Whenever we baptize someone and make him or her a Christian, we need two elements:
2. The words.
“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Everyone really ought to know these words, just in case you find yourself in a situation where someone might die unbaptized. The right thing to do under such circumstances is to baptize the person.
Generally speaking, we priests and deacons baptize people. But, every Catholic can and should minister the sacrament in an emergency, using any water available and the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Now, some scoffers might watch us baptize and say, “Well, this is really just so much superstition and magic!” Okay. Fair enough. If we Catholics just slathered water over unsuspecting babies, muttering an incantation that really doesn’t mean anything, then the scoffers would have a point.
But there is another element in the act of baptism: namely, the profession of faith. When I or anyone says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” these are not empty words, said by rote. No, the words mean something—something very precise.
What do they mean? Well, let’s see:
Do you believe in the God the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
The name of the Blessed Trinity, which we use to pray, baptize, bless ourselves, confess our sins, give thanks for our food, etc., etc.—this name is not an abstraction or human invention. It is God’s actual name. The divine name has been revealed by the events which have brought about salvation for the human race.
So, no: we do not understand how one God, altogether simple and unified, can be three distinct Persons. Nor do we altogether understand how the second of the three Persons could unite Himself with our human nature in such a way that He is both perfectly divine and perfectly human.
But, on the other hand: When we invoke the name of the Blessed Trinity, we are not conjuring up some airy fairy shadow.
When we say “Father,” we are talking about the same Father Whom Jesus Christ called ‘Father.’ When we say ‘Son,’ we are talking about the child of the Blessed Virgin, who did and said all the things which the Holy Gospels recount. And when we say ‘Holy Spirit,’ we are talking about the invisible life of our beloved catholic and apostolic Church, which, for all the lumps She has taken at the hands of us sinners over the course of two millennia, nonetheless retains unmistakable signs of being animated by divine power.
We baptize in the name of the Blessed Trinity because Christ Himself instructed us to do so. We profess our faith using our creeds because God created like He created, redeemed us like He redeemed us, and blesses and sanctifies like He blesses and sanctifies us. This is not a matter of us making stuff up. This is us believing in stuff that has happened and is happening.
Other scoffers claim that we Catholics make things too complicated. “I believe on Jesus, and I don’t need to memorize no Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed. I’m just gonna pray to my Jesus.”
Hey, God help us if we don’t pray to the Lord Jesus. But we cannot help but notice when we read the gospels that Jesus Himself prayed to the Father. Nor can we fail to notice that our Jesus founded a Church upon which He promised to pour out the Holy Spirit.
When the ancient Church Fathers gathered at Nicaea affirmed the faith of the Apostles and gave us the creed we recite every Sunday, they did so at the peril of their own lives. Many of the people who called themselves Christian in those days denied that it was possible for Jesus Christ to be consubstantial with the Father.
But the Nicene Fathers perceived the truth: To believe in Christ as we know Him through the Scriptures, to hope for the salvation He won for us on the cross, to believe in the divine Trinity: It is all of a piece.
The unfathomable mystery of the three divine Persons does not cloud our minds. To the contrary, it is the one and only source of light by which we can believe in and hope for everything that the Christian religion proposes and promises.
May our faith in the Trinity grow daily, by our frequent meditation on the words of the creed. May we grow to an eternity of contemplating the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, when we will see clearly what we now unswervingly believe.