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Sacrament of Baptism for Adults in the Early Church

If we are to understand the Sacrament of Reconciliation it is important to understand how adults were received into the Christian Community in the early Church. If someone wanted to become a Christian after the Resurrection of Jesus they were presented to the Bishop or priest by two sponsors who guaranteed that they were serious about becoming a Christian. Then they entered a period of formation and instruction that generally lasted three years. During that time they listened to the Word of God, attending the Sunday Liturgy with the baptized until after the Homily, when they were dismissed. They were instructed in the Faith and its demands and they were expected to live the Christian way in all aspects of their lives. They joined with the baptized in works of charity and service to those in need and spent time in Prayer and reflection on the Scriptures.

When it was agreed that the candidates were ready to be admitted to the sacraments, they entered a period of intensive preparation lasting forty days, and leading to the celebration of the initiation sacraments on Easter Night. This was a period devoted to prayer and fasting, and it was marked by what they called the “Scrutinies”. These were special rituals in which the community prayed for these candidates for Baptism and Confirmation that they would overcome the evil that remained in their lives, and strengthen the good that was there. As the community offered support to the to the candidates during this time of purification , joining them in fasting and prayer, and renewing their own Baptismal Commitment in the process, this period developed into Lent. This period of purification or enlightenment culminated in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil. While the community of the faithful prayed and listened to the reading of the Scripture, the candidates were taken to the Baptistery, which was usually a place separate from the main assembly. There they renounced Satan and pledged their lives to Christ. Stripped of their garments they were immersed three times in a pool of water, and were dressed in white garments as they emerged from the watery tomb into the new life in Christ.

When the candidates returned to the full assembly the Bishop laid hands on them usually anointing them with oil and giving them the sacrament of Confirmation. He welcomed them to the Celebration of the Eucharist as new members of the Christian Community. After receiving the Easter Sacraments the new Christians continued their formation during the fifty days of Easter, reflecting on their experience of the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation, and being fully integrated into the Christian Community. Their celebration would conclude with the celebration of Pentecost.

The whole point of this extended term of formation was to insure that the candidates for Baptism and confirmation were undergoing a true conversion of heart in Jesus Christ. It was made very obvious during the time of preparation that the call of Jesus was a call to a change of heart, and a conversion of life, so the church sought to insure that this was occurring in the lives of the candidates before they celebrated the sacrament of baptism and confirmation. The celebration on Holy Saturday night was a celebration of the conversion, so the celebration would have been meaningless without a conversion. CONVERSION is at the heart of Baptism and we will see that it also at the heart of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is the CONVERSION that we celebrate in all these sacraments. Without the CONVERSION we have nothing to celebrate.

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