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3 Ways St. John the Baptist Influenced the Catholic Church

We recall his lasting contributions ahead of his nativity on June 24.

One of the key events of Jesus’s life was His baptism in the Jordan River. So relevant was this event that it is mentioned in all four Gospels.

According to scholars, Jesus’s baptism was important because “it affirmed Jesus as the Messiah, revealed the humanity of Jesus, provided an example for others, and displayed a beautiful picture of the Triune God among the earliest followers of Jesus.” (Read: EXPLAINER: When Was Jesus Really Baptized?)

The baptism was performed by John the Baptist, said to be as theologically significant a figure in the Gospels as Jesus Himself.  Besides uttering some of the Bible’s most quotable quotes (“I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” and “He must increase; I must decrease” are proof of his humility and acceptance of his role in Jesus’ life), John the Baptist lives on in these three elements of our faith and the church.

My Pope Philippines recalls his lasting contributions ahead of his nativity on June 24.

The Sacrament of Baptism

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Pope Francis baptizes a child in the Sistine Chapel last Jan. 12, 2020. (Photo from Vatican Media / Catholic News Agency)

John the Baptist’s most significant contribution, of course, is the ceremony that symbolizes the repentance of our sins, admission into Christianity, and salvation of our souls. Even Jesus, who is without sin, recognized the importance of this event.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God,” was His message to Nicodemus. (Read: 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Jordan River)

The Code of Canon Law (867.1) states that infants be baptized “within the first few weeks after birth.” There is also the adult baptism (otherwise known as Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults or Believer’s baptism) which is for individuals 18 years old and above who have yet to be baptized or wish to convert to Christianity.

In Catholic baptism, those to be baptized have a choice between placing their head over a baptismal font as the priest pours water over their head, or entering a pool and being dipped by a priest into the water. For a more meaningful experience, some join a tour that will allow them to be baptized in Jordan River— the very site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  

Turning Ordinary Water Into Holy Water

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The baptismal water at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral to be used at the Easter Vigil April 15. (Photo from Billy Hardiman/Catholic Sun)

This staple of churches stems from John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the “living” waters of the Jordan River. Turning ordinary water into Holy Water began in the 4th century when priests blessed the still water in baptismal fonts or pools to protect the baptized from evil spirits and sickness. (Read: How Exactly Is the Holy Eucharist Made?)

Scallop Shell-Shaped Accessories

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The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci (Photo from Wikipedia)

Based on many artists’ renderings of Jesus’s baptism at the River Jordan, John the Baptist appears to be using a scallop shell to pour water over the man who would be the Messiah. Today, the church honors that tradition by implementing a number of features in the shape of a scallop shell.  

Scallop shell-shaped Holy Water fonts can be found in many of the entrances of churches. There are also scallop shell-shaped baptismal fonts, and scallop shell-shaped accessories used by priests to pour water over babies being baptized.

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