The Sacrament of Baptism
Baptism is the first sacrament of initiation. Although there are three distinct sacraments of initiation the Church understands full initiation as Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
In the early years of the Church after preparation a person was baptized, anointed with oil, (sealed with chrism) and welcomed to the table of the Eucharist during one liturgy. It did not matter how old the person was the initiation rite was the same for everyone. Infants or very young children would receive communion by having a drop of the precious blood placed on their tongue.
As time passed, for a variety of reasons a separation between the water bath; the action we often refer to as baptism and the anointing with oil and the welcome to the Eucharistic table developed. The initiation ritual which had included the water bath, anointing and welcome to the Eucharistic table now was stretched out over a period of weeks and then eventually years.
After the 2nd Vatican Council the Church restored the ancient practice of initiation being celebrated at one liturgy for adults and children of catechetical age. It does not matter how old we are when we are baptized, the Church’s teaching on baptism does not change according to the age of the person. Baptism is always the first sacrament of initiation.
Today, if the person seeking baptism is six years of age or older the Church journeys with and prepares the person to celebrate the three sacraments of initiation during the same liturgy. The usual time for celebrating the three sacraments of initiation together is the Easter Vigil, the most important liturgy of the entire liturgical year. The preparation process leading to the celebration of initiation is often referred to as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This preparation is for all people who have celebrated their sixth birthday. This would have a link to a page on Initiation of Adults and Children of Catechetical age.
Today if the person seeking baptism is under the age of six the three sacramental moments are celebrated over a period of years. Preparation for Baptism of young children including infants formally begins by asking for a Baptism Preparation Package after a Sunday (Saturday) Mass.
Regardless of the age of the person seeking baptism the goal or destination of Baptism and Confirmation is full participation in the Sunday Eucharist (Mass). We participate fully in the weekly Sunday Eucharist through participation, feasting on the Word of God, praising and thanking God for the gifts we have received and being nourished at the Table of the Eucharist through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. We are sent from the Lord’s table to live as disciples, to live as the Body of Christ in the world.