Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The Rosary is the story of our salvation, accomplished by Christ, as seen through the eyes of Mary. The traditional mysteries of the Rosary center around the three key events of salvation: the Incarnation, the Passion and the Resurrection.
While the story is complete with these mysteries, they leave no place for the public ministry of Jesus. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Saint John Paul II created the Luminous Mysteries to fill this gap. These are wonderful mysteries to reflect on, complementing and expanding upon the self-giving love Jesus and Mary displayed throughout the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. In particular, the Luminous Mysteries call to mind the two sacraments vital to our salvation that poured forth from the very heart of Jesus: Baptism and the Eucharist.
At the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus commands the apostles “to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19) First and foremost, Baptism frees us from the stain of Original Sin. The Catechism states, “Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons [and daughters] of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission. (CCC, 1213)
Saint Paul in several of his letters talks about our state of Original Sin through Adam’s transgression, and the saving power of Christ to restore us to new life: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ all shall be brought to life.” (1 Corinthians 15: 21-22; see also Romans 5:15-19)
And it is Jesus himself who reveals the necessity of Baptism for us to be restored to new life through him. As he told Nicodemus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6) Jesus saves us (we cannot save ourselves), but we must say yes to his grace, we must trust in his mercy.
Baptism is our first affirmative response to God’s grace, even when it is made on our behalf by our parents. For as God knew us before we were formed in the womb, so our parents can initiate our cooperation with God’s grace. Remember, grace builds upon grace! Jesus said “to anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich.” (Matthew 13:12 and 25:29) It is right and proper for our parents to present us for baptism as infants just as Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple for his presentation. In doing so we are washed clean from the stain of Original Sin, and begin the cooperation with grace that we will then affirm through the course of our lives. (1)
But if Baptism frees us from Original Sin, why was Jesus baptized? Certainly not to be freed from Original Sin! To unlock this mystery, we have to understand that Jesus had to share in our humanity so that humanity could overcome sin and death, the consequences of Original Sin. He charted the path for us to follow.
To conquer death Jesus had to bear the burdens of our sins. When Jesus was immersed in the waters of the Jordan, it prefigured his death. When he rose from the waters, it prefigured his resurrection.
When we are immersed in the baptismal waters, we share in the death of Jesus. When we rise from the baptismal waters, we are freed from original Sin and arise to new life.
Jesus was baptized not so that he could be freed from Sin, but in order to bear the burden of our sins. His baptism was a prelude to and foreshadowing of his Passion and Resurrection. It was not an end to but a beginning of his mission. So too with our baptism: it begins our mission as disciples as Christ, which then entails taking up our cross daily to follow him.
And just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus following his baptism, we too receive the Holy Spirit to begin our mission as disciples. For adult catechumens, the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are both received at the Easter Vigil mass (as well as Holy Eucharist). But even for baptized infants, who will not receive the sacrament of Confirmation until they have reached the age of reason, the priest or deacon at Baptism anoints the child with sacred chrism to “signify the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized” (CCC, 1241), and “to signify the participation of the one baptized in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ.” (CCC, 1291)
It may seem strange to receive the Holy Spirit twice, but it makes sense that the faith journey initiated by the parents at Baptism is then confirmed by the young adult (no doubt with the assistance of the Holy Spirit received at Baptism) as the final stage of the initiation. Certainly, it is no more mysterious than Jesus, who is one with the Holy Spirit, receiving the Holy Spirit at his Baptism. “On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.” (Mark 1:10) Strengthened by the Spirit, the Son of Man began his missionary journey to Calvary for the liberation of mankind.
The last word on the Lord’s Baptism goes to Saint Maximus of Turin:
“Christ is baptized not that he may be sanctified in the waters, but that he himself may sanctify the waters… For when the Savior is washed, then all water is cleansed for our baptism and the fount is purified, so that the grace of the washing may be administered to the peoples who would come after. Christ takes the lead in baptism, then, so that the Christian peoples might follow with confidence.” (2)
(2) St. Maximus of Turin, Sermon on the Holy Epiphany, quoted in Mary Healy’s commentary on The Gospel of Mark, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2008, pg. 36. St. Maximus’ full sermon can be read here and is worth checking it out – it’s remarkably concise yet brimming with insights. St. Maximus would have made a good blogger!
Image: The Baptism of the Lord by Andrea del Verrochio and Leonardo da Vinci (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).