The text of the Baptism service
The Baptism service is full of symbols - objects and actions which help us reflect on the meaning of the service. These can enrich the service for us, if we understand them and allow them to speak to us.
Traditionally the font - the bowl in which the water is contained - stands near the entrance to the church. Baptism is the way in which people become part of the family of the Church, and so it is appropriate for the font to be the first thing they encounter as they come into the building.
This emphasizes the fact that Baptism is just a beginning - the first step on a journey which will lead to deeper faith and knowledge of God.
THE PASCHAL CANDLE
The Paschal (or Easter )Candle is a large candle which stands near the font during Baptism. We light a new Paschal candle every Easter, to symbolise Christ rising from the darkness of death. We light the Paschal candle during the Baptism service because Baptism reminds us that there can always be a new beginning, not just for Christ, but also for each of us.
The candle itself has symbols on it. The cross reminds us of Christ's death and resurrection. The number of the current year tells us that God is in the "here and now". The Greek letters Alpha and Omega are the first and last of the Greek alphabet - God is the beginning and the end of life.
Before the baptism the priest will anoint each candidate on the head with oil which has been blessed by the Bishop for this purpose. In the ancient world oil was used instead of soap to loosen the dirt before washing. It was a sign of welcome to anoint someone with oil when they arrived at your house.
The priest will make the sign of the cross on each candidate's forehead using the oil. This is a sign of their allegiance to Christ. This part of the service originally included an exorcism - driving out the darkness from the candidate, but now we see it far more as a preparation for the washing which is to come and a reminder of God's presence.
Water is the primary symbol of Baptism. Water is vital to life , and all major religions use it in some way. We need it to survive. We need it to wash. But water can also be dangerous. We can drown in it , or feel out of our depth. The prayer we use to bless the water reminds us that God is with us in both the good and the bad times.
We use a shell to pour the water at Baptism. Travellers to the shrine of St James at Compostela, wore a shell - his sign - to indicate that they were pilgrims. Soon the shell became a sign of pilgrimage to any shrine. Those who are baptised are on a pilgrimage - a special journey - through life. We pray at Baptism that they will know God as their companion on the journey, and the one who welcomes them at journey's end.
At the end of the service we light a small candle from the Paschal candle , to give to each of the newly baptised. This is a sign of the light of Christ which burns in them. We suggest you keep this and light it on the anniversary of the baptism. It may be a good way to begin to talk to your child about their baptism.