Prefigurations of Baptism in Old Testament Scriptures

Listen to the Apostle’s teaching: For all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Moreover, Moses himself sings in triumph You sent your Spirit and the sea covered them. As you see, holy baptism was prefigured even then at the crossing of the sea, where the Egyptians perished but the Hebrews escaped. What else, after all, are we daily taught about baptism? That with the immersion in water, guilt is swallowed up and error done away with, but that virtue and innocence remain unharmed?

You hear that our fathers were under the cloud, a kindly cloud which cooled the heat of carnal passions. That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. Finally it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Most High overshadowed her, when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. The miracle worked by Moses was a prefiguration of this miracle. But then – if the Spirit was in the figure, how can he not be present in the reality? As Scripture says, The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

Marah was a spring of unendurably bitter water: Moses threw wood into it and it became sweet. For you see: water without the preaching of the Cross of the Lord is of no use for future salvation, but, after it has been consecrated by the mystery of the wood of the saving Cross, it is made suitable for the use of the spiritual cleansing and of the cup of salvation. So as Moses (that is, the prophet) threw wood into that fountain, so the priest utters over this font the proclamation of the Lord’s cross, and the water is made sweet for the purpose of grace.

You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see without eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.

There is a final lesson to be learned from the book of the Kings which we have just been reading. Naaman was a Syrian, and suffered from leprosy, and there was no-one who could cleanse him. Then a maiden from among the captives said that there was a prophet in Israel, who could cleanse him from the defilement of the leprosy. And it is said that, having taken silver and gold, Naaman went to the king of Israel. And the king, when he heard why Naaman had come, tore his garments, saying that this was an attempt to put him in the wrong, since healing leprosy was not in the power of kings. Elisha, however, sent word to the king that he should send the Syrian to him, so that he might know there was a God in Israel. And when he had come, he told him to dip himself seven times in the river Jordan.

Naaman doubted until the time when he was cleansed; but you are cleansed by now, and so you should not have doubts.

St. Ambrose was the bishop of Milan, Italy who baptized St. Augustine in the second half of the 4th century AD. This excerpt on the power of the waters of baptism from his treatise On the Mysteries (nn. 12-16, 19: SC 25 bis, 162-164) is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings on Tuesday of the 15th week in ordinary time. It is addressed to those who have just received the sacrament of baptism, showing them the many types or prefigurations of the waters of baptism to be found in the Old Testament Scriptures. This a wonderful meditation for those participating in RCIA.

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Ambrose of Milan, St.

St. Ambrose of Milan’s life (Sant Ambroggio de Milano in Italian) is a particularly fascinating story. St. Ambrose was born around 339 in what is now Trier, Germany, the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul. Following his father’s footsteps, Ambrose embarked upon a career in law and politics and by 370 AD, he had become the Imperial governor of Northern Italy. When the episcopal see of Milan became vacant in 374, the people demanded that Saint Ambrose be made their bishop. The neighboring bishops and the Emperor convinced him to accept this call as the will of God, and so the catechumen Ambrose was baptized and ordained first deacon, then priest, then bishop, all in a single week! This politician-turned churchman was profoundly aware of his lack of preparation for this great responsibility and so set himself immediately to prayer and the study of Scripture. His deep spirituality and love of God’s Word married together with the oratorical skill acquired in law and politics made St. Ambrose one of the greatest preachers of the early church. St. Ambrose proved to be a fierce opponent of heresy, paganism, and hypocrisy. He battled to preserve the independence of the Church from the state and courageously excommunicated the powerful Catholic Emperor Theodosius I for a massacre of innocent civilians in Thessalonica. St. Ambrose also had a significant impact on sacred music through the composition of hymns and psalm tones that are known to this day as Ambrosian chant. Besides numerous sermons and treatises on the spiritual life, Saint Ambrose is responsible for two of the first great theological works written in Latin, De Sacramentis on the Sacraments and De Spiritu Sancto on the Holy Spirit. Around 385, an ambitious professor of public speaking named Augustine came to hear Saint Ambrose preach in order to study his technique, and in the process, was attracted to the Catholic faith. In 386 Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose and went on to become bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Ambrose and his pupil, Augustine, together with St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great, make up the four original Doctors of the Latin Church. Saint Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, died on Holy Saturday (April 4) in the year 397 AD. His feastday in the Roman calendar is December 7, the day he was ordained bishop. From the Roman liturgy for the Feast of St. Ambrose: “Lord, you made Saint Ambrose an outstanding teacher of the Catholic faith and gave him the courage of an apostle. Raise up iin your Church more leaders after your own heart, to guide us with courage and wisdom. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”  (bio by Dr. Italy)