A great opportunity to share the Catholic faith with Protestants is when they bring up the ceremony that they call ‘Baby Dedication’. This is a ceremony in which the child’s parents, and sometimes their entire family (usually grandparents), make a public pronouncement and commitment before the Lord to raise their child to serve God, according the teachings in the Bible. While these ceremonies can take the form of being either very simple or full of ritual and pomp, they remain to be merely a symbolic in essence; meaning that there is no implied regeneration or sacramental grace at work within the child.
A good place to start the conversation with your Protestant friend is to ask them where can the ‘Baby Dedication’ ceremony be found in the Bible. If they are able to draw from Scripture to defend this ceremony, they will point you to 1 Samuel 1:11 and/or Luke 2:22 as their proof-text.
1 Samuel 1:11
The first chapter of the first book of Samuel opens up with the story about Hannah, the wife of Elkanah. We are told in verse five that whenever Elkanah went to offer sacrifices at Shiloh he would always give “a double to Hannah because the Lord had made her barren.” The fact that she could not bear a child presented great distress, bitterness, and sorrow in the heart of Hannah, and out that desperate condition one day she prayed, while weeping, at some length to the Lord at Shiloh, bargaining that if He gave her a male child, she would give him back (consecrate) him to the Lord. This was a peculiar promise, being that the Mosaic Law obligated women to consecrate their firstborn to the Lord anyway (Cf. Exodus 13:2, 12). Nevertheless, the Lord heard Hannah’s cry and remembered her, and she conceived a son, whom she named Samuel. She also kept her promise and dedicated him to the Lord.
In the second chapter of Luke we read that Joseph and Mary, out of obligation of the Mosaic Law (Cf. Leviticus 12:2-8), went to Jerusalem for their purification, to offer sacrifice, and, like Hannah, to consecrate their son as the law required.
Having brought their proof-text into context, a good question to ask your Protestant friend at this point why are they following the Mosaic law, and not very well at that, being that they didn’t wait eight days to circumcise their son, didn’t abstain from touching anything sacred or enter the temple are forty days, and didn’t offer sacrifice at the temple. Why are they skipping past all of the law to jump to the dedication ceremony? Moreover, why are they dedicating their daughter or second born son?
There is nothing in sacred Scripture after the resurrection of Jesus or even in the first 1,500 years of the Church of Christ that supports the Protestant Tradition of ‘Baby Dedication’.
In contrast, what the Catholic Church teaches about the Sacrament of Baptism today is what it has always actually believed about it. Baptism is more than just a sign. Baptism is Holy, and is the basis and the gateway to life in the Spirit. Through Baptism the grace of God works a permanent miracle – the cleansing of all of our sins prior to it. Baptism makes all other Sacraments of the Church accessible. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons and daughters of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission. “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” More from the Catechism of the Catholic Church about Infant Baptism.
The Baptism of Infants
1250 – 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. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.
1251 – Christian parents will recognize that this practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the life that God has entrusted to them.
1252 – The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole “households” received baptism, infants may also have been baptized. (Cf. Acts 16:15,33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16)
SOME OF WHAT THE FATHER’S OF THE CHURCH TAUGHT AND WROTE ON INFANT BAPTISM:
St. Cyprian of Carthage (200?-258, Bishop, Martyr), ‘Epistle 58: to Fidus’
“If, in the case of the worst sinners and of those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from Baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this very reason does he approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another.”
* year A.D. 426/427 – St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430, Bishop), ‘Retractations’
“Likewise, because I said: “Sin, of course, can never exist except in the will,” the Pelagians can suppose that it was said to their advantage, because infants, whom they deny have the original sin which is remitted them in baptism, have not yet the use of free choice.”
Have fun sharing!