The primary symbol of Baptism is water. Water, present almost everywhere, is basic to life. Powerful, gentle, so pure in its God-given form, water is a rich symbol for the meaning of Baptism. For Christians, water becomes the sign of our immersion into God’s life as expressed to us in Jesus Christ. Water is used liberally with each person celebrating baptism to demonstrate the abundant love of God. Water also symbolizes the washing away of the “Original sin” which was handed down by our first parents, Adam and Eve.
The person who is to be baptized is signed with the cross, and parents and godparents may also be invited to mark the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. The cross is the badge of Christians, and is given to the candidate both as a symbol of their new allegiance, and as a sign of God’s protection against evil.
In some churches the cross is marked not just with a dry thumb, but with oil. This draws on the way in which, in the time of the early Christians, athletes preparing for a contest would be rubbed down with oil to loosen their limbs and prepare them for either the race or the fight. Making the cross in this way reminds people that life is often a struggle in which the baptized person is enlisted to compete on the side of God and the good.
More commonly, however, oil is used after the baptism. This anointing is done with an oil called chrism (and this is called chrismation). This is the same oil that is used in the coronation of monarchs. Here the symbolism stretches right back into the way in which kings of Israel were anointed. Jesus was seen be early Christians as God’s true king, or anointed one. In fact the word “Christ” is not actually a name but a title: it means “The Anointed One”.
The anointing represents the way in which the baptized are given God’s Spirit: the same Spirit of love that Jesus shared with his Father. In this way, just as Jesus was God’s Son, God adopts the baptized as his sons and daughters.