Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Liturgical Year B)

by Cecilia Scott

Readings:

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10

Acts 10:34-38

Mark 1:7–11 

Chants

Baptism of Christ, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1655
Baptism of Christ, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1655

Newborn King

The Liturgy last week revealed the mystery of God’s plan—that in Jesus all peoples, symbolized by the Magi, have been made “co-heirs” to the blessings promised Israel. This week, we’re shown how we claim our inheritance.

Jesus doesn’t submit to John’s baptism as a sinner in need of purification.

He humbles Himself to pass through Jordan’s waters in order to lead a new “exodus”—opening up the promised land of heaven so that all peoples can hear the words pronounced over Jesus today, words once reserved only for Israel and its king: that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God (see Genesis 22:2; Exodus 4:22; Psalm 2:7).

Jesus is the chosen servant Isaiah prophesies in Sunday’s First Reading, anointed with the Spirit to make things right and just on earth. God puts His Spirit upon Jesus to make Him “a covenant of the people,” the liberator of the captives, the light to the nations.

Jesus, Sunday’s Second Reading tells us, is the One long expected in Israel, “anointed…with the Holy Spirit and power.”

The word Messiah means “one anointed” with God’s Spirit. King David was “the anointed of the God of Jacob” (see 2 Samuel 23:1-17; Psalm 18:51; 132:10,17).

The prophets taught Israel to await a royal offshoot of David, upon whom the Spirit would rest (see Isaiah 11:1-2; Daniel 9:25).

God confirms with His own voice what the Angel earlier told Mary—Jesus is the Son of the Most High, come to claim the throne of David forever (see Luke 1:32-33).

In the Baptism that He brings, the voice of God will hover over the waters as fiery flame, as we sing in Sunday’s Psalm. He has sanctified the waters, made them a passageway to healing and freedom—a fountain of new birth and everlasting life.


Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem (d. 639)from Hymn of the Byzantine Office of the Theophany

Today the Sun that never sets has risen and the world is filled with splendour by the light of the Lord…

Today the clouds drop down upon mankind the dew of righteousness from on high. Today, the Uncreated of His own will accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature.

Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master, but stands before Him with trembling, seeing the condescension of God towards us.

Today waters of the Jordan are transformed into healing by coming of the Lord… Today the transgressions of men are washed away by the waters of the Jordan. Today Paradise been opened to men and the Sun of Righteousness shines down upon us (Mal 3,20)…

Today the Master hastens towards baptism that He may lift man up to the heights. Today He that bows not, bows down to His own servant that He may set us free from bondage. Today we have purchased the Kingdom of Heaven: for the Lord’s Kingdom shall have no end.

Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world is filled with gladness. “The waters, O God, the waters saw Thee and were afraid” (Ps 78[77],17). “The Jordan turned back” (Ps 113,3), seeing the fire of the Godhead descending bodily and entering its stream.

The Jordan turned back, beholding the Holy Spirit coming down in the form of a dove and flying about Thee. The Jordan turned back, seeing the Invisible made visible, the Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant…The clouds gave voice, marvelling at Him who was come,, the Light of Light, true God of true God.

For today in the Jordan they saw the triumph of the Master; they saw Him drown in the death of disobedience, the sting of error, and the chains of hell, and bestow upon the world the salvation.


St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-350) from Baptismal Catecheses, 11

Believe in Jesus Christ, Son of the living God but, according to the Gospel, God’s only son: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life,” (Jn 3,16)…

He is Son of God by nature, not by adoption, for he was born of the Father… For the Father, being true God, begot the Son in his own likeness as true God… Christ is son according to nature, a true son not an adopted son as you, the newly baptised, are, now that you become children of God. For you, too, become sons, but by adoption, according to grace, as it is written: “To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name…” (Jn 1,12).

As for us, we have been born of water and the spirit (Jn 3,5) but not in the same way as Christ was begotten of the Father. Because, while he was being baptised, the Father spoke out and said: “This is my Son.” He did not say: “This man has now become my Son” but: “This is my Son” so as to show that he was Son even before the moment of baptism.

The Father begot the Son in a different manner than that in which, in our case, the spirit brings forth words. Because the spirit within us subsists, while our words, once they have been spoken and emitted, are dispersed. But we know that Christ has been begotten as Word: not as speech uttered but as subsistent and living, not as spoken and issuing from the lips but as born eternally from the Father in a substantial and ineffable way.

For “In the beginning was the Word – God’s speech – and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (Jn 1,1), sitting at his right hand (Ps 110 [109],1). He is that Word who knows the Father’s will and carries out all things at his command; the Word who descends and ascends (Eph 4,10)…, the Word who speaks and says: “I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence,” (Jn 8,38), a Word full of authority (cf Mk 1,27) who rules over all, for “the Father has given everything over to the Son,” (Jn 3,35).


Blessed Guerric of Igny from 3rd Sermon for Epiphany

“Arise, be enlightened Jerusalem, for your Light has come!” (Is 60,1). Blessed is the Light which has “come in the name of the Lord», “The Lord is God and has shone upon us”(Ps 118[117],26-27). In virtue of it this day also, sanctified by the enlightening of the Church, has shone upon us. Thanks be to you, true Light, you that “enlighten every man coming into this world”(Jn 1,9), you who for this very purpose have come into this world as a man. Jerusalem has been enlightened, our mother (Gal 4,26), mother of all those who have deserved to be enlightened, so that she now shines upon all who are in the world. Thanks be to you, true Light, you who have become a lamp to enlighten Jerusalem and to make God’s word “a lamp for my feet”(Ps 118[117],105)… For not only has it been enlightened: it has been “raised aloft on a candlestick», one all of gold (Mt 5,15; Ex 25,31). The city sits on the mountain of mountains (cf. Mt 5,14)… so that its gospel may shine out far and wide, as far and as wide as the world’s empire spreads

God, you who give light to all nations, of you we will sing: “Behold the Lord will come and enlighten the eyes of his servants” (cf. Jude 14). Behold, you have come, my Light: “Enlighten my eyes, that I may never fall asleep in death”(Ps 13[12],4)… You have come, O Light of the faithful, and behold you have granted us today to rejoice at the enlightening of faith, that is, of our lamp. Grant us also to rejoice always at the enlightening of the darkness that remains to us…

This is the way in which you should advance, O faithful soul, in order that you may cast off the darkness of this world and arrive at your home country of eternal brightness, where “your darkness will be like midday”(Is 58,10) and “night will be lit up like day”(Ps 139[138],12). Then indeed, then “you will see and be radiant, your heart will thrill and rejoice”(Is 60,5), when the whole earth is filled with the majesty of unbounded light and “his glory is seen in you”(Is 60,2)… “Come and let us walk in the light of the Lord!”(Is 2,5); as “children of light”let us walk “from brightness to brightness, as led by the Lord who is Spirit”(2Cor 3,18).


Pope Benedict XVI from Homily, January 11, 2009

The words that the Evangelist Mark recounts at the beginning of his Gospel: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (1: 11), introduce us into the heart of today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord with which the Christmas Season ends.

The cycle of the Christmas Solemnities leads us to meditate on the birth of Jesus, announced by the angels who were surrounded with the luminous splendour of God; the Christmas Season speaks to us of the star that guided the Magi of the East to the House in Bethlehem, and invites us to look to Heaven, which opens above the Jordan as God’s voice resounds.

These are all signs through which the Lord never tires of repeating: “Yes, I am here. I know you. I love you. There is a path that leads from me to you. And there is a path that rises from you to me”. The Creator assumed the dimensions of a child in Jesus, of a human being like us, to make himself visible and tangible. At the same time, by making himself small, God caused the light of his greatness to shine. For precisely by lowering himself to the point of defenceless vulnerability of love, he shows what his true greatness is indeed, what it means to be God.

Christmas, and more generally the liturgical year, is exactly that drawing near to these divine signs, to recognize them as impressed into daily events, so that our hearts may be open to God’s love. And if Christmas and Epiphany serve primarily to render us capable of seeing, of opening our eyes and hearts to the mystery of a God who comes to be with us, then we can say that the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus introduces us into the daily regularity of a personal relationship with him. Indeed, by immersion in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus united himself with us.

Baptism is, so to speak, the bridge he built between himself and us, the road on which he makes himself accessible to us. It is the divine rainbow over our lives, the promise of God’s great “yes”, the door of hope and, at the same time, the sign that that indicates to us the path to take actively and joyfully in order to encounter him and feel loved by him.

Dear friends, I am truly glad that this year too, on this Feast day, I have been granted the opportunity to baptize these children. God’s “favour” rests on them today. Ever since the Only-Begotten Son of the Father had himself baptized, the heavens are truly open and continue to open, and we may entrust every new life that begins into the hands of the One who is more powerful than the dark powers of evil.

This effectively includes Baptism: we restore to God what came from him. The child is not the property of the parents but is entrusted to their responsibility by the Creator, freely and in a way that is ever new, in order that they may help him or her to be a free child of God. Only if the parents develop this awareness will they succeed in finding the proper balance between the claim that their children are at their disposal, as though they were a private possession, shaping them on the basis of their own ideas and desires, and the libertarian approach that is expressed in letting them grow in full autonomy, satisfying their every desire and aspiration, deeming this the right way to cultivate their personality.

If, with this sacrament, the newly-baptized becomes an adoptive child of God, the object of God’s infinite love that safeguards him and protects him from the dark forces of the evil one, it is necessary to teach the child to recognize God as Father and to be able to relate to him with a filial attitude.

And therefore, when in accordance with the Christian tradition as we are doing today children are baptized and introduced into the light of God and of his teachings, no violence is done to them. Rather, they are given the riches of divine life in which is rooted the true freedom that belongs to the children of God a freedom that must be educated and modelled as the years pass to render it capable of responsible personal decisions.

Dear parents, dear godfathers and godmothers, I greet you all with affection and join in your joy for these little ones who today are reborn into eternal life. May you be aware of the gift received and never cease to thank the Lord who, with today’s sacrament, introduces your children into a new family, larger and more stable, more open and more numerous than your own; I am referring to the family of believers, to the Church, to a family that has God as Father and in which all recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

Today, therefore, you are entrusting your children to God’s goodness, which is a force of light and love and they, even amid life’s difficulties, will never feel abandoned if they stay united with him. Therefore, be concerned with educating them in the faith, teaching them to pray and grow as Jesus did and with his help, “in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk 2: 52).

Returning now to the Gospel passage, let us seek to better understand what is happening today. St Mark recounts that it was just when John the Baptist was preaching on the banks of the River Jordan, proclaiming the urgent need for conversion in view of the now imminent coming of the Messiah, that Jesus, who was among the crowds, presented himself to be baptized.

John’s Baptism is indisputably a Baptism of penance, very different from the sacrament that Jesus was to institute. At that moment, however, the Redeemer’s mission is already glimpsed because, when he comes out of the water, a voice comes from Heaven and the Holy Spirit descends upon him (cf. Mk 1: 10); the heavenly Father proclaims him as his beloved Son and publicly attests to his universal saving mission, which will be fully accomplished with his death on the Cross and his Resurrection.

Only then, with the Paschal Sacrifice, would the forgiveness of sins be rendered universal and total. With Baptism we do not simply emerge from the waters of the Jordan to proclaim our commitment to conversion, but the redeeming Blood of Christ that purifies and saves us is poured out upon us. It is the Father’s beloved Son, in whom he was pleased, who regains for us the dignity and joy of calling ourselves truly “children” of God.


Pope Benedict XVI from Homily, January 8, 2012

It is always a joy to celebrate this Holy Mass with the baptism of children on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I greet you all with affection, dear parents, godparents and all of you, relatives and friends! You have come here — you said so aloud — so that your newborn babies may receive the gift of God’s grace, the seed of eternal life. You, parents, have desired this. You thought of Baptism even before your child was born. Your duty as Christian parents made you think immediately of the sacrament that marks entry into divine life and into the community of the Church. We can say that this was your first educational decision as witnesses of the faith to your children: it is a fundamental decision!

The parents’ task, helped by the godfather and godmother, is to raise their son or daughter. Raising children is very demanding and at times taxes our human capability, which is always limited. However, educating becomes a marvellous mission if it is carried out in collaboration with God who is the first and true educator of every human being.

In the First Reading, we heard from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God addresses his people precisely as a teacher. He puts the Israelites on their guard against the danger of quenching their thirst and appeasing their hunger at the wrong sources: “Why”, he says, “do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” (Is 55:2). God wants to give us good things to drink and to eat, things that do us good; whereas at times we use our resources mistakenly, we use them for things that are useless, indeed, even harmful. Above all, God wants to give us himself and his Word. He knows that in distancing ourselves from him we will soon run into difficulty — like the Prodigal Son of the parable — and, especially, that we will lose our human dignity. And for this reason he assures us that he is infinite mercy, that his thoughts and ways are unlike ours — fortunately! — and that we can always return to him, to the Father’s house. Thereafter he assures us that if we receive his Word it will bear good fruits in our life, like the rain that waters the earth (cf. Is 55:10-11).

We responded to these words which the Lord has addressed to us through the Prophet Isaiah with the refrain of the Psalm: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”. As adults, we have striven to draw from the good springs for our own good and for the good of those entrusted to our responsibility, and you in particular, dear parents and godparents, for the good of these children.

And what are “the springs of salvation”? They are the Word of God and the sacraments. Adults are the first who should nourish themselves at these sources, so as to be able to guide those who are younger in their development. Parents must give much, but in order to give they need in turn to receive, otherwise they are drained, they dry up. Parents are not the spring, just as we priests are not the spring. Rather, we are like channels through which the life-giving sap of God’s love must flow. If we cut ourselves off from his spring, we ourselves are the first to feel the negative effects and are no longer able to educate others. For this reason we have committed ourselves by saying: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”.

And we now come to the Second Reading and to the Gospel. They say that the first and principal education takes place through witness. The Gospel speaks of John the Baptist. John was a great educator of his disciples, because he led them to the encounter with Jesus to whom he bore witness. He did not exalt himself, he did not wish to keep his disciples bound to him. Yet John was a great prophet, his fame was very great. When Jesus arrived John drew back and pointed to him: “After me comes he who is mightier than I…. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:7-8).

The true teacher does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants his son or daughter, or disciple, to learn to know the truth and to establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty fully, he assures his attentive and faithful presence because his objective is that the person being educated listen to the voice of truth speaking to his heart and follow it on a personal journey.

Let us return once again to the witness. In the Second Reading, the Apostle John writes: “And the Spirit is the witness” (1 Jn 5:7). He is referring to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, who bears witness to Jesus, testifying that he is the Christ, the Son of God. This is also apparent in the scene of the Baptism in the River Jordan: the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove to reveal that he is the Only-Begotten Son of the eternal Father (cf. Mk 1:10). In his Gospel too, John underlines this aspect where Jesus says to the disciples: “When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn 15:26-27). This is a great comfort to us in the work of educating in faith, because we know that we are not alone and that our witness is sustained by the Holy Spirit.

It is very important for you parents, and also for the godparents, to believe strongly in the presence and in the action of the Holy Spirit, to invoke him and to welcome him within you, through prayer and through the sacraments. It is he, in fact, who illumines the mind and warms the heart of the educator so that he or she can pass on the knowledge and love of Jesus. Prayer is the first condition for teaching because by praying we prepare ourselves to leave the initiative to God, to entrust children to him, who knows them before and better than we, and who knows perfectly what their true good is. And at the same time, when we pray we listen to God’s inspiration in order to do our part well, which in any case is our duty and which we are bound to do. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance, enable us to carry out our educational action in union with Christ, in communion with him and continuously renewed by his forgiveness. Prayer and the sacraments obtain for us that light of truth thanks to which we are able to be at once tender and strong, gentle and firm, silent and communicative at the right time, admonishing and correcting in the right way.

Dear friends, let us therefore all invoke the Holy Spirit together so that he may come down upon these children in abundance, consecrate them in the image of Jesus Christ and always go with them on their journey through life. Let us entrust them to the motherly guidance of Mary Most Holy, so that they may grow in age, wisdom and grace and become true Christians, faithful and joyful witnesses of God’s love. Amen.


Saint Jerome from Homilies on Saint Mark’s gospel, 1C, SC 494

The baptism of Jesus

“And he was baptized in the Jordan by John.” How great is his mercy: he who was sinless was baptized as a sinner! In the baptism of the Lord all sins are forgiven. However it is only a kind of prefiguration of the Savior’s baptism since the real remission of sins is in the blood of Christ, in the mystery of the Trinity.

“And on coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open.” This is all written for our sakes. For before receiving baptism our eyes are closed and we do not see heavenly realities.

“He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” We witness the mystery of the Trinity: Jesus is baptized; the Holy Spirit descends under the appearance of a dove; the Father speaks from the heights of heaven.

“He saw the heavens torn open.” The expression “he saw” indicates that the others had not seen. Let no one go so far as to imagine the skies as being simply and materially open: we ourselves, standing now in this place, according to the diversity of our worthiness, see the heavens either open or shut. Complete faith sees the heavens open but a faith that doubts sees them shut.

“He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.” (Jn 1 32) Take note of what Scripture is saying: “remain” means not to go away. The Holy Spirit has come down and remained on Christ, whereas on us he comes down but does not remain. Indeed, do we expect the Holy Spirit to remain on us when we hate our brother or have evil thoughts? So if we have good thoughts we should know that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, but if we have evil ones then it is the sign that the Holy Spirit has withdrawn from us. This is why it is said concerning the Savior: “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one.” (Jn 1:33)