There is one last Biblical image of Baptism I would like to cover before I leave this topic. There is a most wonderful vision the prophet Ezekiel has in the Old Testament.
“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.
Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen this?’
Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, ‘This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea the water will become fresh. And wherever the rivergoes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea; from En-ge′di to En-eg′laim it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’” (Ezekiel 47:1-12)
One image in that prophecy we see fulfilled is found in John’s Gospel after the resurrection when the apostles had been fishing all night yet caught nothing. Jesus appeared on the shore, and instructed them to again lower their nets, and it was filled with so many fish they struggled to haul it in, yet the net was not broken. (John 21:1-14)
The prophet also sees a time when water will flow from the temple that will heal the people. We see a similar passage in the last chapter of the Bible which tells us the prophecy was fulfilled – “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:1-2
As to the time when this prophecy is specifically fulfilled, as Catholics we would look to the cross. For the New Testament is clear that the temple is Christ (John 2:19-22, Revelation 21:22). And on the cross, when we see the soldiers pierce the side of Christ, we see blood and water flowing from his side. ”So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (John 19:32-34).
The Catechism says this about that event — 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. (CCC1225)
One of the interesting things about these passages is that the reference in the Gospel of John does not tell us which side of Christ the soldier pierces with his lance. But if you observe images of a crucifix, the wound to the side of Christ is seen on his right side. If we go back to the prophet Ezekiel and recognize Christ as the temple, who is facing east, we are told the water is flowing from the “south” side of the temple. This would be the right side of Christ.
One of my favorite liturgical rites is the sprinkling of the congregation with water during the Easter season and on the feast of the Baptism of Christ. It is a reminder and renewal of our Baptismal promises. And the chant we sing ties us back to the prophet Ezekiel, and that prophecy being fulfilled by Christ on the cross. Below is one of my favorite versions if you’d like to listen. The water does indeed bring us to new life, and the people do indeed sing in praise.
I saw water flowing
From the right sight of the temple
The water brought God’s life
And God’s salvation
And the people sang in praise