Can Catholics be born again?
Fr. John Trigilio writes that Catholics are born again through water and the Spirit . . .
Yes, they can! Catholics are “born again” in water and the Holy Spirit. The term “born again” is a bit strange in Catholic colloquialism. Nevertheless, through Baptism we are spiritually born or “born again.”
It is through Baptism that we become adopted children of God, hence the notion of being “born again.” While Catholics believe one does not need to be aware of being “born again” in order for it to still happen (as in the case of infant Baptism), Evangelical Protestants believe only a mature person who is able to reason and make adult decisions is able to be effectively “baptized.” According to their tradition, accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior is the moment of rebirth, and the sacrament of Baptism merely ratifies that decision.
Infant Baptism, whereby Catholics are “born again,” is followed by another sacrament called Confession, when Catholics can and must speak for themselves. Confirmation, on the other hand, is when young people are asked to confirm the faith they were given at Baptism by consciously embracing it. In one sense, Confirmation is the time when Catholics are asked to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Evangelicals believe they are saved in the blood of Christ and confirmed in the Holy Spirit at the same time.
Catholics also believe they are saved through the blood of Christ and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism; however, Catholics receive them in a different sacrament. Western (Latin Rite) Catholics are baptized as infants and usually receive Confirmation as an adolescent. Eastern (Byzantine) Catholics get both sacraments as an infant on the same day. In Baptism, Catholics are born again in water and the Holy Spirit. In Confirmation, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are imparted to the previously baptized.
All Christians baptize by water to confer the saving effects of the blood of Christ that was shed on Good Friday. Water is the outward sign that signifies what is taking place spiritually. Spiritually, the soul is cleansed of original sin, then infused with sanctifying grace. The effects of Baptism are phenomenal: We become adopted children of God, heirs to the heavenly kingdom, and members of Christ’s mystical Body, the Church.
Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Christians receive all three sacraments of initiation at once. So a baby is baptized, is confirmed (called chrismated), and receives Holy Communion upon his baptismal day. This goes back to when the early Church was receiving many adult converts. After the Peace of Constantine, there was a mass conversion of adults, so all three sacraments were celebrated at once.
FATHER JOHN TRIGILIO JR. is an author, theologian and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. This article is reprinted with permission from “The Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions,” which he authored with Fr. Kenneth D. Brighenti.
Where infant Baptism has become the form in which this sacrament is usually celebrated, it has become a single act encapsulating the preparatory stages of Christian initiation in a very abridged way. By its very nature, infant Baptism requires a post-baptismal catechumenate. Not only is there a need for instruction after Baptism, but also for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth. The catechism has its proper place here.
Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1231, 1250