Baptism is often called the “Easter sacrament” for its rich symbolism.
Even in the most simplest form, the sacrament of baptism is full of Easter symbolism. It is a sacrament traditionally celebrated at the Easter Vigil and this custom is no “coincidence.” The Church celebrates baptism during the Easter season for a very specific reason, connecting it to the events of the Paschal mystery.
Much of the symbolism is laid out in the Jerusalem Catecheses, a series of catechetical lectures attributed to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop during the 4th century.
Addressing those baptized at the Easter Vigil, Cyril writes, “You were led down to the font of holy baptism just as Christ was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb which is before your eyes. Each of you was asked, ‘Do you believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?’ You made the profession of faith that brings salvation, you were plunged into the water, and three times you rose again. This symbolized the three days Christ spent in the tomb.”
Cyril continues the symbolism by explaining why the catechumen was plunged into the water.
As our Savior spent three days and three nights in the depths of the earth, so your first rising from the water represented the first day and your first immersion represented the first night. At night a man cannot see, but in the day he walks in the light. So when you were immersed in the water it was like night for you and you could not see, but when you rose again it was like coming into broad daylight. In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also relates this unique connection between baptism and the Paschal mystery.
In his Passover Christ opened to all men the fountain of Baptism. He had already spoken of his Passion, which he was about to suffer in Jerusalem, as a “Baptism” with which he had to be baptized. The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus are types of Baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments of new life. From then on, it is possible “to be born of water and the Spirit” in order to enter the Kingdom of God.
See where you are baptized, see where Baptism comes from, if not from the cross of Christ, from his death. There is the whole mystery: he died for you. In him you are redeemed, in him you are saved. (CCC 1225)
Furthermore, “The white garment [of baptism] symbolizes that the person baptized has ‘put on Christ,’ has risen with Christ. The candle, lit from the Easter candle, signifies that Christ has enlightened the neophyte. In him the baptized are ‘the light of the world.’”
Baptism is a beautiful sacrament and when it is celebrated during the Easter season, all of its symbolism comes to life.