Pictured is a baptismal font located in Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It was used to baptize infants from around 1907 to 1995. The font was in use for around 90 years until it was replaced by a newer baptismal font. Currently the old baptismal font sits in the back of the church, while the new one sits at the entrance of the sanctuary. The featured baptismal font is made of two parts: the actual font that holds the holy water and a removable top. The font weighs approximately 300 pounds and is around 4 feet tall. Its height indicates that it is used for infant baptisms only, as it is too small for adult baptism. The font is made of marble, with IHS engraved on the front. IHS is a Christogram, which is a combination of letters that represent the holy name, “Jesus.” Early scribes would use this as an abbreviation, and now it serves as a secret code that shows devotion and allegiance to Jesus. The cross is a modern latin cross which has been depicted since the 5th century. It is a very beautiful ornate sculpture lined with wood and brass on its removable top. This font is unique to Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, an individual piece special to this church.
Baptism is a Christian sacrament using water to symbolize one becoming a member of that religion. Tvilah, as the early form of baptism was originally called, started as a Jewish purifying ritual to either cleanse the body of sins, or to wash away life’s impurities. To perform the ritual, an individual is submerged completely in a fresh body of water, which was referred to as Mikveh. Unlike modern baptism, Tvilah could be performed multiple times throughout a person’s life. This ritual also could be done as quickly as washing your hands with fresh water, also known as a Netilat Yadayim.
As mentioned in the book of Matthew in the New Testament, this ritual was accepted by John the Baptist when Jesus asked to be baptized. John submerged Jesus and washed his sins away, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” Baptism was widely accepted into most of the Christian church in the fifth century AD, when the common rules on how a baptism was to be performed were appointed. Some Christian religions believe that baptism should be administered when a person is old enough to understand its significance. Catholics are typically baptized as infants, however adults can still be baptized as well when they are in the process of converting to Catholicism. Catholic baptism is distinct from other Christian baptisms, as holy water is only gently poured over a person’s head rather than full submersion in water.
Holy water is a sacramental, which is an object blessed by the Church. It does not give grace like the sacraments do, but rather prepares one to receive grace. Holy water is blessed by a priest or other member of the clergy, thus making it a sacramental.
Baptism is an important cultus in the Catholic community. Sacramental events, such as baptism, can be argued by some as “the most transformative moments of [one’s] life.” Catholic baptism allows one to be born again without original sin, but they are not a full member of the community until the sacrament of Confirmation. The ritual of baptism represents washing away original sin and receiving grace from the Holy Spirit. The infant being baptized is dressed in white, symbolizing their newly gained purity. Godparents must be present, holding baptismal candles that will be lit to show their commitment to their godchild and helping them grow in their Catholic faith. Gifts are often given to commemorate the event, and families typically host parties in celebration afterwards.
By Caitlin Manning, Matt Hoffman, and Meagan Eckl
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