The Baptism of Christ

09-baptism-christ2Today [January 13th] the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord. This brings to an end the season of Christmas. The Church recalls Our Lord's second manifestation or epiphany which occurred on the occasion of His baptism in the Jordan. Jesus descended into the River to sanctify its waters and to give them the power to beget sons of God. The event takes on the importance of a second creation in which the entire Trinity intervenes.

In the Eastern Church this feast is called Theophany because at the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan God appeared in three persons. The baptism of John was a sort of sacramental preparatory for the Baptism of Christ. It moved men to sentiments of repentance and induced them to confess their sins. Christ did not need the baptism of John. Although He appeared in the "substance of our flesh" and was recognized "outwardly like unto ourselves", He was absolutely sinless and impeccable. He conferred upon the water the power of the true Baptism which would remove all the sins of the world: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sin of the world".


Many of the incidents which accompanied Christ's baptism are symbolical of what happened at our Baptism. At Christ's baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Him; at our Baptism the Trinity took its abode in our soul. At His baptism Christ was proclaimed the "Beloved Son" of the Father; at our Baptism we become the adopted sons of God. At Christ's baptism the heavens were opened; at our Baptism heaven was opened to us. At His baptism Jesus prayed; after our Baptism we must pray to avoid actual sin.

— Excerpted from Msgr. Rudolph G. Bandas

Click here for commentary on the readings in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

09-baptism-christCustoms on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

In the Ukraine the faithful gather in the front of the church where a cross of ice is placed. Since there are no rivers near churches, a tub is filled with water and is placed in front of the ice cross. During special and very unique services the water is blessed and brought home. This is taken in before breakfast is eaten. The remains are kept during the year to keep the home safe from fire, lightening and sickness.

The priest visits his parishioners to bless their homes with the holy water that the New Year may be one of cooperation with the gift of God; His Son and the participation in the Life He has come to lead us in toward Salvation. The evening meal is very much a repeat of the Holy Supper except that there are no restrictions on meat and dairy products. It starts with Kutia, which has been saved from Christmas Eve.

The Twentieth Day of Christmas

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

The mystery of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by St John, the Precursor, proposes the contemplation of an already adult Jesus. This mystery is infinitely linked to the Solemnities of the Lord’s birth and the Epiphany that we have just celebrated, as in some ways it takes up and represents their significance to us.

At Christmas we have contemplated the human birth of the Word incarnate by the Virgin Mary. In the 4th century, the Fathers of the Church deepened the understanding of the faith with regard to the Christmas mystery in the light of Jesus’ Humanity. They spoke of the Incarnation of the Word already working like the ‘Christification’ of that humanity that he had assumed from His mother. Or put in simpler terms: Jesus is the Christ from the first instant of conception in Mary’s spotless womb because He Himself, with His Divine Power, consecrated, anointed and ‘Christified’ that human nature with which He became incarnate.

In the mystery of the Epiphany, we then meditated on Christ’s manifestation to all nations that was represented by the Magi, the wise men from the East, who came to adore the Child.

Now, in the mystery of Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River, we again encounter and represent the truth of the Lord’s incarnation and His manifestation as the Christ. Jesus’ Baptism is in fact His definitive manifestation as the Messiah or Christ to Israel, and as the Son of the Father to the entire world. Here we find the dimension of the Epiphany which was His manifestation to all nations. The Father’s voice from heaven shows that Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal Son and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove shows the Trinitarian nature of the Christian God. The true and unique God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shows Himself in Christ, through Him, with Him and in Him.

The Baptism in the Jordan returns to the great Christmas theme of ‘Christification’, Jesus of Nazareth’s spiritual anointing, His presentation as the Anointed One per excellence, the Messiah or the One sent by the Father for the salvation of mankind. The Spirit that descended on Jesus shows and seals in an incontrovertible way the ‘Christification’ of Jesus’ humanity that the Word had already fulfilled from the first moment of His miraculous conception by Mary. Jesus, from the very beginning, was always the Lord’s Christ, He was always God. Yet, His one, true humanity, that which is perfect in every way, as the Gospel records, constantly grew in natural and supernatural perfection. ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with men’ (Lk2:52). In Israel at 30 years of age, one reached full maturity and therefore could become a master. Jesus came of age and the Spirit, descending and remaining on Him, definitively consecrated His whole being as the Christ.

The same Spirit, that descended on the water of the River Jordan wafted over the waters during the first creation. (Gen 1:2) Therefore, the Baptism in the Jordan presents yet another truth: that Jesus has started a new creation. He is the second man (1 Cor 15:47) or the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45), that comes to repair the first Adam’s guilt. He does this as the Lamb of God that takes away our sins. ‘Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realised what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon His shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners.’ (J Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, Bloomsbury 2007, p18)

Excerpted from the Congregation for the Clergy



The Schema of Christmastide

The progression of Christmastide can be understood as follows:

Holy Night

The Octave of the Nativity of our Lord

  • The Feast of the Nativity, Christmas Day. The birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. See Customs.
  • Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity. The Presentation in the Temple and the prophecies of Simeon and Anna make clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises to the Jewish people.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (See Customs)

    • (1st Day) Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and Proto-Martyr (December 26), a.k.a. "Boxer Day." (This year the Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity with a commemoration of St. Stephen). See Customs.
    • (2nd) Feast of St. John the Evangelist (December 27). See Customs.
    • (3rd) Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28). See Customs.
  • (4th) Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr (December 29).
  • (5th) December 30.
    • (6th) Feast of St. Sylvester, Pope (December 31). See Customs.
    • (7th) Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord, The Octave of the Feast of the Nativity (January 1). A celebration of the Nativity, of the Holy motherhood of Mary, and of the first time our Savior shed blood for mankind. See Customs.
    • (8th) Octave-Day of St. Stephen (January 2) and, this year, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. (The Feast of the Holy Name falls on January 2 if there is no Sunday between January 1 and 6; otherwise on the Sunday between the 1st and the 6th). Veneration of the name formally given to the Son of Man on the occasion of His circumcision. See Customs.
  • (9th) Octave-Day of St. John (January 3).
  • (10th) Octave-Day of the Holy Innocents (January 4).
  • (11th) Vigil of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 5). The night before Epiphany is also known as "Twelfth night."

The Octave of the Epiphany

    • (12th) The Feast of the Epiphany: "Twelfth Day" (January 6). Christ reveals Himself not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles, as the visitation of the Magi makes clear. (Also, the Baptism of the Lord and His first public miracle at the Wedding of Cana, two initial manifestations of His divine nature, are commemorated.) See Customs.
    • The Feast of the Holy Family (Sunday within the Octave of Epiphany). A celebration of the Holy Family and a meditation on the manifestation of His wisdom and virtue at the age of twelve. See Customs
  • The Octave-Day of the Epiphany: The Baptism of the Lord (January 13). A closing celebration of Christ's initial manifestations to the world through His life and early ministry, especially in His baptism by St. John..




Why Was Christ Baptised?

Pope Benedict XVI, in his book "Jesus of Nazareth":

Descending into the water, those baptised recognized their own sins and sought to free themselves from the weight of being oppressed by sin. What did Jesus do? Luke, who throughout his gospel pays particular attention to the prayer of Jesus, and constantly presents Him as the One who prays - in dialogue with the Father - tells us that Jesus was at prayer after being baptised. Because of the cross and resurrection it becomes clear to Christians what had occurred: Jesus took on his shoulders the weight of the sin of all humanity; he took it with him into the Jordan. From the beginning of his activity he takes the place of sinners. There begins the anticipation of the cross.

He is, so to say, the true Jonah who said to the sailors: take me and throw me into the sea. (Jonah 1:12) The full meaning of the baptism of Jesus, his fulfilment of “all righteousness” (cf Matt 3:15) reviews itself only in the cross: the baptism is the acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice from heaven "This is my beloved Son” is the anticipated reference to the resurrection. Thus one understands the reason why in his own discourses Jesus uses the word baptism to refer to his own death. (Matt 10:38; Luke 12:50) [p 38]


Commentary for the Readings in the Extraordinary Form:
First Sunday after Epiphany

"Jesus came to Nazareth, and was subject to them" (Gospel).

"Subject to them" is the awe-inspiring phrase which sums up His Life. Humbly did He abide by the decrees of human law! Obedience to "My Father's business" must come first, as a guide to all other business, if heaven is to find our family unbrokern (Prayer).

If Jesus withdraws from us as a test of our love or if we lose Him by the commission of sin, we will not regain the joy of His Presence amid the distractions of "relatives and acquaintances;" but we will find Him "in the temple" at Confession and Communion.

So-called "modern" ideas and practices are evicting Christ from the home. As as antidote, at the family meal let us read aloud from the New Testament. "Let the word of Christ dwell" in your home (Epistle). Then will your family, even though living in "obscurity" as did the Holy Family, advance "in wisdom and. . .grace before God and men" (Gospel).

— Excerpted from My Sunday Missal, Confraternity of the Precious Blood


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