When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)
In this Year of St. Paul, we remember that one of Paul’s great gifts to the Church were the letters he wrote for the early Christian communities. They are rich with inspiration and theology, as this small excerpt from his letter to the Romans shows.
This quote is part of the epistle reading read at the Easter Vigil Mass each year. This night is the night when we celebrate Christ’s passing from death to new life, and thus this reading’s relevance to that Mass is obvious. The reading, therefore, also shows us how the rites of baptism and Christian Initiation are integral to the Easter Vigil.
This reading from Romans (6:3-11) encapsulates the Church’s baptismal teaching. Given this, it is no surprise that the baptismal font in a church is described as being both a “tomb” and a “womb”; a place where we both die and live; a place where one’s former life ends, and where their life in Christ begins.
Church artists and craftspeople over the centuries have made places of baptism that are truly beautiful and speak of the value we place on Christian Initiation. St. Paul led the cause for baptism to be the rite of initiation into the Church, mirroring the practice of John the Baptist and Jesus himself. Many have risked death, both in years past and even today, so that they may pass through the font. Given all this, it is not surprising that the Church says the following of the baptistery:
The baptistery or the area where the baptismal font is located should be reserved for the sacrament of baptism and should be worthy to serve as the place where Christians are reborn in water and the Holy Spirit. The baptistery may be situated in a chapel either inside or outside the church or in some other part of the church easily seen by the faithful; it should be large enough to accommodate a good number of people. After the Easter season, the Easter candle should be kept reverently in the baptistery, in such a way that it can be lighted for the celebration of baptism and so that from it the candles for the newly baptised can easily be lighted. (Christian Initation: General Introduction, no. 25)