Most priests are willing to go through the ceremony with you beforehand if you are a bit unsure of what is involved.
Sign of the Cross
Usually when you enter the church the priest will trace the cross on the forehead of your baby and invite the parents and godparents to do the same. The cross is a reminder of the love of Christ who gave his life for his friends.
The tracing of a cross on the forehead of the person being baptised is an invisible 'branding' that says 'you belong to Christ'.
You will gather around the baptismal font - a large bowl, usually of stone or marble or glass holding the waters of baptism. Usually the mother holds the child. The celebrant asks the parents what they want for the child. You reply, 'Baptism.' Then you make the baptismal promises on behalf of your child.
These promises are based on the Apostles Creed.
The celebrant anoints your baby with oil on the forehead and on the chest. He anoints the baby with the Oil of Baptism (Catechumens) and with the Oil of Chrism. The Oil of Baptism is olive oil. It relates to the days when athletes used to rub oil into their bodies before events to strengthen them and make their skin more supple. It symbolises strengthening for the struggles of life ahead.
The Oil of Chrism is a combination of olive oil and balsam. It symbolises the sealing with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism with Water
The priest pours water over the head of your baby (or immerses the baby in the water) and says "I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
The water is a sign of cleansing. The water symbolically washes the person being baptised of all sin.
It is also a sign of life. Without water nothing can grow. It is a sign of the new spiritual life into which the baptised person is entering.
As a sign of the new life a candle will be lit, usually from the Easter Candle which symbolises the light of Christ.
Usually the father of the child or a godparent will stand by the child and hold this candle.
You might ask the priest beforehand whether it is the custom in your parish for the parents to bring their own baptismal candle or whether the parish provides them. If you provide the candle, you can choose either to buy a baptismal candle or to decorate one yourself.
Your child is given a white garment as a sign of being clothed in Christ.
Your family might have a Christening gown that you want to use or a shawl. If you want to use this, then let the priest know beforehand.
You might like to use a baptismal gown, either a white stole, a white scapular or a white bib - perhaps one that you have made and bearing the sign of a cross. The white garment is a symbol of purity and innocence.
Baptismal certificate and Baptismal register
At the end of the ceremony you will be asked to sign the parish Baptismal register and you will be given a Baptismal Certificate. You will want to keep the certificate carefully as it may be needed when you enrol your child in a catholic school or before he or she receives the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation.
Although a baptism is free, it is usual to give the priest a donation - for his time and effort. Give what you can afford. The parish office might make a suggestion as to how much would be appropriate.