He did it to show us something.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mk 1:9). But he, the cornerstone of the new covenant, had no need of a (marginal) purification from the old one. By definition, this was not a Christian baptism since it is Jesus Himself who is its foundation. What’s more, this sign of penance for sins has no effect on the One who, par excellence, has no sin of which to be purified. This seems then a pointless baptism. And yet …
By His baptism, Jesus manifests His Father’s saving plan
Jesus goes through this rite, not for Himself, but for us. Indeed, He marks in His person the juncture between the two Testaments. Jesus is the culmination of the Old while inaugurating the New. He ensures their continuity by instituting a rupture: Himself. Yet it is the same God who forgives, before Him and through Him. This same God is He Himself. The baptism willed by Jesus and conferred by John orchestrates the design of the entire Bible. The same loving God forgives, saves, loves. Jesus doesn’t seek to live but to show. He is the manifestation of the saving plan of the Father.
And so it is with the liturgy: it manifests what God intends to offer us. As St. Augustine said, echoed in a preface of the Mass, “Our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation, through Christ our Lord.” We give thanks to God for being our God. He makes us participants in his glory. Yes, God well knows what we ask of Him, but he wants us to ask Him for ourselves, and through Christ. That does us good, in that it raises us up to Him.
Prayer that profoundly transforms us
We need to appreciate how much prayer, and particularly the liturgy as the vehicle of all possible prayer, is transformative. It’s not that it performs miracles in the sense of “I pray, and hey presto! it works!” But it transforms us deep within. It makes us Christians and, as such, teaches us to see and to act according to God.
Our thoughts and our actions are shaped by this transformation. And the result is no longer the same. That’s what’s changed! The miracle is us, as we turn to God. Those who pray the office almost every day — vespers, for example, or complines — experience this. Their prayer breathes the oxygen of the Church.
Brother Thierry-Dominique Humbrech