It is one of the three sacraments of initiation and was part of the commission of Christ to his disciples prior to the Ascension. In Matt: 28:19, Jesus says “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
This sacrament as with all sacraments provides a gift of sharing in the life of the God as Holy Trinity. We refer to that gift as grace. With grace one receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. This gift of sanctifying grace, displaces original sin with life in Christ by sharing in the fruit of the death and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It also joins the recipient to the Church, as a member of the Church the baptized individual, is a child of God, a brother of sister of Christ. Baptism has been seen since the earliest days of the Church as the gateway to the victory of Jesus and therefore to heaven.
It is true that in the very earliest days when people had reached adulthood without encountering the Gospel, most of those baptized were in facts adults. It followed their decision to accept Christ. It is also clear that fairly soon entire families were being baptized, so baptism was neither restricted to adults by any mandate from Christ nor by the universal practice in the early church.
Accepting Baptism of water or spirit is no guarantee that an individual remains faithful to his calling throughout life. The process of becoming unified with Christ begins in Baptism but is never over. It is a matter of at what age we will allow people to enter into the sacramental life of the Church and to benefit from the life of grace.
Given the mandate to be baptized in order to be saved believers began to ask about those who were not baptized. While we have always trusted in God’s justice and mercy, it seemed prudent to initiate children into the Church and its sacramental life as early as possible and infant baptism became the norm in the Catholic Church.
Why must at least one godparent be an active Catholic?
Since the process of becoming truly Christian Catholic is not finished with baptism, the godparent should be an active positive influence of their godchildren as the process continues. While we have come to recognize and appreciate our shared Christianity with other non-Catholic denominations, the advantages of having at least one godparent who is an active and believing member of the Catholic Church are obvious, if they are to help guide the child in his/her growth in the Church.
The Catholic Catechism is a guide to the Church’s self-understanding as it has developed over the centuries under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which we believe continues in the Church to this very day. From the Catholic Catechism found at http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/ Numbers 1213- 1284
1213 Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua),4 an d the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons 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 and in the word.”5
1275 Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.
1276 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).
1277 Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord’s will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism.
1278 The essential rite of Baptism consists in immersing the candidate in water or pouring water on his head, while pronouncing the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
1279 The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. By this very fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ.
1280 Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship. Because of the character Baptism cannot be repeated (cf. DS 1609 and DS 1624).
1281 Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized (cf. LG 16).
1282 Since the earliest times, Baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom.
1283 With respect to children who have died without Baptism, the liturgy of the Church invites us to trust in God’s mercy and to pray for their salvation.
1284 In case of necessity, any person can baptize provided that he have the intention of doing that which the Church does and provided that he pours water on the candidate’s head while saying: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”