The whole of Christian life is about the journey from death to life, from slavery to freedom. Consider the ritual for infant baptism. It begins outside the doors of the church. Doors, in a Catholic church, are associated with baptism. They are the way from outside to inside, entrance into the family of God, the church, the Kingdom of God. So, we gather with the family and the child outside the doors because, before baptism, this child is outside.
After the initial rites of blessing and anointing with the Oil of Catechumens, a pre-baptismal oil, we process through the doors to the baptismal font. There the child undergoes a ritual death by drowning in the water made holy and life-giving by God’s blessing.
Following the baptism, the community processes the child down to the altar. The altar symbolizes the Kingdom realized, where we partake of the heavenly banquet, the Eucharist. Thus, the whole faith life of the child is ritualized in these processions: from outside to inside, from the font to the altar. Indeed the journey of the whole human race toward the Kingdom is ritualized in this sacramental celebration.
Every time we enter a Catholic church, we renew our baptism. As we approach the church, we put our backs to theological west, that place where the sun dies, symbolic of sin and death. We face theological east, that place where the sun rises, symbolic of Christ’s coming again, that place of eternal life and glory. We sign ourselves in the baptismal water, recalling the place/time of conversion. We move into the body of the church and eventually to the altar to receive Communion.
Signing ourselves in the font only makes sense when we are entering the church. It does not make sense when we are leaving. This “holy” water is actually “baptismal” water. We are not “blessing” ourselves; we are recalling our baptism. Think about this. At the end of Mass, we are sent into the world to transform it into the Kingdom. Yes, we need God’s grace to do that, but that is not given by signing ourselves in the font. That grace is given through our participation in the Eucharist.
~ Fr. Frank Coady