Part 4 Initiation of Infants

Chapter i41 Baptism of Infants

Preliminary Questions


The Eden Myth

Original Sin

Original Sin in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #385-421


Arguments against Infant Baptism

Arguments For Infant Baptism

Things That Need To Be Celebrated But Not Necessarily With Baptism

Arguments after the Fact

Ineffective Arguments

Richstatter Update:  Infant Baptism, Gift to the Parish

Baptismal Records

Structure and Elements


Baptism during Sunday Eucharist

Delaying or Refusing Baptism

Infant Catechumenate

Secular "Baptism"


Preparation for Parents and Godparents

Initiation of Children and the Code of Canon Law

Forthcoming Revision of the Rite

Baptism of Infants in Ecumenical Marriages

Reception of Infants Already Baptized

To Think About


Preliminary Questions

Do you remember your baptism?  When was the last time you witnessed the baptism of an infant?  Was the baby baptized by immersion?  Have you ever been a sponsor or godparent?

How old were you when you were baptized? More than seven days? During which liturgical season were you baptized? How soon after birth should an infant be baptized? What is the best age for Confirmation?

Why are infants baptized?  Why are baptisms at Sunday Mass?  Why are there no baptisms during Lent? What does it say to the parish when you baptize an infant of a single parent family? What do you do when Catholic parents decide not to have their baby baptized?

With which of the following two theological viewpoints do you identify?

1.  "From the Pastor's Desk" (quoted from a recent parish bulletin) Hello everyone! Jesus said in today's gospel, "I am the good shepherd and I will lay down my life for the sheep." Jesus really did say this and He did what He said He'd do; He gave up His life for us so we could get to heaven. The world started out perfect until sin came into it through Adam and Eve. It seems it's gone downhill ever since.

... we live in a culture of death...

2.  God became human in Jesus out of love, rather than because of human sin.  God wanted to express God’s self in a creature would be a masterpiece, and who would love God perfectly in return.  God did not come into history to fix what was broken but rather to be with what God values -- humans and all of creation.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
through all you have made,
and first my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day;
and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he,
how radiant in all his splendor;
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page


Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Instruction on Infant Baptism, Oct. 20, 1980. AAS 72 (1980) 1137-1156.

A very fine and easy to understand presentation of this issue was published in Catholic Update (May 2007), "Adam, Eve & Original Sin" by Michael D Guinan, O.F.M.

Daniel B. Stevick, Baptismal Moments; Baptismal Meanings, New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation [800 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017] 1987. [Good, clear statement of the reasons for and against infant baptism.]

Carol Luebering. What Do You Ask for Your Child: Exploring the Reasons for Baptism. St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1979. ISBN 0-912228-64-4.

Colin Buchanan. A Case for Infant Baptism. Grove Books, 1984. ISBN 0-907536-66-2.

"Infant Baptism: A Gift to the Community." Catholic Update Video, V2040, $39.95. Order from St. Anthony Messenger Press; 1615 Republic Street; Cincinnati, OH 45210. 1-800-488-0488.

Kurt Stasiak. Return to Grace. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1996 ISBN 0-8146-6155-6. $29.95

Tad Guzie, "The Radical Rite: The Vision of Christian Initiation of Adults." NCR Cassettes. St. Meinrad Library BX 2205 G8 1979. [3 30 minute cassettes. tapes 5 and 6 give a good history of "original sin".]

Henri Rondet. Original Sin: The Patristic and Theological Background. New York: Alba House, 1967.

Herbert Haag. Is Original Sin In Scripture? New York: Sheed and Ward, 1969.

Lawrence Landini. "Baptismal Practices in Catholic Hospitals: A Theological Reflection on Canons 752 and 750," The Jurist (1975) 296-309.

On January 19, 2007 Rome approved  for publication, THE HOPE OF SALVATION FOR INFANTS WHO DIE WITHOUT BEING BAPTIZED.

Ilia Delio, O.S.F., A Franciscan View of Creation:  Learning to Live in a Sacramental World.   Franciscan Heritage Series, Volume Two.  The Franciscan Institute, Saint Bonaventure University, 2003.

Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F., The Franciscan View of the Human Person:  Some Central Elements.   Franciscan Heritage Series, Volume Three.  The Franciscan Institute, Saint Bonaventure University, 2005.

Maria Calisi.  Trinitarian Perspectives in the Franciscan Theological Tradition.  Franciscan Heritage Series, Volume Five.  The Franciscan Institute, Saint Bonaventure University, 2008.

Letter of His Holiness John Paul II To Reverend George V. Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory, 1 June, 1988.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

The Eden Myth

[Myth: a sacred narrative explaining how the world and humankind assumed their present form.]

It would seem reasonable that the God who created the universe would be of one mind with the God who inspired the Bible!

Note:  In a survey of 2,200 people in the United States, conducted by the National Science Foundation in 2012 and released on Friday (Feb 14, 2014) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago, 26% of Americans said that the Sun goes around the Earth, and only 48% said "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals."  For the other 52% of Americans, reading the Eden Myth as a historical narrative presents no problem. 

Note:   "Under the iceberg" some folks identify "historical" with "real" and if they found that the "events" described in Genesis 1-11 were not "historical events", they would simply tear those pages out of the Bible as being false and of no importance or significance.  Look under your iceberg to see of you are one of those folks.  If so, what follows will be upsetting for you.

In 1650, the Church of Ireland's Archbishop James Ussher, completed a careful study of the Bible (e.g. thee genealogies of Genesis)  and announced that the earth had been created at midday on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC and consequently the earth today is about 6000 years old.  [Adam lived 930 years; Seth lived 912; his son Enosh lived 905 years, etc. Genesis 5:3 ff]  Scientific evidence would say that the earth is about 4.54 billion years old. -- Contemporary Biblical scholars tell us that what we would now call "history" begins in Genesis 11 with the call of Abraham.  This is based on the study of themes, origin stories, literary genres, etc.

Genesis describes the garden of Eden as a happy place that did not know death until after Adam ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. [Note: There is no mention of "sin" in Genesis 1-3.] Scientific evidence indicates that there were various animal forms, for example Dinosaurs, that had already died out before human beings appeared. [Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals which first appeared 231.4 million years ago, and were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for about 135 million years.] Science finds death to be a normal part of living. Every living being dies. This is part of the great chain of life. The death of plants and animals nourish the growth of others.

All the animals in the Eden Myth garden lived in peace and harmony. The lion and the lamb lie down together and sleep in peace, for the lion eats hay as does the ox. (Lions do not eat lambs!)  A little child (even though there were no little children) could play at the adders den and not be harmed. There is no scientific evidence that all carnivores were once herbivores.

Evidently life in the Garden of Eden did not exist for a very long time before they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because if nothing died, earth would simply have filled up with living creatures. Perhaps there was not only no death but also no birth. --  but these details do not enter into the Myth.

In the Eden Myth God directly creates one man and one woman and from these the entire human race descended. The Myth does not tell us whom their sons and daughters married (presumably their brothers and sisters). Science shows that the human race evolved over many years and there was not one male and one female who were the parents of the entire human race. Rather humans as we know them today are the result of various biological unions and variations.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page


These issues are treated very well in a little book (130 pages) by Kevin Treston, Emergence For Life Not Fall From Grace:  Making sense of the Jesus story in the light of evolution. Mosaic Press, 2013. 

St. Augustine (using a poor translation of the text) has so influenced our thinking today that we must be careful not to think ...

... of suffering and death the result of Adam's sin

... that the world is a sinful place under the influence of the devil

... that the devil caused God to go to "plan B"

... that there would be no incarnation without the disobedience of Adam

... that one sin cause God to be angry for thousands of years

... that God wanted his son to suffer a terrible death

Adam and Even deliberately disobeyed God.  But can their actions be seen as an important step forward in the evolutionary process?  After they ate the fruit, there is now one "animal" that has grown to the point where it can make moral decisions.

[I think parents anticipate the same development in their children, even though they know that it will at times bring about poor choices. I have friends who have two boys, ages 9 and 11. The younger boy frequently "makes decisions" which are deliberate acts of disobedience -- e.g. riding his bike out into the street, etc. The older boy has a form of autism and is incapable of  even simple moral decisions. The parents love both of these children very much.  I can imagine that they might feel that disobedience is not entirely bad.]

Is this why we sing at Easter, "O truly necessary sin of Adam!"?

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! "Father, the atheists?" Even the atheists. Everyone! And this blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God, and the blood of Christ has redeemed us all! (Pope Francis, homily, May 2013, quoted in America 3/17/14, p. 34.)

The key point, I believe, is this (under the iceberg): Is our mortality a positive thing or a negative thing? Is death a gift or punishment?

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

A Short History of Original Sin

 A very fine and easy to understand presentation of this issue was published in Catholic Update (May 2007), "Adam, Eve & Original Sin" by Michael D Guinan, O.F.M.

1.  Adam and Eve   Basic to our understanding of "Original Sin" is our understanding of Genesis 1-3 and Adam and Eve.  How do you read this text?  Are Adam and Eve historical persons?  Is the story of the snake and the eating of the forbidden fruit a historical event?  Was there a time of innocence before "The Fall"? 

Most of the writers of the early Church (e.g. Saint Paul, Saint Augustine) and most of the scholastic theologians (e.g. Saint Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Saint Bonaventure) and most Catholics in the pews today, for example Joe and Mary Catholic (to quote Rev. Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B. 1929 +2006), I believe, would answer "yes" to those questions.   However, the consensus position of contemporary Christian theologians (at least, non-fundamentalist theologians) would be to answer in the negative.  For example,  Sean Fagan writes: 

"It is now recognized that Genesis 3 is not a literal description of an historical first sin but an ingenious psychological description of all sin.  It tells us nothing of what happened at the beginning of human history, but reminds us of what is happening all the time in our sinful existence.  It needs to be read not in the past tense but in the continuous present."  (Sean Fagan, S.M., "Original Sin" in The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. Michael Glazier and Monika Hellwig, Collegeville MN, Liturgical Press, 2004, pp 197-199.  Quoted in Daly, Sacrifice Unveiled, p 209.)  [The Catechism of the Catholic Church, faithful to the literary genre "catechism" presents both views without deciding between them.]  

Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery:  While the medieval theologians of the Franciscan School (e.g. Saint Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, etc.) may have thought that Adam and Eve were historical persons, they do not consider the Incarnation to be a consequence of original sin.  The Franciscan School has always believed and taught that the Incarnation of Jesus is prior to Adam and Eve.  

I appreciate the insight the scholars who have pointed out that original sin is not something that happened once in the past it is what we do today each time that we decide to act on our own without acknowledging the parameters are loving parent has set for us. To use the analogy of children: when parents tell their children that they cannot run out into the street without looking both ways, or they can't stay up all night watching television, or texting, or that they have to eat something besides candy, the parents are not laying down some arbitrary laws but simply trying to help the child live within parameters that are beneficial to the child's growth. Yet, so often we want to step beyond those parameters to our own detriment. This is our "original sin."

2.  Early Teaching:  Jesus, the apostles, the sub-apostolic Church  Original Sin was not part of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles or of the sub-apostolic Church.  There is no mention of Original Sin in the Scriptures.  See, for example, Anthony F. Campbell S.J., Making Sense of the Bible:  Difficult texts and Modern Faith (Paulist Press:  Mahwah NJ, 2010).  "The Garden", pp 20-50. 

"The narrative of Genesis 2-3 does not speak of a fall.  One should avoid therefore a description which differs so much from the text and is so inaccurate and deceptive."  (Westermann, Genesis 1-11, p 275-76, quoted in Campbell, 42)  "No text in Genesis (or likely in the entire Bible) has been more used, interpreted, and misunderstood than this text.  (Brueggemann, Genesis, 41; quoted in Campbell p 27) "It is not a story explaining how the human condition came to be the way it is." (Campbell, 41)  "The traditional understanding of this [the Garden story] as involving a change of state (the Fall) and as a transgression with consequences for the human condition is, of course, not supported in the text of Genesis 2-3."  (Campbell 45) 

The consequences of the story [Genesis 2-3] "are not the result of punishment because of sin; they are the consequences of what humans do.  They are not divine punishment; they are the effects of human causes." (Campbell, p 21)  

"Where the reflection on human sinfulness is concerned, theology's focus has shifted from a biblical past to an experiential present.  Where biblical exegesis is concerned, close attention to the Genesis text reveals that human sinfulness is portrayed as inherent from the beginning; it is not portrayed as inherited sequent to that beginning."  (Campbell, p 50)

Were infants baptized in the early Church?  We have no evidence that they were; we have no evidence that they were not.  If they were, it was not because of Original Sin.  Baptism was normally for adults. (See: Grant, Made Not Born, p 33.)   "Original sin is not mentioned at all in the New Testament insights into baptism. Therefore, original sin cannot be seen as a constitutive factor for a theology of baptism."  (Osborne, Sacraments of Initiation, Chapter 2. "Holy Baptism and the New Testament," p 50.)

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all share the "Adam and Eve" story.  Jews and Muslims interpret the story without any reference to an "original sin" or "fall" -- as did Christians/Catholics for the first 3 centuries.  This is important for our understanding of the mystery of death and our understanding of the reasons for infant baptism.  [Jews and Muslims do not need to convince parents to have their babies baptized; infant baptism is not their issue.]

3.  Theological Origins of Original Sin   During the third and fourth century theologians begin to ask about infant baptism.  The discussion went like this:   Some object:  "Baptism takes away all our sins.  But an infant has not committed any sins; therefore an infant cannot be baptized."   Others responded:  "The infant has not, and cannot have, committed any sins.  But the infant has inherited the "sin" of Adam -- the infant has inherited the Original Sin -- and therefore the infant can be baptized because this (Adam's sin) is the sin that is taken away." 

4.  Saint Augustine   Original Sin becomes the theologians' answer to the question "How is it possible to baptize a sinless infant?"  This argument is furthered as the great theologians, such as Saint Augustine, propose it in their writings.  

"But the battle against the Pelagians had epoch-making consequences.  In the zeal of battle Augustine sharpened and narrowed down his technology of sin and grace.  He now attempted to explain the sin of every human being from the biblical story of the fall of Adam, 'in whom [instead of after whose example] all human beings sin.'  That is a downright mistranslation of Romans 5:12.  In this way Augustine historicized, psychologized, indeed sexualized Adam's primal sin.  For him, in complete contrast to Paul, it became original sin, which was determined sexually.  For according to Augustine this original sin was transmitted to every new human being through the sexual act and the fleshly, that is, self-centered, desire (concupiscence) connected with it.  Therefore, according to this theology every infant has already fallen victim to eternal death -- unless it has been baptized."  (Hans Kung, The Catholic Church:  A Short History, pp. 48-49)

[Note that this argument presupposes that Adam and Eve are a historical man and a historical woman and that their sin took place at a specific moment in time and that there was a time of human existence before the sin during which our human nature was different than "fallen human nature."   What happens to this argument when your study of the Hebrew Scriptures leads you to a different interpretation of the creations stories in Genesis?]

5.  Medieval Biology   The argument is linked to the medical knowledge of the time.  The "sin of Adam" is passed on physically from Adam and his sons by the very act of intercourse.  The male ejaculate contains the complete little human being (and Adam's sin).  The male places this little human being into the female during intercourse;  if she takes good care of it, it develops into a male child and if not, it develops into a female child.   There was no awareness of an "ovum" or of any "contribution" of the female to the development of the human person.  The original sin is deposited into the female with the ejaculate during intercourse.  Historically, genetically, biologically -- the sin comes from Adam.  [This "scientific/biological understanding" of woman as a "defective male" plays a role in the discussion as to whether females could be baptized {and/or ordained}.]

6.  Romans 5:12   Augustine's explanation of "original sin" was based on a mistranslation of Roman 5:12.  Augustine's text read "in whom all human beings sin" instead of "after whose example all human beings sin."   The entire text is important for the development of our understanding of Original Sin. 

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned--sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 5:12-21 NRSV)

Current biblical studies are looking at Romans 5:12 in its context in the epistle.  The point Paul is making is that what Christ did for us is so much greater than what Adam did.   This being the case, one might ask:  "If the sin of Adam can come to the infant without human intervention, how much more the redemption of Christ can come to the infant without human intervention."   For example, Dr. Landini, in an article in The Jurist asks:  "Vatican II has taught that even a person who has no explicit knowledge of Christ can somehow, aided by God's grace, ratify his condition as redeemed by the second Adam. In the case of an infant which comes into this world tainted by the sin of Adam and redeemed by the obedience of Christ the situation is different. But the child comes into the world oriented towards God as a supernatural destiny.  I cannot help but wonder why the objective salvation of Christ cannot gratuitously actualize the condition of redemption should the infant die without baptism. I would hope that the condition of condemnation of the first Adam would not be dominant over the victory of the second Adam, thereby putting the sting back into the mystery of death." (Lawrence Landini. "Baptismal Practices in Catholic Hospitals: A Theological Reflection on Canons 752 and 750," The Jurist (1975) 306-307.)

7.  The necessity of baptizing infants   By the fifth century, the "common understanding" was that Baptism was absolutely necessary for salvation.   "Original Sin" has moved from a theological explanation of why an infant can be baptized to a theological explanation of why an infant must be baptized.  

The Church has consistently taught the effectiveness of water baptism, even of infants, with regard to the removal of sin (original and personal) and regeneration by the Spirit.  Magisterial statements about the necessity of water baptism have been, and should be, associated with the Church's teaching on the effectiveness of this sacrament. The inner reality of the water bath, its effectiveness, is above all what is absolutely necessary for salvation (forgiveness of sin, regeneration in the Spirit).  The Church has never taught that the water bath (sacramentum tantum) is absolutely necessary for salvation. The inner reality of the mystery of baptism was seen as attainable through the so-called baptism of desire and of blood. Vatican II taught that the inner reality of the mystery of baptism (saving union with God through the forgiveness of sins and regeneration) can be attained even by those unable to have an explicit desire for Christ and His mysteries.  The Magisterium has not addressed itself specifically to the question of the fate of unbaptized babies who die.  Nor has the Magisterium taught that such babies necessarily die in original sin. (Rev. Lawrence Landini, S.T.D., "Baptismal Practices in Catholic Hospitals: A Theological Reflection on Canons 752 and 750," The Jurist (1975) p 307.)

In what dense does baptism take away original sin?  If Baptism takes away Original Sin in that the sin is forgiven but we still suffer the effects of Original Sin -- this is like removing Blindness from a person who cannot see, but they still cannot see; it is just that their blindness has been taken away. Is that how Baptism takes away original sin?  Or are we restored to the state of Adam and Eve "before" they ate the fruit????  (no death, no suffering, no concupiscence, no work, etc.)

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

8. The Second Vatican Council   The theological developments that led to the Vatican Council  -- Scripture Studies; historical studies; biblical understanding of God; relational understandings of grace -- brought about a rethinking of Original Sin.  This "rethinking" is the basis for several related developments.

11.  The "at once" of the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (1866) [infants are to be baptized at once, immediately after birth] and the "quam primum" of the Code of 1917 [infants are to be baptized quam primum, as soon as possible] becomes "infants are to be baptized within the first weeks after birth" of the 1983 Code. (CLSA Commentary p 626.)

12. The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, 1980, stated: "Assurances must be given that the gift thus granted [in baptism] can grow by an authentic education in the faith and Christian life, in order to fulfill the true meaning of the sacrament. . . .if these assurances are not really serious there can be grounds for delaying the sacrament; and if they are certainly non-existent the sacrament should even be refused." Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Instruction on Infant Baptism, Oct. 20, 1980, AAS 72 (1980) 1137-1156. (Note:  the Congregation would never have said this under the former understanding of Original Sin;  how could one refuse to give a sacrament to an infant when that sacrament is necessary for the infant's salvation?)

13.  Canon 868 regarding licit baptism: ". . . there be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such a hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be put off according to the prescriptions of particular law and the parents are to be informed of the reason." CLSA Commentary, p 627. 

If baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, it would not be possible for the Church to refuse it to an infant. 

8b.  Ordo Baptismi parvulorum   Father Gy (one of the principal authors of the Ordo/rite) told us in class at the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie in Paris that there was no mention of original sin in the revised rite for the baptism of infants as it was presented to the Congregation for approval.  The references to original sin in the ritual were added later -- not by the authoring committee but by someone in Rome who was concerned about of the loss of this theological concept.  Why he felt that original sin needed to be mentioned is not known.

8c.  Catechism of the Catholic Church    The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:  Original Sin = Our need for salvation in Christ.  In Baptism, we are incorporated into Christ, and thus our "need for salvation in Christ" (i.e. original sin) is removed.  "Need" is a negative entity.   Metaphor:  think of vacuum in a bell jar in a laboratory.  To remove the vacuum from the bell jar you put something, e.g. air, into the bell jar.  The vacuum is "removed" by air entering.   You cannot remove the vacuum and then put something into the jar.   So with baptism, you cannot remove original sin and then at a later date put in the Holy Spirit.  Original sin is removed by reception of the Holy Spirit.   Light has dispelled the darkness.  As I wrote in "Confirmation: 7 Symbols in 1 Sacrament":

Every Confirmation begins with Baptism. Whether the Baptism was celebrated only a few moments before Confirmation (as in many Eastern Rites and in our Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), whether the Baptism was celebrated six years before (as in those diocese where Confirmation is celebrated before First Holy Communion), fourteen years before Confirmation, or even fifty years before Confirmation -- Confirmation compliments the symbols of Baptism. Confirmation means all that Baptism means.

The historical origins of the symbols of Confirmation are many and diverse. One source of the rituals for the Sacrament of Confirmation can be found in the bathing customs of the Roman Empire. After a bath, Romans applied bath oil. Today, when you take a shower, you wash up and dry off; in Roman times you would wash off and oil up. Oil was a part of the bathing "ritual." When one spoke of "bathing" one meant both the water part and the oil part. Today, if a friend asked you to go to a movie and you said, "Sure, I'd like to go. Stop by at 6:00 because I want to take a shower first." We presume that by "shower" you include not only the washing up but also the drying off. Drying off is understood to be a "part" of the shower experience. In the Early Church, Confirmation was understood to be a part of the Baptism experience.

The water ritual (Baptism) came to mean the washing away of sin, and the oil ritual (Confirmation) was interpreted to mean the sweet fragrance of God's presence, Sanctifying Grace. We know, of course, that sin cannot be removed except by grace -- just as, for example, a vacuum cannot be removed from a container without replacing it (the vacuum) with something. In the same way God's grace fills us with redemption and salvation. This grace, this presence of God in us, is the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit.  (Thomas Richstatter, Youth Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, April, 1997. Y0497.  [Text available at ]

9.  Contemporary Pastoral Practice   9a.  Today, the experience of adults being baptized indicates that their primary reason for asking for baptism is first and foremost to join the Catholic Church, and sometimes, though secondarily, the forgiveness of sins.  When they speak of "being washed clean of all sin" they mean the actual sins that they have committed -- they get a fresh start.  I have never heard anyone mention original sin among the reasons  for their asking for catholic baptism.  This might cause one to ask:  is original sin is a concept which relates only to the baptism of infants.

9b.  Original sin must be examined not only on top of the iceberg but underneath the iceberg.   I have found that under the iceberg, some catechists conceive of original sin as a "birth defect" put there by God because God does not like little children and does not want them to be with God heaven.  But when an infant is baptized, God has to change his mind and says, "Oh darn, now I have to love this little infant."   I have never heard anyone say that "on top of the iceberg"  but it seems that this might be what is going on in the subconscious.  "Sacramenta propter hominem"  (Sacraments exist for our sake)  They celebrate something God wants for us. They are not "magic"  i.e. rituals which force the divinity to do something that the divinity would not want to do.

9c.  Original sin can be viewed in two ways, A)  as a birth defect in the individual or B)  as the human condition.  When original sin is view as  "a birth defect in the individual"  original sin is taken away by baptism.  But one might ask:  Is the person then restored to the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall?  Most would answer no. The question then remains:  What was removed?  If the sin of Adam is taken away, why is the person not in the state of Adam before Adam sinned?

9d.  When original sin is viewed as "our human condition"  (our fallen human nature), a different set of questions arise.  You will often hear such statements as:   "Original sin needs no proof, simply look around at our human condition:  wars, illness, etc."  The speaker is referring to the fact that we are sinful creatures, that our life is imperfect, and that we are permeated by sin.  If this is the meaning of original sin, is this "sin" taken away by baptism?  Surely even after baptism our human nature remains intact

9e.  One of the participants in the "Sacraments of Initiation" course (summer of 2002) wrote: "When I gave birth to my son and my daughter all I saw was their beauty. As a parent the idea that a newborn is less than perfect is difficult to accept." This human experience is important for our understanding of the "need" for Baptism (traditionally: original sin). If a human mother would feel this way about her children, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, how much more our Divine Mother, from whom all motherhood takes its name. It would seem that a theology of baptism elaborated by mothers rather than by men who never had children would explain the need for baptism in such a way that would not imply any deficiency in the person needing baptism.

10.  Conclusion   It is important to distinguish between a doctrine which is "true" and and one which is "useful."   A doctrine might be "true" and at the same time more useful at one period of history and less useful at another.  There was a time when "original sin" could motivate (or perhaps scare) parents into having their baby baptized.  Today we find that for adult the threat of punishment is not always the best motivation.  It is difficult to convince new parents today that "something is wrong" with their newborn.  If we are going to "sell" them on the necessity of baptism, it will be because of what baptism gives, not because of what baptism takes away!  To quote Fr. Kurt Stasiak, O.S.B. "We baptize infants for what baptism gives; not merely for what it takes away."(Kurt Stasiak, O.S.B., Return to Grace. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996.  ISBN 0-8146-6155-6)

Note: Rethinking original sin has implications for considering whether or not the entire human race descended from two individuals or the possibility of multiple points of evolution.  Rethinking Original Sin also has implications for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Original Sin in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #385-421

Taken from:  Gabriel Daly, OSA, "Original Sin (CCC #385-421)" pp 97-111 in Michael J. Walsh, Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic. Liturgical Press (December 1993), ISBN-13: 978-0814623053

Daly treats the history of the theology of Original Sin and describes the main elements of the neo-scholastic theology of Original Sin as it was being presented on the eve of Vatican II, which was based on a historical pair, Adam and Eve, who were banished from their garden because of their sin. (p 100) "The language here is static and heavily essentialist. It presents grace as a habit [thing] inhering in the soul." (Ibid)

This understanding is faced with three problems: 1) The philosophical deficiencies of the scholastic presentation; 2) contemporary biblical studies regarding the literary character of Genesis; and 3) scientific anthropology. (p 101)

"The distinguished church historian Giuseppe Alberigo reflects sombrely on the post-Conciliar period:

Recent years have seen a surprising revival of positions that were characteristic of more conservative circles in the Roman Curia and the episcopate in the 1960s. There has been, in other words, a clear return to attitudes that Vatican II unequivocally disavowed and overcame, attitudes that had found refuge in tiny groups of nostalgic individuals. A pessimistic vision of history, poisoned by Manichaeism, seems to be spreading abroad. There is a rejection of the Council's call to the churches to become once again pilgrims and missionaries, as though it implied the abandonment of tradition, and, finally, a revival of the "closed" ecclesiology of the post Tridentine  peropd in which the Church is a fortified castle, jealous of its own purity and bristling with condemnations." (Quoted in Daly, page 109)

"It would be naive to suppose that writing catechisms is an apolitical act. Perhaps the real key to understanding the strange preoccupation with devils is the "restoration" program now [1994] being mounted by ultraconservative elements in the Church. According to this perspective on the Church and world, there is a war to be fought. The enemy must be identified, named, and challenged. The forces of light must guard against any softness or any giving of comfort to the enemy, least of all to the effete liberals within its own ranks. We are dealing here with what has been aptly named "a green beret church", and it will find a congenial theology in these pages of the Catechism. Its members will not be at all disturbed by primitive demonology or historicised myths. This is their Catechism. Others will have to pay the price for their fundamentalism and their willful medievalism." (p 100)

"We have been told that this is the catechism of the Second Vatican Council, just as the Roman Catechism was the catechism of the Council of Trent. On the topic of Original Sin the Catechism of the Catholic Church is far removed not merely in spirit from, but even according to the letter of, Vatican II." (p 100)

"The Catechism on Original Sin represents a total victory for the pre-Vatican II mentality. Its authors make no effort even to seem to recognize that there are serious problems involved in the Tridentine and Neo-scholastic formulation of the doctrine. ... The policy of the authors seem to be to state the doctrine in its traditional formulation and simply ignore what has been going on in Catholic theology since  Vatican II. In short, it is as if the reactionary minority at the Council had returned and had decided to write the text each makes no concessions to any viewpoint at their own." (p105)

[There were some Cardinals and Bishops who held a very pessimistic view of the world and human nature.  "Happy" St. Pope John XXIII wanted the Council to emphasize the positive, the good, in God's Creation.  The prime example of this is the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. -- Notice even the title:  "Joy and Hope"!]

"While Gaudium et Spes may have taken a too wide-eyed and optimistic of view of the contemporary world, one must remember that it was deliberately trying to offset a long history of entrenched gloom, by responding to the invitation of a joyful and hopeful Pope who actually loved the world which was being condemned by the conservative minority at the Council. The Catechism clearly does not see its task in the positive spirit of Vatican II, and it makes no concessions to the millions of Catholics who find themselves much nearer to the spirit of Vatican II then to the program of 'restoration'". (P110)

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Arguments against Infant Baptism

The RCIA is normative.

There is no indication of infant baptism in the Bible.

Infant will not have the experience of the ritual.

Baptism presupposes faith and an infant cannot have or profess faith. [But: "have" different from "profess"; infused theological virtues; faith of parents and community.]

New understanding of grace and original sin. Parents usually have baby baptized out of fear of a vengeful God and baptizing the infant reinforces this understanding of God.

The parents' request is often based on a very poor theology and a very deficient notion of God (vindictive, evil judge, etc.)

The child does not get a choice in the matter; a decision is made for the child; the child is forced into being a Catholic. [Parents make many choice for the child.]

Infant baptism can be a social event without an ecclesial dimension.

Baptism is a sacrament of conversion, it takes away sin; the infant has no sin to take away, and the infant has no need of conversion. [Original sin = why infant baptism is possible; in fifth century became why infant baptism is necessary.]

Sacraments are part of life processes; but if there is not going to be a continuing faith process, the child cannot be baptized. Usually there is little or no assurance of this faith process on the part of the parents or community.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Arguments For Infant Baptism


TRADITION: Historical efforts to return to the practice of adult baptism only have not been terribly successful, both because such efforts fail to "interpret and support the place of the child in the church" and because "there is something normative about a child in the life of the kingdom." (Made pp 159.)

ECCLESIOLOGY: CHILD OF GOD / INCORPORATION INTO CHRIST; every infant is a child of God; baptism incorporates the infant into Christ and makes the infant a member of Church

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Things That Need To Be Celebrated But Not Necessarily With Baptism

Celebration of this tremendous life event of the parents.

Community celebration of life.

Celebration of community's responsibility for the infant.

Collective sign of hope and trust in the future.

Ritualize the commitment of the parents and the godparents.

Gives the parents a ritual opportunity to publicly say thank you to God for this new life.

Proclamation of Faith on the part of parents and godparents and the community.

A moment of choice for the parents. They have a faith opportunity to again choose the Church.

Infant baptism is a time to solicit the help of the faith community and a time for the community to pledge that support to the parent(s).

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Arguments after the Fact

Parents give you the best, health care, love, environment, language, nationality, citizenship, etc, grade school education, table manners, social skills, etc.

Demonstrates that God's love is pure, unmerited gift. Not just our work. Infant baptism = complete gift -- no possibility of Pelagianism.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Ineffective Arguments

God condemns to hell babies who die before baptism.

Baptism is the best way to keep peace in the family.

Infant baptism is traditional in many cultures. It shows that the family and cultural traditions are being passed on to the next generation. It is particularly pleasing to the grandparents.

Babies to die without baptism go to limbo because the have Original Sin and cannot therefore enter heaven.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Infant Baptism, Gift to the Parish

The following is the text of an article by Rev. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Infant Baptism: Gift to the Parish," Catholic Update,  May, 1995. C0595.  © St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati OH. 

"Bill, why did you have your children baptized?" I asked a parishioner the other evening when we were out walking.

"They told us we had to, Father. Original Sin. We all saw the special place in the cemetery where unbaptized infants were buried."

"Bill, when your children have children, do you think they will have their babies baptized?"

"Sure, Father."

"For the same reason you had yours baptized?"

"Oh no, Father! They'll baptize their infants because it is such an important part of the commitment to be a good parent. Its part of our responsibility to the Church. Original Sin is still important; but I have a lot more trust in God's love and mercy than I used to."

I think Bill's thinking about infant baptism is typical of many Roman Catholics today. You don't have to be a sacramental theologian to know that some very important changes have taken place during the past few years in the way we understand our Catholic practice of baptizing infants, changes that are so important and so fundamental to our Christian life that they concern all of us, not only parents who are anticipating the baptism of their baby, but all of us, every member of the parish, even those of us who may see no reason to read an article about infant baptism!

Baptism is a sacrament. It is not merely something for the baby; it is not merely a family celebration; it is not a ceremony to thank God for the birth of the baby -- it is a sacrament. Sacraments, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, have three functions: "The purpose of the sacraments is to make people holy, to build up the Body of Christ, and finally to give worship to God." (Constitution on the Liturgy, 59.) How does an infant's baptism build up the Body of Christ? How does it give worship to God? How does the parish celebration of a baptism make the parish holy? To say that Catholics baptize infants in order to take away Original Sin is to tell only a part of the story -- even as Original Sin is only part of a larger truth.

Original Sin in Context  Original Sin is "an essential truth of the faith" (Catechism of the Catholic Church (= CCC) 388.) yet it is not a truth which can or should be understood in isolation, apart from other essential truths. The doctrine of Original Sin is not simply a "divine threat," a way to scare us into baptizing babies. God doesn't reveal something simply to scare us!

When I was a senior in high school I had a brilliant and gifted physics teacher, Fr. Brian Irving, O.F.M. -- I call him a gifted teacher because I can still remember some of his classes 40 years later! I remember the day he explained vacuum. In the seminary physics laboratory, Fr. Brian had set up a bell jar with a valve in the top. The jar sat air tight on a platform connected to a pump. Pumping the air out of the jar, Fr. Brian made a vacuum and then demonstrated how "nature abhors a vacuum" by allowing smoke and other colored gases and particles into the jar through the valve on top. He explained how this principle functions in ordinary things around the house, for example how a vacuum cleaner sucks up dirt by establishing a partial vacuum. After a while I found myself talking about what a vacuum would do and thinking about the properties of a vacuum as though a vacuum were an thing in itself. After a while you forget that a vacuum is really the absence of something -- a negative, a lack of something else.

Original Sin is like that; it is the absence of something. The theology of Original Sin was developed as a way to speak about our need for salvation in Christ Jesus. Like the vacuum, Original Sin can best be understood -- not by looking at what it is -- but by looking at what it is the absence of, what it is the need for. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the 'reverse side' of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior of all." (CCC, 389) Just as you "take away" the vacuum in the bell jar by filling the jar with air (you don't first take out the vacuum and then put in the air; the vacuum is the lack of air) so Original Sin is removed when the person is filled with the Holy Spirit, the saving Love and Grace of Christ. "We must therefore approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror." (CCC, 385) I fear that many Catholics have tried to understand Original Sin apart from understanding Grace. "We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin." (CCC, 388)

Consequently when we speak of infant baptism and Original Sin it is important to remember that Catholics baptize infants not primarily for what baptism takes away but for what it gives! After all, the Church baptized infants long before St. Augustine (d. 430) helped develop the doctrine of Original Sin.

I find that parents who request that their baby be baptized, as Bill said at the beginning of this article, are not concerned primarily about Original Sin. They somehow intuitively know that God loves their infant. When they look into the smiling face of their new born and feel the love they have for it, they know deep in their heart that God loves this innocent child and has created it for eternal happiness.

Furthermore, most parents that I have talked with do not think of the sacraments as some sort of "magic trick" which forces God to do something that God doesn't really want to do -- as though God doesn't want to love their baby and baptism sort of "forces God into it." Baptism does not make the child loveable to God. Baptism makes the child a member of the Church and celebrates God's gift of Love. "The purpose of the sacraments is to make people holy, to build up the Body of Christ, and finally to give worship to God." (Constitution on the Liturgy, 59.)

If Catholics baptize infants "for what it gives" ask yourself " What did your baptism give you?" When you witness the baptism of an infant, whether your own infant or an infant you don't even know, are you merely a passive observer or do you receive something from the baptism?

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Before looking at these questions I want to first look carefully at a question which is sometimes asked as an objection to infant baptism.

Is it right to make decisions for a baby?  We who take our religion seriously know that it involves a lot of responsibility and requires us to follow a lot of rules. Is it right to impose these rules and responsibilities on an infant without his or her consent? Is it right to make decisions for a baby? Wouldn't it be better to let the child grow up and decide whether to be baptized or not?

I think there are some things that parents should let a child decide. Who he will marry or not marry. What profession she will pursue or not pursue. But there are things that good parents don't let a child decide. Whether or not she can run into the street when a car is coming. Whether he will go to school on days he doesn't want to go.

And there are more subtle decisions parents make for their children. Even before the birth of the infant they make decisions regarding it's health by regulating their alcohol, caffeine, or other drug use during pregnancy. They make an important decision for the future of the child when they speak to it in English and give the child a "mother tongue." No matter where the child eventually chooses to live, or what language he or she eventually chooses to speak, parents feel that it is good that the child know their language. They don't wait until the baby is fifteen or twenty-one before speaking to the child. There are lots of decisions that parents make for their infants.

But with regard to infant baptism, this discussion about "who decides" and "free choice" misses the point. God is the one who chooses. I am a Christian, not because I have chosen God, but because God has chosen me! The baptism of an infant is not primarily about a decision we have made for God; it is about a decision that God has made for us. It is about God's free gift of grace and salvation. This is what we celebrate.

This is true of every celebration of baptism. Even when we celebrate the baptism of adults, we are not celebrating what they are giving to God, but what God is freely giving to us! This essential truth about baptism -- every baptism -- is all the more striking at the baptism of an infant. Sacraments celebrate God's Gift, God's Grace. Our stance is one of receiving a Gift, of gratitude for the Gift, of thanksgiving. "Free gift" is central to the meaning of baptism (of infants and adults) and central to the meaning of every sacrament.

Infant baptism: The infant's gift to the parish    When we think of infant baptism our attention is usually on what we are doing for the infant -- on what the infant receives. But have you ever though of what the infant gives to you and to the parish?

If I asked you why you go to church on Sunday you'd probably say something like "I want to be close to God; I want to know more about God, who God is and what God wants of me." Children, especially infants, help us answer those questions.

At least five times in the Gospels, Jesus tells us that we must become "children." Recall the incident in the Gospel according to Luke when people "were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, "Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." (Luke 18:15-17) Or the incident in the Gospel according to Matthew when the disciples asked Jesus who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus called a child over, had the child stand next to him, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)

What does Jesus mean when he says that we must "become like children?" Here in America we are proud to live in a land of personal freedom and individual responsibilities. We stress growth and maturity; we strive to be "all that we can be." And Jesus wants us to be like children? Surely Jesus doesn't want us to remain forever in diapers, speechless, and helpless!

At the sacrament of baptism, when I see the infant held in the arms of it's father or mother, I can see beyond the visible and experience something of the love of the parents for the child and the trust of the child in its parents. The infant loving its parents, trusting them, its faith in them is a model of our faith, hope, and love of God -- and God's faith, hope and love for us.

When I look at a child held in the arms of it's father or mother, I "receive a sacrament," I get a glimpse of what God is like. I experience an image of the relationship between the human race and the Creator. I receive a sacrament of God's realm. The infant "makes present" the reality of who we are before God: radically dependent on our loving Parent. This is our most honest, deepest, and truest stance before God. When I see an infant in the arms of its loving parents as they present it for baptism, I see creation held in the arms of a loving God.

And isn't this what sacraments are about -- coming into loving contact with who-God-is-for-us and acknowledging that reality in wonder and awe and thanksgiving. As the infant is baptized, already it is not only a member of the Church, it is a disciple! By its very being the infant preaches Good News, telling us of the wonders of God's Love. In the baptized infant, chosen and embraced by God and the Church, we have a sign and sacrament of God's presence and care. God is present, tangible, nearly visible!

If only we could preserve that stance before God -- preserve that trust a child has for its parent. Too quickly we Christians loose that attitude of children and begin to act independently of God. Instead of coming to Church to be "held in the arms of our loving Parent" we come in order to tell God what we think God should be doing for us -- and if God does what we want, we are happy with God; and if God doesn't, we become turned off by religion! "Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." A baby may receive many gifts at it's baptism, but the gift that it gives the parish is, perhaps, even greater than the ones it receives.

Infant baptism at Sunday Mass  In order for the parish to receive this gift it is important for us, the already baptized, to be present during the celebration of the sacrament. This is why an increasing number of parishes celebrate infant baptism at Sunday Mass.

Simply to sit in church passively and watch the baptism a baby I don't even know will hardly make it worth my while spend the extra time the baptism adds to eucharist. But we are not supposed to come to the liturgy as passive spectators. The Second Vatican Council teaches that the sacraments are to be celebrated in a way that "the Christian people, as far as possible, are able to understand them with ease and to take part in the rites fully, actively, and as befits a community." (Constitution on the Liturgy, 21.) What are some ways in which the parish community can participate actively in the baptism of infants?

Gathering Rites   Each Sunday eucharist begins with rites and ceremonies which are directed toward bring us together as the Body of Christ -- as Church -- and preparing us to hear the word of God and celebrate the eucharist. When baptisms will be celebrated at eucharist, the parents and the children to be baptized are presented to the parish. Today we are gathering new members to the parish.

The parents are asked what names they have given their children. What name was given at your baptism? Has this name influenced you in any way? At you baptism you received the name Christian; has there been a price to pay for this name?

The parents and sponsors are reminded that they "are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith." (Rite of Baptism for Children [=RBC], 39) This reminder is important for the whole parish. The family, including the parish family, is the context in which the faith of the infant will grow and be nurtured. Look around you; is this a good place for these children to grow up Catholic? Why would anyone want to join this parish? Is there a real community into which these children are being initiated?

As a member of the parish family, the answers to these questions should involve you personally. What are you doing to make this a parish a community which people would want to join! Are you living your Catholic Christian life in such a way that a young person growing up in the parish would want to imitate it? There is a sense in which the whole parish should look upon itself as the children's godparents! Christian witness is a serious responsibility that must be accepted by the parish in order for infant baptism to be all that it promises.

Next, the sign of the cross is traced on the foreheads of those to be baptized. I was marked with that cross at my baptism and my parents continued to mark me with it each evening when I went to bed until I was old enough to make the sign of the cross myself. What does this mean to be marked with the cross of Jesus? Each Mass beings with the sign of the cross; does this action remind you of your baptism? Is it not because you have been baptized that you have come to Sunday Mass?

Story Telling  At the conclusion of the Gathering Rites we are seated to listen to the readings from Sacred Scripture -- the stories which tell us of the implications of our baptism and our Christian commitment. The rite of baptism follows the readings because a sacramental celebration is a response to God's word.

Baptizing  After the readings and the homily our attention is directed to the baptismal font, the womb of Mother Church. We bless God for the wonderful gift of water and remember how the invisible God graces us through visible signs. We remember how God has saved us through water in the past -- the great flood, the waters of the Red Sea, the waters of the Jordan where Jesus was baptized -- and we asked that the Holy Spirit make fruitful the waters of this womb so that these infants may become sons and daughters of the Church.

The parents and godparents are then asked to reject sin and profess their faith. The parish joins with them in these promises. Note: we don't promise for the child, we promise for ourselves; we are promising that we will reject Satan and that we believe.

Here again, we are not merely watching a promise. The promises of our baptism need to be renewed and strengthened each day of our lives, just as the vows that a husband and wife make to each other on their wedding day must be daily renewed and strengthened if the marriage is to grow and mature.

And what do we promise at baptism? I promised that I would renounce Satan: that I would "reject the glamor of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin." To turn from sin I must know what sins I face. I find that many of my "Satans" belong to the "-ism" family: alcoholism, consumerism, drugism, egosim, escapism, materialism, militarism, narcissism, nationalism, racism, sexism. There is much sin in the "-ism" family.

We are then asked to profess our faith. I am always amazed at the way the infant loves and trusts its parents. And as the infant has faith in its parents, it has faith in the God of its parents. To say that the infant cannot have faith because it cannot recite answers to catechism questions or make "a rational assent to reveal truths" is to understand Faith in a very limited way. One of the things that has helped change our understanding of infant baptism is that we now take infancy and childhood more seriously than in the past. It is this loving, child-like trust in our creator God that we profess in the Creed.

The children to be baptized are then plunged into the water and are taken from the womb, dripping wet -- born again, born of the Spirit, adopted children of God, members of the Church alive in Christ.The newly baptized are anointed with oil. In the Roman culture at the time when our baptismal rites were being formed, it was normal practice anointed with oil after bathing. At baptism, the water became associated with the removal of sin and the oil became a sign of being filled with the Spirit (remembering, of course, that the two actions happen together -- as vacuum is removed by the jar being filled with air). In the course of time these two rites became separated and the anointing with oil became the sacrament of confirmation.

As the parents and godparents dress the infant, remember the words of St. Paul "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:27) The parents are then given a candle lighted from the Easter candle and are instructed to keep the light of Christ burning brightly for their children so that they may "keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts." (RBC, 64)

Again, we are not to be silent spectators. The meaning of what is happening to the infants is operative in our lives: We are born again; we are clothed with Christ; we are to walk in the light of the Gospel. Are your life decisions made "in the light of Christ?" Does your life spread more light than darkness?

Meal Sharing  Following the baptism, Mass continues as usual. Before holy communion the priest addresses the community: "These children have been reborn in baptism. They are now called children of God, for so indeed they are. In confirmation they will receive the fullness of God's Spirit. In holy communion they will share the banquet of Christ's sacrifice, calling God their Father in the midst of the Church. In their name, in the Spirit of our common sonship, let us pray together in the words our Lord has given us:" (RBC, 68)

As you pray the Lord's Prayer see once again the image of "Our Father, who art in heaven" in these fathers here on earth. See in the love of these mothers for their infants, the love of God for you! And see in the trust of the infants for their parents the model of our Christian life. We have come to Church as children, wanting to be embraced in the protective arms of our loving Parent. And now that God feeds us with the eucharist -- the greatest and ultimate Gift.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Sidebar: What happens to babies who die without baptism?

As a theologian, I can't think of a better answer than that given by Bill during our walk (which I quoted above): "I have a lot of trust in God." No one knows what God has in store for babies who die without baptism -- or what God has in store of us, for that matter! But the answer we give to the question will be conditioned by our image of God. If we believe in a God who is Love, if we believe in the God of Jesus Christ we will give one answer: if we believe in a mean or vindictive God, we will give another! Also, place the question in perspective: What of the millions of infants born to Muslim parents, born to Jewish parents, to Buddhist parents? What happens if they die? Surely God loves every infant!

God's love is a mystery and is not always easy to figure out or to put in simple, declarative sentences, but our Catholic faith is expressed in our official Catholic prayers. There is an ancient axiom which states that "the way we pray reveals the what we believe." At the funeral for a child who died before Baptism the Church prayers: "O Lord, whose ways are beyond understanding, listen to the prayers of your faithful people: that those weighed down by grief at the loss of this [little] child may find reassurance in your infinite goodness ... God of all consolation, searcher of mind and heart, the faith of these parents [N. and N.] is known to you. Comfort them with the knowledge, that the child for whom they grieve, is entrusted now to your loving care." "...O God, you are our final home. We commend to you N., our child. Trusting in your mercy and in your all-embracing love, we pray that you give him/her happiness for ever. Turn also to us who have suffered this loss. Strengthen the bonds of this family and our community. Confirm us in faith, in hope, and in love, so that we may bear your peace to one another and one day stand together with all the saints who praise you for your saving help. (Order of Christian Funerals, 282 and 293)

Trusting in the loving care of God we are confident that we will one day stand together will all the saints. We have no need of any greater assurance than that!

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Baptismal Records

The following information is needed for most baptismal records:

  1. Baby's name
  2. Date of birth
  3. Place of birth
  4. Date of Baptism
  5. Is the infant adopted?
  6. Father's name
  7. Mother's maiden name
  8. Are parents married? Married in the Church?
  9. Parent's address and phone number
  10. Both Catholic?
  11. Godmother: name, religion (Catholic?)
  12. Godfather: name, religion (Catholic?)

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Structure and Elements

[Review notes on the structure and elements of a rite.]

1.  Gathering

[The "Rite for Baptism of Infants" begins with the presiding minister asking the parents of the infant "What name have you given your child?" It has been the tradition that Christian parents select a Christian name for their infant and place the infant under the protection of this saint at Baptism. Because of the unity of the sacraments of Initiation, it is suggested that this patron's name be used for both baptism and confirmation. -- Perhaps, we have not been completely successful in helping parents to see the importance or the advantage of giving their child a Saint's name at baptism. Last Sunday was "First Communion Sunday" at our parish and the following are the "saint's names" of the children who received their First Communion: Trenton, Jenna, Trenton, Jace, Katie, Kailynn, Jena, Ethan, Whitaker, Dora, Bryson, Madison, Morgan, Emili, Taylor, Jasey and Clair. How many of these can you identify as a canonized saint?]

2.  Story Telling -- What does Baptism mean? Initiation into Community of those who way YES to Paschal Mystery. Entering again into the womb -- birth to life of Christ. Entering into the Tomb with Jesus to die to self and rise to new life. Gratuity of God's grace.

3.  Bathing / Anointing / Meal Sharing

4.  Commissioning: Thank you's, announcements, blessing, songs, gifts, party.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page


Exodus 17, 3-7 Galatians 3, 26-28 Mark 10, 13-16

Ezekiel 36, 24-28 Ephesians 4, 1-6 John 3, 1-6

Ezekiel 47, 1-9;12 1 Peter 2, 4-10 John 4, 5-14

*Romans 6, 3-5 Matthew 22, 35-40 John 6, 44-47

Romans 8, 28-32 Matthew 28, 18-20 John 7, 37b-39a

1 Cor 12, 12-12 Mark 1, 9-11 John 9, 1-7

John 15, 1-11 John 19, 31-35

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Baptism during Sunday Eucharist

General Liturgical Principle: Once is enough: "Needless duplications are to be avoided."
    Gathering Rite -- once
    Creed -- once
    General Intercessions -- once

Know function of the elements.

Only one gathering rite, only one Liturgy of the Word, only one dismissal, etc.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Delaying or Refusing Baptism

Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Instruction on Infant Baptism, Oct. 20, 1980. AAS 72 (1980) 1137-1156. "Assurances must be given that the gift thus granted can grow by an authentic education in the faith and Christian life, in order to fulfill the true meaning of the sacrament. . . .if these assurances are not really serious there can be grounds for delaying the sacrament; and if they are certainly non-existent the sacrament should even be refused."

Pastoral Norms  Norms from theology of initiation: The infant is becoming a member of a faith community by the direct willful act of the child's parents. The parents therefore accept the responsibility for the on-going introduction of the child to the community.

Law should "make sense" e.g. October 29, 1989 -- Woman (grandmother) called after sermon -- wanted baby baptized; she knew I'd do it. We talked about what it means, how the baby is alright, how grandparents can pressure; she asked where limbo went -- SHE SAID THAT SHE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE BETTER IF THEY WAITED. I said nothing about canon law.

Shaky Norms

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Infant Catechumenate

Infant Signing / Infant Catechumenate / Infant Enrollment

When parents are not sure?

Ecumenical situations?

Can one be baptized a Catholic Christian and a Lutheran Christian at the same baptism?

See: DOL 2317-2319. Reply of the SC Doctrine of the Faith to Bishop B. Henrion O.F.M. of Dapango, Togo, on the time for Baptism for Children. July 13, 1970, Notitiae 7 (1971) 99-70. Translated from the French by ICEL. Reply from Rome: Matter is under study, but don't do it right yet....

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Secular "Baptism"

Anglican Church Establishes "Lay Baptism" Formula To Maintain Social Dimension
London, Aug 18, 1999

The Anglican Church has established a "lay baptism" for atheist or agnostic parents who do not share the truths of the Christian faith or the commitment to pass it on to their offspring, but who wish their newborns to be "baptized" for social reasons.

The ceremony, which attempts to preserve baptism as a social event, includes a blessing of the child and thanksgiving for his birth. This "baptism" was approved by the Anglican Church's General Synod, and it will form part of the liturgy in the book of "Common Prayer."

During the ceremony, the pastor holds the child, says his name and gives the parents a copy of the Gospel as a "guide." All pray that, with the passage of time, the newborn will arrive at belief in the Christian faith and Baptism in the fullness of God's grace.

The "lay baptism" was conceived as a form of gratitude for the gift of life. It may be requested by unmarried couples or a single parent. If the child is adopted, a prayer may be recited that includes an intention for the natural parents. If the child has some form of handicap, there is another special prayer. All atheist and agnostic parents who opt for this baptism are asked to be "tender and patient" and to support all those who come to them for help.

The liturgy of the "lay baptism" will be used for the first time this month, by a couple consisting of a Buddhist mother and a Christian father.

According to statistics published [June 1999] in the "Sunday Times," only 2% of Anglicans attend Mass, and 1% go to communion regularly. Although these statistics might not be trustworthy, as the Anglican Church's Press Office stated at the time of publication, the crisis of religious practice within the Anglican Church is a known fact.  According to the Catholic weekly, "The Tablet," in 1995 more than one million people attended Mass -- 36,000 fewer than the previous year. In that same year, the number of Baptisms in the heart of the Anglican Church decreased by 16,000 persons, in relation to the previous year. Likewise, there were 4,000 fewer confirmations. And the number of faithful who received communion at Easter decreased from 1.3 million to 1.2 million.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page


Compare the role of sponsors and godparents with their role in the RCIA.

Note cultural differences (e.g. USA / Mexico).

Is it possible to change godparents after the baptism? [e.g. "when the godparent later becomes incapable of filling that responsibility because they have moved at a distance from the child or perhaps have left the practice of their Catholic faith."] "The bishop of a diocese may designate a substitute sponsor whose name could be inscribed on the official baptism register." (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, response to the bishops of the United States and Canada, November 1984. Quoted by John Dietzen "question Corner" The Criterion, July 13, 1990, p 13.)

The committee which revised the Rite for Confirmation wanted to suppress the role of godparents at Confirmation. However, the Pope intervened and said no. The committee suggested in the new ritual that the godparents for Confirmation be the same persons that served as godparents in Baptism. Thus, in reality Confirmation sponsors are suppressed.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Preparation for Parents and Godparents

Canon 867 - - soon as possible after the birth or even before it,  parents are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared for it properly.

There are many materials which can help the pastor in this task. One of the best I know of is: Baby's Baptism: Sacrament of Welcome. A video/print program. Franciscan Communications, 1229 South Santee Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015-2566. Published 1990. $149.95. Three video programs: Part one: Faith Journey looks at belonging, welcoming and building community along with the history of the sacrament. (45 min.) Part Two: Symbols and the Rite of Baptism explores the rich symbols of Baptism and presents a beautiful example of the Baptism Rite. (41 min.) Part Three: Christian Parenting offers helpful insights and advice for dealing with the challenges of living the baptismal commitment within the family. (42 min.) There is also included a guide for the facilitator for each video; a parent booklet; baptism certificate; godparent memory folders, etc. [I find the history, theology, and liturgy presented on these three programs to be consistent with that presented in this course.]

See also: Infant Baptism: A Gift to the Community, Catholic Update Video, St. Anthony Messenger Press, April, 1996.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Initiation of Children and the Code of Canon Law

[The following is taken from the article of Frederick R. McManus in the Canon Law Society of America's The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary. New York: Paulist Press, 1985, pp 626-628.]

Time of Infant Baptism

Canon 867--§1. Parents are obliged to see to it that infants are baptized within the first weeks after birth; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it parents are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared for it properly.

§2. An infant in danger of death is to be baptized without any delay.

The canon represents, in paragraph one, a substantial departure from canon 770 of the former Code ("Infants should be baptized as soon as possible"), which itself reflected a norm introduced in the Middle Ages. Prior to that period there was greater concern, even in the case of infants, that baptism should be celebrated at the appropriate times, principally Easter and Pentecost; the "quam primum" of the Council of Florence. (Eugene IV, bull Cantate Domino (sess. XI): COD 576.) was itself understood in different ways, requiring infant baptism to be celebrated soon after birth but allowing this to be within a few days or even a month. This requirement, moreover, was more specifically determined by particular law, for example, the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (1866), which required baptism of infants "at once." (Acta, n. 225.)

Distinguishing carefully the case of the infant in danger of death (§2), the canon recognizes several developments, chiefly that the baptism of infants should not be celebrated indiscriminately but rather with the necessary preparation of the parents, even when these are Christian and Catholic. It summarizes what is expressed more diffusely in the postconciliar legislation but removes the term "quam primum" from its reference to the time of baptism and employs it instead with reference to the requisite preparation for baptism. Such preparation should begin promptly after the birth and preferably in the period before the birth.

According to the ritual, the first consideration is the welfare of the child, that it may not be deprived of the benefit the sacrament; then the health of the mother must be considered so that, if at all possible, she too may be present. Then, as long as they do not interfere with the greater good of the child, there are pastoral considerations, such as allowing sufficient time to prepare the parents. (RbaptC 8: DOL 2292, n. 5: DOL 289. See also c. 851, 2̊)

The chief addition made in the ritual to the norm in paragraph one is found in the statement:

Again, the point is repeated with reference to the adaptation of the sacramental discipline:

A tension is thus evident between the medieval and modern usage of prompt baptism of infants and the importance that the infant be from a truly Christian family or at least be assured of Christian upbringing, in accord with canon 868, 2̊. The second consideration is also supported by the older tradition of baptizing infants only at the appointed liturgical times; the canon, however, would not permit the postponement of baptism beyond a few weeks for the sole reason of permitting the celebration, otherwise appropriate, at the Easter Vigil, unless the conference of bishops determines an interval longer than the canon contemplates.

All this, however, is carefully distinct from paragraph two, with its provision that an infant in danger of death should be baptized without delay. This norm, moreover, is not affected by the contempmorary development of a funeral rite for the infant who dies before he or she can be baptized. (Rite of Funerals, n. 82, 231-237.)

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Requirements for Infant Baptism

Canon 868--§1. For the licit baptism of an infant it is necessary that:

1º the parents or at least one of them or the person who lawfully takes their place gives consent;

2º there be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such a hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be put off according to the prescriptions of particular law and the parents are to be informed of the reason.

§2. The infant of Catholic parents, in fact of non-Catholic parents also, who is in danger of death is licitly baptized even against the will of the parents.

This canon is a new redaction of norms found in the 1917 Code (CIC 750-751). It states in stricter terms the requirement that an infant be baptized only with (l) the consent of the parent(s) or responsible guardian and (2) the assurance of Catholic upbringing. The child who is baptized before he or she can profess Christian faith is baptized in the faith of the Church as this is expressed by parents or others within the Catholic community who take their place, such as guardians of orphaned children or sponsors who are in a position to be responsible for Catholic upbringing.

The possibility of deferring baptism, as mentioned in the ritual and described in the commentary on canon 867, §1, is based upon the fear that the child will not be supported in the Christian faith subsequently. The norms of postponing baptism in such circumstances, ordinarily until the parent(s) can be adequately moved or instructed so that they can give an assurance or hope of Catholic upbringing, may be specified in particular law. The additional note that the reasons should be explained to the parents is intended to avoid the risk of further alienating parents who are themselves deficient in the practice of the Catholic religion.

In 1980 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an instruction on the baptism of infants which (1) vindicated the Christian tradition of infant baptism and (2) summarized contemporary difficulties, including those arising in pluralistic societies. (Oct.20, 1980: AAS 72 (1980), 1137-1156.) The instruction is completed with pastoral-directive norms; these had already been anticipated in a private response of 1970, in which "non-practicing" Christian parents were defined as those "who are polygamous, unmarried, married lawfully but lapsed altogether from the regular practice of the faith, or those who request their child's baptism as a purely social convention." With regard to these, the response offered the following summary:

Although in this 1970 response the Congregation contemplated an enrollment of the child with the possibility of a rite of reception of the child who would later be baptized (which would offer some analogy to a period of "catechumenate" during which the parents would receive Christian formation), in the instruction of 1980 the Congregation affirmed the need for dialogue with the parents and their adequate preparation before the baptism, but rejected the proposal of a rite of enrollment which might easily be confused with the sacrament of baptism. It proposed two pastoral principles, first, that the divine gift of baptism for the child should not ex sese be deferred, but, second, that:

As already noted, it is for particular law to determine further the norm of paragraph one, number two, but paragraph two is a summary rule for the special circumstance of any child in danger of death. It had originally been intended to limit the norm of paragraph two, dealing with the sensitive matter of baptizing a child against the will of its parents, by the clause "unless from this [the baptism] the danger of hatred of religion may arise."

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Conditional Baptism

Canon 869--§1. If there is a doubt whether one has been baptized or whether baptism was validly conferred and the doubt remains after serious investigation, baptism is to be conferred conditionally.

§2. Those baptized in a non-Catholic ecclesial community are not to be baptized conditionally unless, after an examination of the matter and the form of words used in the conferral of baptism and after a consideration of the intention of an adult baptized person and of the minister of the baptism, a serious reason for doubting the validity of the baptism is present.

§3. If the conferral or the validity of the baptism in the cases mentioned §§1 and 2 remains doubtful, baptism is not to be conferred until the doctrine of the sacrament of baptism is explained to the person, if an adult, and the reasons for the doubtful validity of the baptism have been explained to the adult recipient or, in the case of an infant, to the parents.

This canon enlarges upon canon 845, §2, which treats the possibility of celebrating conditionally, in case of doubt, the three sacraments which may not be validly received a second time. For the postconciliar development in relation to the reception of Christians concerning whose baptism there is doubt, one should see the commentary on that canon.

With direct reference to baptism, paragraph one indicates two instances in which baptism may be celebrated with the condition, "If you are not [already1 baptized, . . . " These are (1) a doubt of the fact of baptism, which cannot be resolved after serious investigation, e.g., no record or witnesses can be found; and (2) a doubt whether the baptism, which can be established to have occurred, was valid in view of a defect of the elements mentioned in canon 849--again if the doubt cannot be resolved after serious investigation. Ordinarily an inquiry into the records and ritual of a Christian church or ecclesial community should make it possible to avoid conditional baptism.

In paragraph two, the implications of the presumption set up in the "Rite of Receiving Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church" are drawn out to indicate the nature of the inquiry that is to be made:

The pastoral norm in paragraph three, derived from the text of the ritual just quoted, will avoid needlessly calling into question the practices of other churches and ecclesial communities, for which there should be "just esteem." (ED I, 18: AAS 59 (1967), 574-592; DOL 972. The Directory is the source for the norm of the ritual, the ritual is the source for the canon (see nos. 12-19: DOL 966-973.) In the case of children, the correct instruction of the parents or others will avoid giving the false impression that a repetition of the sacrament is involved. As the reference in paragraph three to both of the preceding paragraphs of the canon indicates, this reasoning is equally applicable in all cases of conditional baptism.

It is for the local ordinary to determine, in individual cases, what rites are to be included or excluded in conditional baptism. (RCIA, appendix, n. 7: DOL 2482.)

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Special Cases of Baptism

Canon 870--A foundling or abandoned child is to be baptized unless upon diligent investigation proof of baptism is established.

This canon has to be understood in conjunction with canon 868, §1, 2̊, that is, the infant may be baptized only when there is the assurance of Catholic upbringing, in this instance an assurance from those who will have the care of the abandoned infant or foundling.

The canon differs from canon 749 of the 1917 Code, from which it is derived, only by suppressing the former reference to conditional baptism. It sets up a presumption, unless upon careful investigation there is proof of baptism, that the infant is unbaptized and therefore should be baptized unconditionally.

Canon 871--If aborted fetuses are alive, they are to be baptized if this is possible.

The revised text differs from canon 747 of the former Code, which required that "all aborted fetuses, at whatever stage of gestation, should be baptized absolutely, if certainly alive, and conditionally if there is doubt." The norm is now stated simply: whatever the reason for the abortion, if possible a living fetus should be baptized unconditionally. For this reason the liturgical law, in accord with canon 861, §2, mentions specifically those who should be instructed in the manner of baptizing in such circumstances: parents, catechists, midwives, family or social workers, nurses of the sick, physicians, and surgeons. (IGIC 17: DOL 2266.)

Other special cases, such as baptism in the womb or in the course of delivery or the baptism of abnormal fetuses, are no longer mentioned, canons 746 and 748 of the 1917 Code being suppressed and such questions left to pastoral theory and practice.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Forthcoming Revision of the Rite

ICEL Consultation on the Revision of Christian Initiation of Children. The consultation was scheduled to be completed by January 1, 1994, but responses were still being accepted as late as May 1994. The results of the consultation were starting to be examined in 1995 and the plan was to publish the Rites for the Initiation of Children in one book with five chapters:

Chapter 1. Rite for Initiation of Children of Catechetical Age will be placed first. It will be a unified rite with Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. [This will set the tone, theology, sequence, etc.]

Chapter 2. Rite for the reception of children who are already validly baptized (e.g. in a Protestant Church).

Chapter 3. Rite for Baptism of Infants

Chapter 4. Rite for Confirmation

Chapter 5. Rite for First Communion


However, because of Liturgicam Authenticam and the changes in ICEL and translation policy, all this work has been put "on hold" indefinitely. 

Regarding The rite for the Baptism of Infants the consultation found that the rite

Needs to involve the parents more.

More attention must be given to various family circumstances (single parents, divorced parents, etc).

More attention must be given to the various degrees of the parents' faith commitment (perhaps similar to the French Rite for Marriage where three different forms are given depending on the degree of faith commitment of the couple).

The rite should provide for a variety of Church affiliations, for the involvement of ministers of other Churches, and for inter-Faith situations.

The rite should be more clear about the essential relationship of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.

Regarding Confirmation:

Provision must be made for prior contact between those to be confirmed and the confirming Bishop. Too often the bishop appears at the ceremony, and that is the only contact the children have with him.

The majority of respondents want the sequence of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist restored.

Only a few suggest Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist in one continuous rite for infants. However, several suggest making the post-Baptismal anointing to be Confirmation.

Catechesis in the Ritual (and outside of it) should come more from the Lectionary and less from some preconceived notion of "sacrament."

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Baptism of Infants in Ecumenical Marriage

[Some voices from the internet... November-December 2000]

The initiation of children born into interchurch families is a delicate issue.  Today, we can encounter a number of unusual initiation practices. For example, the parents intend (not merely wish) their children to "belong" to both religious traditions represented in the marriage. Thus, the children may each be baptized by a minister of either tradition (e.g. Anglican and Catholic), and the baptism is registered in both parishes. Or, one cleric baptizes, and the other does the post-baptismal anointing.  It is not made clear to the couple that baptism determines "membership."  Many believe that it is confirmation which accomplishes this, and they are encouraged in this belief when the clerics involved allow the children to celebrate First Communion in both traditions (since this does not occur with Confirmation).

What about this case; In this baptism, water was poured over the child by both Anglican and Catholic clerics. The baptism was registered in both the Anglican and Catholic churches. The intention of the couple was to make the child both Anglican and Catholic.  Let's say that the pouring was done simultaneously by both clerics while reciting the baptismal formula.  How would you determine the child's " Church membership," especially if the parents intend to raise the child in both traditions equally?

One canonist answered as follows: The intention of parents and ministers in this case must be discounted altogether, because their intention cannot alter what is a juridical fact, the fact of what church or ecclesial communion one is baptized in. The only exception to this rule is danger of death. In that case, the infant is baptized in the church of the parents, not of the minister, presuming the parents wanted their child to be baptized in their own church. Otherwise, the church of the minister determines the church to which the baptized belongs. This is a reasonable presumption, for why would anyone go to the minister of another church to have their child baptized in their own church?

Another canonist responded: It is not legally possible to baptize a child in the Catholic Church and in another church or ecclesial community at the same time. Therefore, we must look for other evidence, besides intention, to determine whether the child is canonically to be considered a Catholic or an Anglican. Did one of the priests both say the words and pour the water (or immerse)? If the water bath and the entire Trinitarian formula were not performed by the same minister, it was invalid.

Another canonist responded: Did both ministers simultaneously pour water and say the words together? In that case, I think the bishop or judge deciding the case would have to conclude that the infant is a member of the church or ecclesial community in which it was baptized, namely, in the church where it took place. Was it the Anglican parish, or the Catholic parish? That would be tangible canonical evidence, as well as a strong theological sign, of what denomination the person belongs to.

If the baptisms were not simultaneous, but successive, that is, each cleric baptized separately, then the child should be considered a member of the denomination of the priest who first validly baptized. Since baptism cannot be repeated, the child belongs to the church of the minister who first baptized.

Another canonist responded with what is probably the common opinion of many: How could anybody intend to rear a child "equally" in two religious traditions?  Such an intention would not be silly in the case of parents belonging to two sui iuris Churches in full communion with each other; but no Protestant church is in full communion with the Catholic Church. To be Protestant is to define one's religious convictions in some significant respect in opposition to Catholicism. One cannot be a devout Lutheran and a devout Catholic at the same time. One could be a Lutheran with Catholic sensibilities. One could be a Catholic with admiration for Lutheran insights. But at some point one reaches an "either/or." The fact that the parents of an infant lack theological sophistication is not surprising. The fact that ministers of two denominations are willing to support their vagaries is another matter. Is the Catholic priest not catechizing his flock about the meaning of the promises the parents make when they present their children for baptism? While the children remain toddlers, there may not be much difference in what each parent may teach. What happens, though, when it becomes time to prepare the child for Eucharist? What happens with reconciliation? I would suggest that there is a serious problem here with the behavior of the priests who (1)  would record an infant as Catholic when he knows the same child is being simultaneously recorded as Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or whatever or (2) who would "concelebrate" baptism in such a way that the sacrament was intended simultaneously to welcome the child into two mutually exclusive churches.   

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Reception of Infants Already Baptized

Rite of Bring a Baptized Child to the Church

I was recently asked this question:  "

I was recently asked this question: "

A couple from the parish gave birth two months ago. The child was several weeks premature and in danger of death. Upon birth the infant was immediately baptized by the Catholic priest chaplain in the hospital. Now the family would like to bring the child into the church in whatever is the best and most appropriate way.  Since the church recognizes this baptism as a valid and licit baptism, "baptism" is not needed [or possible], what do we do?

Response: In the current ritual, "Rite of Baptism for Children," Chapter VI (#165 ff) "The Rite of Bringing a Baptized Child to the Church" is designed for just this situation.

There is a [now] "obscure" reference in the Constitution on the Liturgy:

69. In place of the rite called the "Order of supplying what was omitted in the baptism of an infant," a new rite is to be drawn up. This should manifest more fittingly and clearly that the infant, baptized by the short rite, has already been received into the Church.

In the years before the Second Vatican Council, some "Catholic" countries (e.g. France) where everyone knew that babies who were not baptized did not go to heaven, to avoid that possibility instructed nurses to baptize every baby immediately as it came out of the womb. The result of this practice was 1) everybody in France was Catholic; 2) there were no French babies in limbo; and 3) the sacrament of baptism was never celebrated in a parish church! Instead they used the "Order of supplying what was omitted in the baptism of an infant."

With our current understanding of Original Sin and Limbo this practice now seems "unnecessary", but there are situations, such as the one mentioned in the question, where this situation still can exist: the infant is baptized but there was no parish liturgical celebration.

The "Rite of Bringing a Baptized Child to the Church" is designed for just this situation. It would be very fitting to do this at Sunday Parish Eucharist.

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

To Think About

1.  I find that for some catechists, if they had based their reasons for the necessity of baptism on an understanding of original sin that they now no longer accept, they can no longer explain why we baptize infants.   If you had to write a one page parish Sunday bulletin insert explaining why infant should be baptized, what would be the key points of your presentation?  Is it possible that infant baptism might disappear from the practice of the Catholic Church? Why or why not? What are some of the arguments for and against continuing the practice of infant baptism? What would be your pastoral approach to parents requesting the baptism of their infant?

2. You are the Pastor of St. Rose in Lima OH and one of your parishioners (whose husband is a Lutheran) comes to you and wants her new-born baby baptized Christian without being made Catholic. As a Catholic priest, can you make the child a Christian without making it Catholic? Why or why not? What would you do in this situation?

3. Discuss the pastoral situation in which the baptism of an infant is to be delayed. What is the current legislation on this matter? What reasons on the part of the child, the parents, the community, and the minister impel the implementation of this legislation. What pastoral steps should be taken in a parish in the USA in the 1980's to implement these policies?

4.  You are the priest-chaplain at a large Catholic hospital. A young, single girl, one of the patients in the hospital under your care, has recently given birth to a child. She came to the very painful decision to place her baby for adoption through a Catholic agency into a Catholic home. Wanting to experience as much of her newborn's life as possible during her two-day stay in the hospital, she asks you to baptize her baby. What would you do? Why? What would you tell the girl?

5. In what sense are the children of Jews and Muslims "Children of God"? In what sense does Baptism make a infant a "child of God"?

Return to:   Top of This Page  --- Initiation Index --- Fr. Tom's Home Page

Copyright: Tom Richstatter. All Rights Reserved. This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own. Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 12/07/17. Your comments on this site are welcome at