’s revealed teaching about Baptism. He said, “I solemnly assure you no one can enter the kingdom of God without being begotten of water and the Spirit.”
Underlying Christ’s teaching is the fact that Baptism is necessary. So true is this that the Catholic Church recognizes the rite of Baptism practiced by other Christian churches, provided the sacrament is conferred by immersion in water or the pouring or sprinkling of water, while the same person pronounces the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
How necessary is Baptism? It is absolutely necessary to receive Baptism of water or at least of desire, which can be implicit, provided a person believes at least in God and His goodness and is faithful to the graces that God gives him.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “As regards infants who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who…