“A priest may not, in fact, lawfully baptise a child unless he has a solidly founded hope that the baby will be raised properly as a Catholic.”
THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM IS PERFORMED BY WASHING WITH WATER BY WAY OF IMMERSION OR POURING, ACCORDING TO LOCAL CUSTOM.
“It is true that, according to our earliest biblical records (as in Acts 2, for example), perhaps only adults were baptised, though we can’t be sure of that. Soon afterward, however, infants were included as whole families were brought into Christian communities.
All Eastern and most Western churches consider infant baptism as having been the norm from the beginning of the Christian era.
The three main sources for correct Catholic practice of baptism are the Rite of Baptism, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Canon Law.
Canon No. 854 says simply that baptism is to be conferred by immersion of the person into the water or pouring water over the person.
According to the baptism ritual (18.2), the sacrament is performed by washing with water by way of immersion or pouring, according to local custom.
The RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] is more explicit. If the individual is baptised by immersion, the whole body or the head only is immersed. If water is poured, it is poured three times over the bowed head (No. 226). Many prominent authors of sacramental theology have held that baptism of another major part of the body rather than the head (such as the breast or shoulders) is most probably valid, and the baptism would not need to be repeated.
All this notwithstanding, the Church’s principle is that in administering the sacraments the safest option should govern what we do. For baptism, this means that the head is immersed, or water is poured over it, as the baptism words are spoken.
Some priests do refuse baptism to an innocent child if they judge parents are not ‘Catholic’ enough. Others welcome infants with open arms, even if their parents are ‘fringe’ Catholics.
When Catholic parents (or a Catholic partner in an interfaith marriage) are seriously deficient in their Catholic practice, the priest is obliged to delay baptism until he can help the parents rethink their faith.
THE NEW TESTAMENT MAKES CLEAR THAT, FROM THE BEGINNING, BAPTISM WAS THE COMMON WAY TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN.
True, children should be baptised “within the first weeks” after birth (Canon 867). The law assumes, however, that parents are practising their faith, prepared to raise their children as faithful Catholic men and women. Thus, the same law requires that immediately after birth or before, the parents go to their parish priest to request the Sacrament of Baptism and to be properly prepared for it.
A priest may not, in fact, lawfully baptise a child unless he has a solidly founded hope that the baby will be raised properly as a Catholic. If evidence for this hope is lacking, he should delay the baptism and explain the reason to the parents (Canon 868).
The ritual for baptism emphasises the point. At least twice during the ceremony, Catholic parents profess adherence to the faith in which the child is being baptised and promise to give the example needed for the child to be raised in their faith. Normally, this promise cannot be made unless the Catholic parents themselves are faithful in their Catholic practice and are not simply bringing the child for baptism because of family tradition or a vague feeling that ‘it’s the right thing to do.’ In other words, the Church is concerned that parents not be placed in the position of making a profession of faith they do not honestly believe. But – and this is a crucial point – the story does not end there.
The parish priest is obliged to help parents who are not yet ready genuinely to profess their faith, to assist them in assuming responsibility for the religious education of their children and then to decide the right time for baptism…
It remains vital that Catholic parents desire in their own hearts that the baptism of their child will be what it was meant to be, an earnest recommitment of all their family to the faith they hope to share with their child.”
– This article by Father John was published in “The Catholic Universe”, issue Sunday 16th June, 2013. For subscriptions, please visit http://www.thecatholicuniverse.com (external link).
• If you are an ADULT who wishes to learn about the Catholic faith in order to “brush up” or to be initiated for the first time, please type “RCIA” into this blog’s search engine for information whether your baptism is recognised by the Catholic Church (if you were for example baptised Protestant), and info for those of you who would like to become Catholic without having been baptised previously.