by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
As we begin our conferences on the seven sacraments, our plan is to introduce each conference with some of the modern misunderstandings on each sacrament. I say misunderstandings. But they could better be called blatant errors that we used to call heresies. What makes these errors so serious is that they are being openly taught and promoted by professedly Catholic writers and speakers. One prominent writer has some unusual insights in his book, Doors to the Sacred. On the grounds that there has been a development of doctrine in the Catholic Church, he affirms that “the Catholic hierarchy seems to have accepted the notion that Baptism is necessary for joining the Church but it is not necessary for salvation.” He further writes that, “Contemporary theology and religious education texts now speak of Baptism as incorporating a person into the life of Christ which is continued in the Church, and talk about its causing the forgiveness of original sin is slowly disappearing.” Almost five centuries of Protestant thought have deeply penetrated Catholic minds. In a standard analysis of Roman Catholicism, the author is very clear. “Rome”, he says, “has perverted the meaning of Baptism so that instead of accepting it as a symbolical ordinance and an outward sign through which Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented and conveyed to the believer and received by faith, it is represented as working in a magical way to produce baptismal regeneration and securing automatically the forgiveness of all past sins, and as absolutely necessary to salvation.” As we go through our reflections on Baptism, we shall see how to cope with these domestic and alien critics of what we believe is the sacrament of regeneration and the supernatural life. 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, or healing, or communication of the supernatural life.
Baptism, the Sacrament of Regeneration and the Supernatural Life