In the early Church, the newly initiated were expected to wear the white garment and keep it unsoiled for the 50 days of Easter. Today, in most cases, it has become a symbol that is present only for the duration of the ritual and then is packed away with other family memorabilia. Among other things, the white garment symbolizes the Church's belief that Baptism sets us free from Original Sin.
But just what is Original Sin? The Church continues to insist on this doctrine and upon the reality of evil in the world—a point clearly echoed in our daily newspapers. The killings, violence, greed and dishonesty we see mirrored in the media are reminders that all human beings inherit the sinful tendencies and structures passed on to us by previous generations, beginning with our first parents.
Part of the beauty of Baptism is its assurance that through this sacrament we share in Christ's victory over the power of darkness in the world. Yet, the doctrine of Original Sin does not eclipse the good news that God's mercy and saving love are stronger than the power of sin—even before the baptismal waters are poured. In other words, we must be careful not to look upon unbaptized infants and adults as outside the scope of God's saving power.
Baptism as future-oriented
Baptism is initiation into the mission and ministry of Christ (1 Peter 2). Like Christ, baptismal candidates are anointed for this purpose. They are anointed with the oil of catechumens and the chrism of Christ's salvation. As such they are strengthened for the lifetime journey of commitment to discipleship with Christ.
To be a disciple is to be a learner, a journeyer with others who learn together along the way. Discipleship is built on the concept of Church as a community of followers who support one another in sharing the Spirit and mission of Christ as found in the New Testament. It suggests that life is not a static condition, but a continual movement toward making real the actions of Jesus in today's world.
That's what we agree to when we say "Yes" to Baptism. We publicly acknowledge that we have been chosen, marked and set on our way. Most of the real business of Baptism comes after the ceremony.