Baptism Should Be Celebrated Very Soon After Birth

Snow-babies soon to arrive? It was about nine months ago that Washington DC and most of the northeast US was snowed in for days. Really for the better part of two weeks folks spent extensive time at home. I hope you won’t consider me indelicate if I prophesy that a higher number of births will be taking place here in the next few weeks, nine months after the blizzards. I also hope to see a higher than average number of baptisms for this reason.

Baptisms delayed?  But here we come upon a trend that has set up for years now, and that is that Catholics are waiting many months to get their children baptized. I suspect that what we have here is a combination of a much lower infant mortality rate and, also, a less fervent practice of the faith by many. Further, there seems little sense among the faithful today that an unbaptized infant would be excluded from heaven.

As regards the last point, I think it is pastorally sound trust in God’s mercy for unbaptized infants. However, I do not think it follows that we ought to disregard or substantially delay a sacrament which Jesus commands, and which the Church indicates ought not to be delayed. The Code of Canon Law says the following:

Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it. If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay. Can. 867 §1,§2

The Catechism also states: The Church and parents deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250) So it seems clear that a higher priority should be given to scheduling the baptism of babies within the first few weeks after birth.

Protestant practice departs from the received Tradition – Now many Protestants (though not all) disagree with our Catholic practice of baptizing infants. They usually wait until a child is between 8 and 12 to baptize reasoning that the child will know and understand what is happening and be able to claim Christ for themselves. I hope you see the supreme irony of this in the fact that the Protestants, who so emphasize that salvation does not come from works, delay baptism on the grounds that the infant has not achieved (i.e. worked up to) the proper level of maturity. To know, requires one to learn, which is a work. And we Catholics, who supposedly teach salvation through works (we do not), baptize infants who can work no work. Alas, the Protestant denominations (mostly Baptists (another irony), Pentecostals, Fundamentalist and Evangelicals) who refuse baptism to infants engage in a novelty unknown to the Church until recent times.

It is a simple historical fact that the Church has always baptized  infants. Even our earliest documents speak of the practice. For example the Apostolic Tradition written about 215 A.D. has this to say:

The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family. (Apostolic Tradition # 21)

Scripture too confirms that infants should be baptized if you do the math. For example

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Luke 18:15-17 NIV)

So the Kingdom of God belongs to the little Children (in Greek βρέφη (brephe) indicating infants and  little children still held in the arms, babes). And yet elsewhere Jesus also reminds that it is necessary to be baptized in order to enter the Kingdom of God: Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5 NIV)

If the Kingdom of God belongs to little children and we are taught that we cannot inherit it without baptism then it follows that baptizing infants is necessary and that to fail to do so is a hindering of the little children which Jesus forbade his apostles to do. So both Tradition and Scripture affirm the practice of baptizing infants.

Many of the Protestants who do refuse infant baptism also water down (pardon the pun!) the fuller meaning of baptism no longer seeing it as washing away sins and conferring righteousness per se but more as a symbol of faith already received when they said the “sinners prayer” and accepted Christ as their savior. But what a tragic loss for them since baptism and particularly the baptism of infants says some very wonderful things about the gratuity of salvation and the goodness of God. Consider these points:

1. The baptism of infants is a powerful testimony to the absolute gratuity (gift) of salvation. Infants have achieved nothing, have not worked, have not done anything to “merit” salvation. The Catechism puts it this way: The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant baptism. (CCC # 1250) The Church is clear, salvation cannot be earned or merited and infant baptism teaches that most clearly. Salvation is pure gift. How strange and ironic that some of the very denominations which claim that Catholics teach salvation by works (we do not) also refuse to baptize infants. They claim that a certain age of maturity is required so that the person understands what they are doing. But this sounds like achievement to me. That the child must meet some requirement seems like a work or the attainment of some meritorious status wherein one is now old enough to “qualify” for baptism and salvation. “Qualifications….Achievement (of age)….Requirements….it all sounds like what they accuse us of: namely works and merit. To be clear then, the Catholic understanding of the gratuity of salvation is far more radical than many non-Catholics understand. We baptize infants who are not capable of meriting, attaining or earning.

2. The Baptism of infants also powerfully attests to the fact that the beauty of holiness and righteousness is available to everyone regardless of age. To be baptized means to be washed. Washed of what? Original Sin. At first this seems like a downer, “Are you saying my baby has sin?” Yep. All of us inherit Original Sin from Adam and Eve. We are born into a state of alienation from God that is caused by sin. The Scriptures are clear: [S]in entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12). So even infants are in need of the saving touch of God. Now why would we wish to delay this salvation and resulting holiness for 7 to 12 years? The Catechism says this,

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by Original Sin, children also have need of new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and be brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God….The Church and parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250).

St. Cyprian Bishop of Carthage in the 3rd Century was asked if it was OK to wait to the 8th day to baptize since baptism had replaced circumcision. He respond with a strong no:

But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day We [the bishops] all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. (Epist# 58).

So then here is the beauty, that infants are summoned to receive the precious gift of holiness and righteousness and that they are summoned to a right relationship with God by having their sin purged and holiness infused. Infants are called to this dignity and should not be denied it. With this done, some of the holiest and most innocent days of our lives may well be our first years. Then as the will begins to manifest and reason begins to dawn the grace of holiness gives us extra strength to fight against the sinful world that looms.

3. The Baptism of Infants also attests to the fact that faith is gift for every stage of development– To be baptized is to receive the gift of faith. It is baptism that gives the true faith. Even with adults, true faith does not come until baptism. Prior to that there is a kind of prevenient faith but it is not the Theological Virtue of faith. Now faith is not only an intellectual assent to revealed doctrine. It is that but it is more. To have faith is also be be in a righteous and trusting relationship with God. An infant relates to his parents long before he speaks or his rational mind is fully formed. He trusts his parents and depends on them. It is the same with God. The infant trusts and depends of God and is in a right relationship with God. With his parents, this relationship of trust leads the infant to begin to speak and understand as he grows. Here too it is the same with God. As his mind awakens the infant’s faith grows. It will continue to grow until the day he dies (hopefully) as an old man. That faith accompanies us through every stage of our life and develops as we do is essential to its nature. An infant needs faith no less than an old man. An infant benefits from faith no less than a teenager or an adult. To argue as some Protestants do that you have to be a certain age before faith can exist hardly seems to respect the progressive nature of faith which is able to bless EVERY stage of our human journey. I have some very vivid memories of my experience of God prior to seven years of age and I will say that God was very powerfully present to me in my early years, in many ways even more so than now, when my mind sometimes “gets in the way.”

Another post too long. Forgive me dear reader. But please spread the word. Too many Catholics are waiting months, even years to have their children baptized. Precious time is lost by this laxity. Infant Baptism speaks powerfully of the love that God has for everyone he has created and of his desire to have everyone in a right and saving relationship with Him. Surely baptism alone isn’t enough. The child must be raised in the faith. It is the nature of faith that it grows by hearing and seeing. Children must have faith given at baptism but that faith must be explained and unwrapped like a precious gift for them. Don’t delay. Get started early and teach your child the faith they have received every day.

54 Replies to “Baptism Should Be Celebrated Very Soon After Birth”

  1. “For He came to save all through means of Himself–all, I say, who through Him are born again to God–infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men.”
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2,22:4 (A.D. 180).

  2. It would appear that we are no longer in the days when babies would be baptized the day they are born (like little baby Joseph Ratzinger was).

    One of the factors not mentioned leading to a later baptism is the contemporary requirement that parents be catechized before their child receives the Sacrament.

    Now, it is all well and good that parents should be properly prepared, that is, that they should have a basic understanding of the Sacrament and that the primary obligation and prerogative of teaching the faith is on parents, but this prerequisite also implicitly sends the message that time is not of the essence in being baptized, that it can wait some period of time.

    And then, if the parents fail to do so, if they fail to receive instruction and/or do not baptize their baby, the prevailing rule of the Church is that it is not licit for grandparents (or others) to step in and have the baby baptized without the parents’ consent. Here too is the implicit message sent that baptism is not all that imperitive after all.

    It is true that baptism should not be unduly delayed, but it does seem that parents are receiving mixed signals from every side.

    1. Yes, I agree we do send mixed signals. Further, we can make it difficult for parents et al. to get things done soon. I know the Church has struggled to find the right balance and every parish is a bit different. The Brazilian Bishops recently issued a document wherein they encourage quick baptisms even if the faith of the parents is weak. Their resoning is that the Church has found herself back in missionary times in most places and that expectations that make sense when the Culture is solidly Catholic no longer apply. Hence the Church should be more welcoming and have less hurdles at the front door of baptism in the hope that this will ignite faith and establish contacts with many people who have drfited or are the products of familes who have drifted from the understanding or practice of the faith. I am aware that there is much debate about this document but I find some wisdom in its insight that we are back in missionary times and our approach may have to change to reflect that.

  3. Monsignor, this isn’t a comment about today’s content, but rather about the website. I use your site as my home page because it is often the first thing I see in the morning when getting breakfast and before my morning prayer time. Lately there has been an annoying music file which plays when my browser first starts up, something about “the fabric of our lives”, and I’ve switched to a different home page hoping to avoid it. If it is intended to enhance your page, it is doing the opposite, in my opinion, and ruining it. If it is an advertisement, not only is it ineffective (I have no idea what is being advertised), but even if I knew what product was being touted, I would be sure not to buy it because of its inappropriate placement.

    If it has nothing to do with your site, and it has somehow glommed onto my computer, please forgive me for directing my criticism in the wrong direction.
    God Bless, and thank you, as always, for your words of faith and encouragment!

    1. I was unaware of the ad you mentioned and it’s precense was unintended. I think it is associated with one of the video’s I posted. I will investigate and seek to remove it.

  4. Msgr.,

    I agree that babies in an actively practicing Catholic family should be baptized as soon as possible after birth. The parents should seek the sacrament and begin preparations during their pregnancy.

    However, from a pastoral standpoint, there are many reasons why a priest should ask that baptism be delayed. Baptism IS a big deal. Once baptized, a child is bound to the precepts of the Catholic Church, and the parents are responsible for raising the child to know and love God. If parents or pastors know the parents will not be raising their child in the Catholic faith, then perhaps it is better to wait to baptize the child until the parents are ready to raise their child in the Catholic faith. This is best determined in each individual circumstance, so one really ought to talk to their pastor. Canonically, the pastor does have the right to ask the parents to wait to baptize their child until the parents are active in the Catholic Church.

    1. Yes, you are reflecting the other side of the great debate in the Church that I articulated above in response to Bender. There is great debate on where to put the emphasis. What does it mean for the pastor to have a well-founded hope that the Child will be raised in the faith? Etc. Your point of view is currently the most common in the USA and has merit. But on the other hand if baptism is as essential as scripture states and Canon law and the Catechism state it ought not be delayed, then the pastor’s concerns ought to be grave concerns, not just doubts, or so it would seem. Here again, it might be necessary for our bishop’s to visit the topic as did the Brazilian Bishops and give some updated advice given current circumstances of a huge number of unchurched Catholics.

      1. I certainly see the challenge since “Catholic culture” has waned and parishes seem to do little mystagogy. It seems like we have a good balance in the RCIA methodology. As was often the custom in the early Church, people were enrolled as catechumens, and if they were to die in persecution they were considered to have been “baptized by desire”. In our culture, this might be a solution for infants–enrolling them officially which would allow for a period of catechesis.

  5. All 3 of my children were baptized between 6 and 12 weeks of age. This was due, in large part, to the fact that my parish (I don’t know if this is the common practice everywhere) doesn’t do them during Lent at all, and only does them once a month besides that. Timing wise, it was generally impossible to do the baptisms any sooner. It never occurred to me that this was delaying the sacrament in any significant manner.

    Is it preferable, in your opinion, to request an immediate private baptism, rather than to have it done during mass with the parish?

    1. Yes, no baptisms in Lent is wrong if you ask me. I can see perhaps the last two weeks of Lent or something very near Easter, surely none in Holy week (except in danger of death). But It seems wrong to delay baptisms just because it is Lent. We do baptisms once a month, but that is due more to volume. If a family misses a baptism and it will be nearly a month I will often schedule the baptism sooner. Rigid parish norms in this regard ought to be avoided if you ask me. I will always work with a family. I do think you have the right to ask for a “private” baptism sooner than the public one if it will be weeks away.

  6. Infant baptism is also a powerful testimony to the necessity of Baptism for salvation — though we’re uncomfortable about that doctrine these days.

    And it’s a powerful testimony to the inherent dignity of the human person, who can be joined to the mystical Body of Christ, who can participate in the eternal life of the Blessed Trinity, not by *doing* anything, not by passing a test or satisfying some set of functional requirements, but merely by being alive.

    1. Yes, I think too the Methodists, and Episcopalians, follow this norm. It would seem that the first wave of the the reform CHurches kept the ancient practice and only with the Baptists and their later off-shoots did the practice come into question.

      1. From Article IX of the Book of Concord (1530):

        “Of Baptism we teach that
        -it is necessary to salvation
        -through Baptism is offered the grace of God
        -children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism, are received into God’s grace.

        We condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children and who say that children are saved without Baptism. ”

        Luther’s defense of infant Baptism from his Large Catechism:

        Here a question occurs by which the devil, through his sects, confuses the world, namely, Of Infant Baptism, whether children also believe, and are justly baptized. Concerning this we say briefly: 48] Let the simple dismiss this question from their minds, and refer it to the learned. But if you wish to answer, 49] then answer thus:-
        That the Baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ is sufficiently proved from His own work, namely, that God sanctifies many of them who have been thus baptized, and has given them the Holy Ghost; and that there are yet many even to-day in whom we perceive that they have the Holy Ghost both because of their doctrine and life; as it is also given to us by the grace of God that we can explain the Scriptures and come to the knowledge of Christ, which is impossible without the Holy Ghost. 50] But if God did not accept the baptism of infants, He would not give the Holy Ghost nor any of His gifts to any of them; in short, during this long time unto this day no man upon earth could have been a Christian. Now, since God confirms Baptism by the gifts of His Holy Ghost, as is plainly perceptible in some of the church fathers, as St. Bernard, Gerson, John Hus, and others, who were baptized in infancy, and since the holy Christian Church cannot perish until the end of the world, they must acknowledge that such infant baptism is pleasing to God. For He can never be opposed to Himself, or support falsehood and wickedness, or for its promotion impart His grace and Spirit. 51] This is indeed the best and strongest proof for the simple-minded and unlearned. For they shall not take from us or overthrow this article: I believe a holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.
        52] Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God. 53] This now is perhaps somewhat acute, but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is, when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word.
        54] For even though a Jew should to-day come dishonestly and with evil purpose, and we should baptize him in all good faith, we must say that his baptism is nevertheless genuine. For here is the water together with the Word of God, even though he does not receive it as he should, just as those who unworthily go to the Sacrament receive the true Sacrament, even though they do not believe.
        55] Thus you see that the objection of the sectarians is vain. For (as we have said) even though infants did not believe, which, however, is not the case, yet their baptism as now shown would be valid, and no one should rebaptize them; just as nothing is detracted from the Sacrament though some one approach it with evil purpose, and he could not be allowed on account of his abuse to take it a second time the selfsame hour, as though he had not received the true Sacrament at first; for that would mean to blaspheme and profane the Sacrament in the worst manner. How dare we think that God’s Word and ordinance should be wrong and invalid because we make a wrong use of it?
        56] Therefore I say, if you did not believe then believe now and say thus: The baptism indeed was right, but I, alas! did not receive it aright. For I myself also, and all who are baptized, must speak thus before God: I come hither in my faith and in that of others, yet I cannot rest in this, that I believe, and that many people pray for me; but in this I rest, that it is Thy Word and command. Just as I go to the Sacrament trusting not in my faith, but in the Word of Christ; whether I am strong or weak, that I commit to God. But this I know, that He bids me go, eat and drink, etc., and gives me His body and blood; that will not deceive me or prove false to me.
        57] Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err.
        58] Therefore they are presumptuous, clumsy minds that draw such inferences and conclusions as these: Where there is not the true faith, there also can be no true Baptism. Just as if I would infer: If I do not believe, then Christ is nothing; or thus: If I am not obedient, then father, mother, and government are nothing. Is that a correct conclusion, that whenever any one does not do what he ought, the thing in itself shall be nothing and of no value? 59] My dear, just invert the argument and rather draw this inference: For this very reason Baptism is something and is right, because it has been wrongly received. For if it were not right and true in itself, it could not be misused nor sinned against. The saying is: Abusus non tollit, sed confirmat substantiam, Abuse does not destroy the essence, but confirms it. For gold is not the less gold though a harlot wear it in sin and shame.
        60] Therefore let it be decided that Baptism always remains true, retains its full essence, even though a single person should be baptized, and he, in addition, should not believe truly. For God’s ordinance and Word cannot be made variable or be altered by men. 61] But these people, the fanatics, are so blinded that they do not see the Word and command of God, and regard Baptism and the magistrates only as they regard water in the brook or in pots, or as any other man; and because they do not see faith nor obedience, they conclude that they are to be regarded as invalid. 62] Here lurks a concealed seditious devil, who would like to tear the crown from the head of authority and then trample it under foot, and, in addition, pervert and bring to naught all the works and ordinances of God. 63] Therefore we must be watchful and well armed, and not allow ourselves to be directed nor turned away from the Word, in order that we may not regard Baptism as a mere empty sign, as the fanatics dream.
        64] Lastly, we must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God has ordained just such external sign and ceremony for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian Church. 65] But the act or ceremony is this, that we are sunk under the water, which passes over us, and afterwards are drawn out again. These two parts, to be sunk under the water and drawn out again, signify the power and operation of Baptism, which is nothing else than putting to death the old Adam, and after that the resurrection of the new man, both of which must take place in us all our lives, so that a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For this must be practised without ceasing, that we ever keep purging away whatever is of the old Adam, and that that which belongs to the new man come forth. 66] But what is the old man? It is that which is born in us from Adam, angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, yea, unbelieving, infected with all vices, and having by nature nothing good in it. 67] Now, when we are come into the kingdom of Christ, these things must daily decrease, that the longer we live we become more gentle, more patient, more meek, and ever withdraw more and more from unbelief, avarice, hatred, envy, haughtiness.
        68] This is the true use of Baptism among Christians, as signified by baptizing with water. Where this, therefore, is not practised, but the old man is left unbridled, so as to continually become stronger, that is not using Baptism, but striving against Baptism. 69] For those who are without Christ cannot but daily become worse, according to the proverb which expresses the truth, “Worse and worse-the longer, the worse.” 70] If a year ago one was proud and avaricious, then he is much prouder and more avaricious this year, so that the vice grows and increases with him from his youth up. A young child has no special vice; but when it grows up, it becomes unchaste and impure, and when it reaches maturity, real vices begin to prevail the longer, the more.
        71] Therefore the old man goes unrestrained in his nature if he is not checked and suppressed by the power of Baptism. On the other hand, where men have become Christians, he daily decreases until he finally perishes. That is truly to be buried in Baptism, and daily to come forth again. 72] Therefore the external sign is appointed not only for a powerful effect, but also for a signification. 73] Where, therefore, faith flourishes with its fruits, there it has no empty signification, but the work [of mortifying the flesh] accompanies it; but where faith is wanting, it remains a mere unfruitful sign.
        74] And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, 75] as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. 76] For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.
        77] Therefore our Baptism abides forever; and even though some one should fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access thereto, that we may again subdue the old man. 78] But we need not again be sprinkled with water; for though we were put under the water a hundred times, it would nevertheless be only one Baptism, although the operation and signification continue and remain. 79] Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism, that we repeat and practise what we began before, but abandoned.
        80] This I say lest we fall into the opinion in which we were for a long time, imagining that our Baptism is something past, which we can no longer use after we have fallen again into sin. The reason is, that it is regarded only according to the external act once performed [and completed]. 81] And this arose from the fact that St. Jerome wrote that repentance is the second plank by which we must swim forth and cross over after the ship is broken, on which we step and are carried across when we come into the Christian Church. 82] Thereby the use of Baptism has been abolished so that it can profit us no longer. Therefore the statement is not correct, or at any rate not rightly understood. For the ship never breaks, because (as we have said) it is the ordinance of God, and not a work of ours; but it happens, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if any one fall out, let him see to it that he swim up and cling to it till he again come into it and live in it, as he had formerly begun.
        83] Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God’s own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man; and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.
        84] For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. 85] For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians. 86] But if any one fall away from it, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts also remain. If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man about our neck.

  7. So were the great missionaries like St Jean de Brebeuf and St Isaac Jogues wrong when they risked their lives to baptize the infant Native Americans before they died? They clearly held the belief that the infants needed baptism for heaven. I can’t imagine telling them “no, don’t worry about it because we will trust in the infinite mercy of God”.

    1. The official answer of the Church as to whether unbpatized infants can go to heaven is that we don’t know. Limbo etc. were only theories. But it is the pastoral judgment of the Church in current time to trust in the mercy of God in cases like these. That said, we ought not become presumptive in matters such as these but only use this reasoning in terms of children who die by abortion or perhaps others who die acciently before baptism, or again, infants of Baptist parents. Meanwhile we ought to just make sure our own Children are baptized soon.

    2. I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of Sts Isaac and Jean being “right” or “wrong”. Throughout history the Church has continually deepened her understanding of dogma. The Apostles first baptized in the name of Jesus only, then later came to baptize using the Trinitarian formula. The proper articulation of the divinity of Christ was not resolved for many centuries. The number of Sacraments was not set at 7 for a millenium. Prior to these points Christians were not “wrong”, because the Truth is unfolded for us in God’s time–we do the best we can with what we have…

  8. Msgr. Pope:
    Please advise me on what to do – 8 months ago our family’s first grandchild was born (my great-niece) and her parents seem to have no intention of baptizing her. Although they were both baptized Catholics, they seem to have come to the opinion that religion today is for backward people who are controlled by contrived notions based on distorted legends from the past. There seems little likelihood that this beautiful little girl will ever be raised to know, love and serve God. The parents don’t take her little hand and make the Sign of the Cross for her. They don’t pray for her or with her. They live in Europe and although I met her and fell in live with her last month when they were here for a visit, I am told we will only see her every couple of years. Her grandmother wants her baptized; her grandfather is like-minded with his son. Her grandmother wanted to baptize her at home, behind the parents back, but I don’t think she did. Strange thing, the mother placed a beaded necklace on the baby right after birth and she hasn’t removed it since. She claims it’s an Italian practice that protects the baby from evil! So, with an ocean between us, I know my role is limited to prayer (which isn’t really a limitation, is it?) but I need some guidance regarding Baptism for this baby. What do I pray? How often do I pray?

    P.S. I can never thank you enough for sharing all of that Wisdom with which you’ve been blessed.

    1. I have to confess I’ve only simkmed the above so am not going to engage with anything much but the end. The preface to all of this is I BELIEVE BAPTISM IS A SECONDARY ISSUE AND I LOVE MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST WHO TAKE A DIFFERENT VIEW ON THIS (as long as they have actually thought about it and would defend their position from the Bible rather than from tradition etc.!)If you ask a paedobaptist Christian parent is your child saved?’ the real answer is I presume so, unless or until they demonstrate they have opted out of the covenant.’ They are not able to categorially say yes’ not even on the basis of God’s character since though he loves to work through families, not all of the children of believers become believers (not even all of Israel is Israel!).If you ask a credobaptist Christian parent the same question, their answer is I presume so, unless or until they demonstrate they have opted out of the covenant’. In other words the credobaptist and paedobaptist have the same level of assurance about their children. A credobaptist should still recognise the blessings that come to their children as a result of being part of the covenant community.The real question is whether or not you think baptism is a sign for being part of the covenant community’ or a sign for believers. I believe the latter, which is why I wouldn’t baptise a child. I would further argue that you run the risk of giving a child (or a parent) false-assurance by baptisting a child, unless you are very clear on what you are actually doing.Both paedobaptists and credobaptists need to be very clear about these categories of in the covenant community’ and in the new covenant’. The former category is a place of some spiritual blessing, but does not necessarily mean that you are saved. The latter category is the place where believers belong.If you take baptism as a sign of the covenant in the second, stronger sense, then the consistent paedobaptist needs to also asminister paedocommunion.If you take baptism as a sign of being in the covenant community in the weaker sense, then why limit it to children of believers? Why not apply it much more widely. If I had a live-in-nanny shouldn’t they be baptised? And why does the NT consistently link baptism with belief rather than simply covenant blessing?Just a few thoughts

  9. It is worth recalling waht the Congregation of the Holy Office wrote to the Apostolic Vicaris of Central Oceania on 18 Dec. 1872, with respect to Methodist baptism: that it is valid, even when the minister of the baptism expressly and emphatically says, before administering it, that it has no effect whatsoever upon or within the soul (as long as it is formally “the baptism of the Church”)!

    Dispelling superstition is always in order, of course: I heard of parents in England who were relieved after their baby was baptized because then it was “lucky”.

  10. I hope this is a licit tangent: why does the paedobaptist West seem to reason differently about ‘confirmatio’ and ‘First Communion’ from the paedobaptist East, where babies are baptized, chrismated, and given Communion immediately one after the other?

  11. Monsignor!

    Do you think it would be possible for you to come to Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, MD to baptize our baby when he is born this December/January? What a blessing it would be for us!

    In Christ,

  12. To the best of my knowledge, every time the “snow baby” (or “flood baby” or whatever) prediction / observation has been made, a time-series analysis, comparing the number of babies born nine months after the event with the number of babies born in previous years n the same date, has failed to show any statistically significant difference.

    The interesting question is why people presume that if people can’t go outdoors they choose to do “that.”

      1. I think everyone’s backs were too sore from shoveling a gazillion tons of snow. My husband and I reeked of Ben-Gay for a week.

  13. I only wish I had known that it was the emphatic wish of the Church that my babies be baptized immediately…it would have taught ME something, as well. As it was two of my six children weren’t baptized until they were over eight months old, three were 1 – 2 months, and only one was less than two weeks old. (I was not raised in the Church, and my husband was not catechized well)

    Although I am past childbearing myself, I have heard of parents who have foregone baptizing their infants because the Catholic church they attend only has one baptism a month. Period. But the main complication is, in order for their baby to be baptized, the parents must attend a class. The class (usually four are required) is offered on, I think, Friday evenings, never any other time, and a couple I know can’t attend then because the father of the child works an evening job, and can’t get the time off.

    I think this is incredibly unfortunate! I really agree with Bender!

    1. Regarding scheduling the classes — every place is different, of course, but folks should not be shy about asking about scheduling a special time. If not asking the pastor or DRE, then asking the catechist directly (if he or she is not the pastor or DRE).

      Many catechists would be more than happy to be flexible and accomodate people if they cannot meet when the classes are scheduled.

      1. I suppose it would depend on how many Catholic Churches are reasonably close to where one resides, but here it is both the parents and godparents who must attend a class—just one, I think. They are allowed to attend a baptismal prep. class at any Catholic parish and bring verification that that was done. This may solve some scheduling problems in some cases.

  14. A priest told us once when we were seeking to set-up the baptism before the baby was born that we (i.e., the Church) didn’t worry about original sin so much anymore – a kind of de-emphasis – so it was not so urgent to get it taken care of.

    Nevertheless, we went forward with the baptism just as soon as we could.

  15. A little bit of Origen (in his usual, gentle, subtle manner 😉 ):

    “Do you have an infant child? Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood. From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Do you fear the seal of baptism because of the weakness of nature? Oh, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!”
    Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7 [A.D. 388].

  16. Msgr,
    Thanks for all your great posts!
    So we can’t do anything to earn salvation, and I’m on board with that! My question is: Let us suppose that I am in a state of mortal sin. What is necessary for my salvation is that I make a good confession, otherwise I go to hell (this what the Church teaches, am I wrong?), or at the very least have perfect contrition and lack the opportunity to confess my sins and receive absolution before my death. Is this not an act, to be repentant, or to make a good confession? I have had this question for some time. Thank you.

    1. Is this not an act, to be repentant, or to make a good confession?

      I’ll take a crack at answering this, Martin, but I’m not sure of what you are asking. Are you saying that because repentance and making a good confession are necessary that they constitute “earning” salvation?

      Actually, they are necessary, but not sufficient. That is, contrition, confession, and penance do not, in and of themselves, save us. And they are not part of some quid pro quo, where Jesus is required to forgive us if we do these things. Rather, salvation is purely a gift.

      However, for a gift to be completed, even a gift from God, it must be accepted. If the delivery man brings a package to you and you send it back “return to sender,” you have not received it. And if you receive a package but stick it in the closet unopened, it is as if you never received it. To be effective, the gift of salvation must be accepted, it must be signed for and opened and used. We do that by wanting to be forgiven, asking for forgiveness, and then sincerely accepting it.

      Or to state it another way, after we have gotten in a fight with a loved one, it is necessary to reconcile in order to repair the relationship. The one who has done wrong must say, “I’m sorry.” And then he must accept the forgiveness which is offered — offered not because the wrongdoer has a right to forgiveness, but entirely as a charitable gift.

      But this seeking and accepting forgiveness, while necessary, are not themselves the cause of forgiveness or redemption or salvation. We do not earn it by these acts, we do not entitle ourselves to it, we do not make ourselves God’s creditor by these acts. He owes us nothing.

      We do it because we are the ones who did wrong. That is, because we are the ones who, by our actions, turned against He who is Life itself. By our turning against Life, we necessarily choose death (morte in Latin, from which we get the word “mortal,” as in “mortal sin”). If we have chosen death by our mortal (death-causing) sin, we must turn back toward Life, but our turning is not the Life itself. God is that Life, not us or our actions.

      Or to state it another way, in the form of a question —

      Do you know “where” heaven is Martin? Do you know which “direction” it is in? And do you have the faintest idea how to do anything, how to take any actions, after you are dead, how to make your spirit do this or do that?

      You don’t? I don’t either. None of us do. Only God knows “where” heaven is. The ONLY way that any of us gets there is if HE takes us there.

  17. I find it fascinating that John 3:5 (“baptized by water and the Spirit”) is so often interpreted to mean “water baptism.” The whole passage is about Jesus explaining to Nicodemus that “You must be born again,” and Nicodemus is asking, “How? I can’t climb back into my mother’s womb and be born again.”

    Is not the water referred to here the amniotic fluid of physical birth?

    John 3 says: Jesus answered, “What I’m about to tell you is true. No one can enter God’s kingdom without being born through water and the Holy Spirit. 6 People give birth to people. But the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised when I say, ‘You must all be born again.’

    It seems obvious to me that Jesus is pointing out that people give birth to people in a physical sense. This is the “water” part. But it is the Spirit who gives birth to spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who makes a person, young or old, a born-again part of God’s Church.

    1. That statement kinda makes the Ministry of John the Baptist and the Baptism of our Lord redundant. But we know God does nothing without a purpose so perhaps that physical dunking represents a grace that is provided to us. Since we are not solely spiritual beings we require the physical signs of grace in order to completely receive it. Hence the sacraments.

  18. Monsignor, you offer some beautiful thoughts on infant baptism. Thank you! You write at one point, “I hope you see the supreme irony of this in the fact that the Protestants, who so emphasize that salvation does not come from works, delay baptism on the grounds that the infant has not achieved (i.e. worked up to) the proper level of maturity.” As a Protestant who is being drawn ever closer to Rome, I would point out that many Protestant churches would still not see this as a matter of works, for they deny that anything efficacious is happening with baptism. It is a mere symbol, not unlike pledging allegiance to the flag, something that Christians have always done and therefore still do as a symbol of unity. In and of itself, however, baptism is seen to effect nothing, hence the avoidance of a works righteousness.

    1. Nicodemus is instructed about being born again of water and the holy Spirit, and the water is part of being born again, not the first birth. The whole dialogue is introductory to the disciples going forth to baptize (v.22).

  19. Msgr. Pope, I hope that many priests will read your post today! I think baptizing infants as soon as possible is important and necessary.

    But I respectfully suggest that norms in many parts of the country are set up to *discourage* speedy baptisms. At one parish here in Texas which I attended for many years, I kept seeing the baptisms of babies who were 6 months to a year old, and wondered why. It turns out that:
    –parents must attend a parish pre-baptism class together WITHOUT their infant or any other children;
    –parents cannot schedule the class or attend it until AFTER the baby is born;
    –the class is normally only held once a month, but not during Lent as there are no Lenten baptisms permitted;
    –the baptism cannot be scheduled until AFTER the parents have completed the class (and it sometimes takes a month or more after the class to get baby on the parish baptism calendar).

    So, if a mother is exclusively nursing her baby and can’t leave him or her for the few hours it takes to attend the class until the baby has reached a certain age, or if the parents have many children and must arrange for a sitter who is comfortable both with a newborn and several other children (in other words, not the neighborhood teen-age sitter), or if the child is born two weeks after this month’s class but next month’s is already full and the month after that is Lent…it very quickly becomes impossible for the baby to be baptized before he or she is at least six months old, and not all that easy to do it then!

    If priests would really like to see infants baptized within a month or six weeks after birth, then whatever norms are required for parental catechesis should be adjusted to reflect this desire. Perhaps a test could be administered, and parents who show a decent grasp of understanding of the sacrament of baptism could be excused from having to attend a class, or something.

  20. Msgr.,
    I’ve heard several eastern rite friends of mine argue that if the Child receives Baptism that there is nothing interferring with his entering into the fullness of Catholic Life by also receiving Communion and Confirmation at the same time. Do you have any insights as to why the Roman Rite therefore practices the reception of Communion and Confirmation at a later age? Perhaps this is subject matter for a future blog post?

  21. Erin Manning nails it on the head. To add to her statement, you have to go for a refresher course if it has been more than two years (that was how it was with my children), thus making it more of a burden on larger families. If you are a formed Catholic, the classes were a waste of time. Classes preparing for sacraments are Catholic lite and family unfriendly as the emphasis now is more on social activism versus the formation of the person in the faith. If parents and children are being formed correctly in the faith, the acts of charity would naturally follow as the fruit of the formation. The Church in America is being buried by its processes, not by its catechesis.

  22. I suggest that cultural considerations, as well as parish procedures and possible health issues, also have a role in delaying infant baptism.

    We had our first (so far!) child baptised at 4 weeks of age. And even this was a huge effort to get done in time. We attended the parental baptism class before his birth, and had to request a tentative baptism date. Our parish required the parents and child to attend a special “intention to dedicate the child to baptism” moment at least a week before the baptism. This was held during a Sunday Mass, and parents with children who would be baptised in the near future had to stand at the front of the church and declare the intention, the congregation would respond with a small speech welcoming this and praying for the family. (This would occur between the prayers of the faithful and the first collection.) It’s a nice gesture, but it does mean *at least* a week’s delay between birth and baptism, assuming a child is born on Saturday or Sunday, attends that Sunday Mass where the parents declare their intention, and is baptised the following Sunday!

    As we had an estimated due date, but there’s really a 4 week window for “normal timing” – 2 weeks prior and 2 weeks after the “due date”, we requested baptism 4 weeks after the due date. This gave us the 2 week window if the baby came “late”, then the next Sunday for the “intention” procedure, then the Sunday after for the actual baptism.

    That was the parish’s contribution to delaying baptism. Now for the cultural consideration:

    It’s considered bad form to send invitation for a baptism before the child is born (I guess in case there is a problem and the child does not survive birth, although I’m not sure.) So, after our child was born, I then had the task of sending invitations, collecting replies, working out how many people were coming, and organising refreshments for them. This was a difficult task in the tiring weeks post-birth, but the family pressure was enormous. I come from an Italian background and struggled mightily with “problems” such as the fact we didn’t want to turn this into a big, expensive production of a party. Obviously, the reception of our child into the Church, and a celebration of the grace he’d received is important to us. But we are poor, and couldn’t afford to book a restaurant, or have a sit-down meal catered, or to hire a hall. We tried to keep it simple. I endured days of pressure to hire food warmers, buy food, and statements that my grandparents would be upset with a more “casual” affair. I went to some trouble to get special permission from our parish priest to use the hall (which is not usually given for non-church events, due to possible insurance/liability issues.) I made two home made soups to have in urns, we had tea and coffee set up with a hot water urn, I made quiches and dips and arranged fruit and crackers, my mother made sandwiches and purchased some Subway platters. My sister-in-law made cookies. We purchased a baptism cake from a family friend at almost cost price. It turned out there was plenty of food (we had leftover for 4 days.) But the pressure and difficulty of organising a culturally “mandatory” party was extreme, in just 4 weeks post-birth.

    As to the health concerns, that affected the difficulty of those weeks of preparation. I ended up having to have an emergency c-section, which took a good 6 weeks to recover from. I had to stay 6 days in hospital and after going home had a generally slow recovery, complicated by a mild infection of the wound.
    That wouldn’t have been such a problem if we’d known we could organise a private baptism without having to stick to parish schedules. But even then, a “private” baptism would only have been welcomed by my parents and family had it been accompanied by an “acceptable” party/celebration to which all our family and friends were invited.

    As it was, at 4 weeks of age, our baby was clearly the youngest by far to be baptised that day!

  23. I second the suggestion that a test be administered to see if the parents need to attend the ‘class.’ My husband and I both attended Catholic elementary and high school in the ADW that did a wonderful job of catechizing us in the faith. Also, we were both active in our youth group throughout high school, campus ministry in college, and became parishioners of the parish we both grew up in following our marriage. I am also a religion teacher / campus minister at a high school in the ADW – I teach Baptism for goodness sake!

    Our first child was born in July. We were able to attend a class in early August and have him Baptized in mid-August. It was actually a little later than we would have liked, but it was the first time we could get the God-Parents in town (both live out of state currently).

    The class itself was a waste of time. it lasted 45 minutes. 15 minutes was spent on telling us that it was wonderful we wanted to have our child baptized, that the class wouldn’t take too long, and that we would need to contact the Pastor after the meeting to schedule the actual Baptism (which we had already done!). Then we spent 25 minutes hearing about Jesus’ commandment to go and baptize all peoples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The deacon leading the class emphasized over and over again that most people don’t know why we baptize and that this passage is the reason – no mention of original sin, Child of God, gift of faith. 25 minutes on the fact that Jesus told us to baptize people. And we’re not talking about references the Church Fathers or a group of people who are coming from a denomination that doesn’t baptism infants or anything. The other couple present had to attend the class because their first child was baptized in Africa and they couldn’t verify that they had attended a class the first time. I go more into depth on this with the freshmen I teach in religion class! Then the final 5 minutes were spent telling us books that every good Catholic family should have in their home – the Catechism and a book on the Saints. Yes, no mention of Scripture itself!

    We never went over the actual Rite of Baptism, what we were to say, the role of God-Parents. Nothing practical at all! Thank goodness I have young cousins, so I remember their Baptisms not too long ago and knew the form of the Rite (along with teaching it of course), but my husband hadn’t been to a Baptism in years! Wouldn’t it have been helpful to go over the Profession of Faith we are all asked to make? To review what exactly we were promising in having him Baptized? What about the symbolism of the white garment or the Baptismal candle (and the fact that it is lit from the Easter candle!?

    I understand that there must be standards and procedures to follow given that our parish has some 1300 families all with different situations, backgrounds, catechesis, etc. However, if you are going to mandate a class regardless of these facts at least make it a good class!

    1. I agree with everything you said. Some parents and godparents do not need these classes.

  24. Given the difficulties that so many have expressed in getting into the baptism classes, might I suggest that everyone here volunteer to be catechists at their parishes. If there were more people teaching the classes — and going into much greater depth than that described by Katie — our fellow Catholics would benefit greatly.

    When Jesus said to go and baptize all the nations, He wasn’t speaking only of priests — He means ALL of us should help Him in this work of salvation.

    So, go out and learn yourself what is necessary to know about Baptism, and then go volunteer to be a catechist.

    1. Good try, Bender. However, there are other ways to learn about baptism, like reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church or other fine writings.

      Yes, all of us should help our Lord in the mission of salvation, but only according to one’s gifts. Not ALL are called or gifted by the Spirit as teachers of the faith. Also, in my diocese everyone has to be certified to catechize and that requires attendance at many hours of adult formation classes.

  25. Monsignor, we just had this debate in our diocesis.

    A well intentioned parishioner stood up and asked if so many children are left uneducated and uncared for, why not delay baptism? But, wouldn’t this be giving up the battle on our part? If parents are not willing or unable to care for the spiritual health of their children, are we to give up as well? Or should we rather focus the debate over how we can retain all these people who are baptised. Supposing a mother did not keep her children healthy, does that mean she should not recieve vaccination?

    And certainly the priest cannot recruit all of these people alone, and neither was he meant to work alone in evangelization. A practical plan would be to keep track of a list of all the people baptized, and perhaps establish a little group of laity who will make the effort to seek these people out and support them in small but significant gestures of good will.

    Certainly this was the cae in our Hungarian church where at least three families left for the protestant denominations because they had bible class in their own language. It was the laity who was charged to bring these people back, and they did come back, so that we have at least 15 new children in our parish every Sunday.

    Thank you Monsignor for your consideration.

  26. Msgr. Pope,

    Coincidentally yesterday I celebrated the 64th anniversary of my own baptism, which was conferred when I was exactly three weeks of age.

    About 30 years ago my daughter was baptized in a Catholic hospital by the Catholic priest chaplain within a day of her birth because she was in critical condition and had to be transferred to a larger facility. The chaplain said that once she was stable she should have the solemn baptism in our parish. I didn’t rush into the solemn baptism because I felt confident she had all the graces of baptism. Nevertheless, when she was a year old, we had the solemn baptism and a family celebration.

    The sacrament of baptism may be conferred by a lay person or any person when there is danger of death. As children in Catholic school we actually practiced doing that so we would know how.

    I know of several women whose own adult children would not baptize these women’s grandchildren. So, they took it upon themselves to secretly baptize their grandchildren when they had the opportunity. Am I correct to presume that such baptisms would be valid? Of course there would be no written record.

  27. Is it not the case that the purpose of baptism is to rid the child of original sin? If that is correct then only the spiritual welfare of the child is what matters and not the parents or any other relatives particular state of grace.
    In the past children were baptised quickly because of the danger of the child not surviving. My own mother who had eleven children ,all of whom survived, always came to the hospital whenever one of our nine was born to check them out and get them ‘launched’ long before we brought the baby home . Needless to say we always had the full baptism in church a week or so later; arguably though this was unnecessary but it gave our whole tribe of relatives and friends the chance to welcome their new brother or sister into the church. I was always really happy that my mother took such great care for her grandchildren and it showed how much she loved all her children.

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