Mighty is the water in the seas, yet it is too weak for atonement; the water of baptism alone is able to atone.St Ephraem the Syrian
The Sacrament of Baptism is the most essential of all the sacraments because it is impossible to be saved, unless you have been baptized. In the Sacrament of Baptism, we become children of God, receive many graces, have all of our sins washed away, and have every punishment due to sin removed. In this sacrament, the matter is water, and the form is the words said while the water is being used.
The word Baptism comes from the Greek language and means “washing.” In the Sacrament of Baptism, sin and all its punishments are cleansed from the soul. It is not known exactly when Christ instituted the Sacrament of Baptism. It is indisputable that He did institute it though, because in the Gospel of Matthew, Christ tells his apostles to baptize everyone in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Many of the Church Fathers believed the institution of this sacrament happened at the moment of Christ’s baptism by St. John the Baptist. It is interesting to note that the baptism of St. John was not a sacrament. Those who received it were later baptized by the apostles with the Baptism of Christ, which is a sacrament and imparts many essential graces.
The Sacrament of Baptism remits all the sin on your soul (original sin as well as mortal and venial sin). Anyone who dies right after Baptism goes straight to Heaven. This sacrament bestows many graces on the soul, the most important being Sanctifying Grace, the supernatural life of the soul. Many Sacramental Graces and virtues are also received at Baptism, including: the three Theological Virtues, the four Cardinal Virtues, and the seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. In Baptism, the soul obtains an indelible mark which claims it forever for God. This is why the Sacrament of Baptism can be received only once.
As with every sacrament, Baptism has form and matter. The words said during the actual Baptism are the form. The remote matter in this sacrament is pure water, while the proximate matter is how the water is used. There are three ways water can be used in a valid Baptism. The first is immersion, or dipping in water. The second is aspersion, or sprinkling with water. The third way is pouring the water, and this is the way baptisms are done in the Roman Rite. The ordinary ministers of Baptism are priests and bishops. However if someone is in danger of death, anyone who knows the requirements and intention of the Church may baptize.
Sometimes, sadly, there are people who die without receiving Baptism. The Church, in her mercy, recognizes two substitutes for the conventional baptism by water. The first is called Baptism of Desire. This happens when someone has an ardent desire or intention to be baptized, but dies before their baptism can take place. Anyone who wishes to do all that is required for salvation has this ardent desire. The second substitute is called Baptism of Blood. When seeing the martyrs die, there would often be onlookers who received the gift of faith. Many times, these onlookers would be instantly killed, before being baptized themselves, along with the very martyrs whose example led to their conversion. This would be considered a Baptism of Blood.
At this time in history, most baptisms are baptisms by water and are accompanied by many beautiful and significant ceremonies. The one to be baptized is met at the doors of the church by a priest, and before the baptism even takes place, there are many prayers, blessings, and exorcisms. Just before the baptism happens, the person to be baptized (or his or her sponsors if the candidate is an infant) take the baptismal vows where they profess their belief in God and their rejection of the devil and his works. Then, as the priest pours the water over the candidate’s forehead, he pronounces the words of Baptism, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” During the Baptism, the candidate takes a baptismal name, which is usually the name of a saint. Afterwards, the newly baptized Catholic receives a baptismal candle, representing their new faith and a white garment representing the state of their soul. Baptism and the graces you receive thereby are imperative for your salvation.
Laux, John. Mass and the Sacraments. Charlotte: Tan Books, 2013