When I began swimming the Tiber, as a Presbyterian, I thought the biggest theological issue between one side and the other had to do with the "justification", i.e. salvation by "faith alone" versus "faith + works".
A former Presbyterian minister who converted, Chad Pirotte (you can catch his youtube video here), described the two different view points as "imputed grace" vs "infused grace". He’s bald, like me, so I know he’s right.
The Presbyterians (and reformed circles) teach that God sees Christ's perfection instead of our sinfulness and thus the grace of God, due to Christ, is imputed to us. That's true but the Catholic church takes it a step further, whereby the perfection of Christ, the grace of Christ, his body, blood, soul and divinity, is united to us through the Eucharist.
In essence, Christ and the Church are becoming "one flesh" in a sense (sound familiar? Maybe we’ll get back to that another day). His perfection, his body, blood, soul and divinity are being unified and infused into us, making us more Holy.
Anyways, I hadn't thought about this much recently until I was sitting at the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Mary the Holy Mother of God, last night, and I looked down at my St. Paul's Daily Missal, and I saw the below image.
In Antiphon 1, which is from Psalm 51, David writes:
Sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow
Why is this interesting? Because David is simultaneously referring to the Hyssop that Moses instructed the Israelites to use to spread the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, in Exodus 12, and the Hyssop that was to come, as documented in John’s Gospel at the Crucifixion .
It’s also interesting because David uses language that suggests a theology of infused grace, not imputed. The blood from the hyssop of God will actually cleanse David. David is not saying “look back at my ancestors who obeyed the instructions of Moses and account it to me as righteousness”. No, he is saying that the liquid sprinkled from the hyssop (the blood of the paschal sacrifice) will actually cleanse him.
He then writes “wash me and I shall be whiter than snow”. It is unclear here if David is intending God to wash him with the blood of the hyssop or with water, which would be normal. If it’s water (and I believe it is) then is this a clear foretelling of Baptism? If so, does it also imply that Baptism actually serves a purpose beyond being a public symbol?
Maybe Antiphon 2 can shed some light?
In Antiphon 2, which is taking from the book of Ezekiel, we read:
I will pour clean water upon you, and you will be made clean of all of your impurities, and I shall give you a new spirit, says the Lord
Again, we see more of this “infused grace” language. There is no language here that calls to God to look upon the righteousness of their ancestors and impute it to Israel. There is a prophecy of water that will actually purify the Israelites themselves. This is clearly the water of Baptism to come.
Ezekiel goes a bit further here writing that after you’ve been made clean of all of your impurities, via the Baptismal waters, God says “I shall give you a new spirit”. That’s right. The water will actually cleanse you of something and you’re given a new spirit. This lines up with what we see in the book of Acts, where-by the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit but Peter orders that they be Baptized as well (Acts chapter 10)
Growing up as a Baptist, I was taught that the Baptism was a public profession of the Faith. As a Presbyterian, I was taught that the Baptism was a symbol demarcating that a child was being brought into the Covenantal family. Both of these teachings are partly true, but neither of these teachings seems to align with the fullness of the truth being taught by the Catholic Church here and has been recorded all over the Bible.
What truth is that?
That Baptism washes away your original sin. It is part of your purification. It is required before you can be made “one flesh” with the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, via the Eucharist.
Sorry for the long rant. I kind of go “Catholic geek” when I see something like this.
It always makes me feel like “IT WAS RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF MY FACE THE ENTIRE TIME AND I DIDN’T SEE IT!!”