Matter 
Form 
Intention 
Conditional 
Sponsor 
Minister 
Ceremonies 
Records 
Time 
Miscarriage 


When Not to Baptize

How a Lay Person Should Administer Baptism

Instruction by Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM Cap.


  
      Baptism is one of the 2 sacraments (the other being Matrimony) that can be done without a priest. In this present time, the availability of a priest is extremely rare, so we provide these instructions on how a lay person may administer the Sacrament of Baptism.

At the very start we shall quote a source of great value, Moral Theology - A Complete Course, based on St. Thomas Aquinas and the best modern authorities. The authors are Fathers Callan and McHugh. It is revised and enlarged by Fr. Farrell. The Imprimatur is dated August 8, 1948: 

The Sacrament of Baptism

      "Private Baptism is given in danger of death, or when an adult convert is re-baptized conditionally (Canon 759). It requires only true and natural water, though the water should be as clean and decent as possible, and baptismal or blessed water is preferable; generally the simple form without other rite suffices; sponsors are not necessary, unless they can be had without difficulty, but if possible at least one or two witnesses should be present; the Baptism may be given in the private home or the hospital or other place where the candidate is staying; anyone who has the use of reason and is able to perform the rite may act as minister. When several persons suitable to minister private Baptism are present, the order of preference to be followed is: priest, deacon, subdeacon, cleric, layman, woman; but a woman should be preferred to a man if modesty calls for this, or if the woman is better acquainted with the manner of baptizing. It is considered a serious sin needlessly to prefer a non-priest to a worthy priest, a non-Catholic to a Catholic, an outsider to the parish-priest. If possible, parents should not baptize their own children, since it is more becoming that the spiritual parent and the carnal parent be different persons."
The above clipping presumes a knowledge of the entire tract on baptism. I shall simplify that course of theology as well as I can on the Sacrament of Baptism. 

 
Matter

The matter for baptism is ordinary water. It may be river water, well water, tap water, distilled water and the like. Out of respect for the sacrament the water should be clean. If it is a little dirty it may be used in cases of necessity, that is, if there is no clean water available. It may be any temperature. 

 
Form

The form of the Sacrament of Baptism is (basic): "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Amen is not added, but if it is added by mistake the baptism is all right. If the person has a name, you may put it into the form as follows: (Example) "John, I baptize thee … (as above)." Remember this, the person who says the form must be the person who pours the water. Furthermore, the water must flow over the skin to show washing. One pouring is sufficient. However, it is good to pour three times, that is, when one says (1) "the Father" and (2) "the Son" and (3) "the Holy Ghost." If you says "Holy Spirit" that is all right too, for Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit mean the same thing. It is good to write out the form and read it while one pours the water. If possible, witnesses should watch and listen so that they can testify to the proper procedure if or when that is required. If there are no witnesses and there is urgency one should go ahead alone. 

 
Intention

Here we distinguish two intentions. There is an intention in some rites that make the sacrament invalid even when the proper form is used. I am speaking of the Novus Ordo baptisms. I dealt at length on that problem in another article on the valid-intention for Baptism. If you have to deal with a problem where there is a Novus Ordo baptism, do it over at least conditionally. I shall deal with conditional baptism in this article too. Secondly, we deal with the intention of the person who gives the sacrament. If the person who gives the sacrament (called the minister of the sacrament) has the wrong intention, the sacrament is invalid. For example, a minister of the sacrament may give the sacrament merely as a rite of initiation into some kind of Christian community. Even if the entire rite is correct, his intention vitiates the sacrament. 

The proper intention is this. The minister of the sacrament must intend to do what the Church (Catholic Church) does when it administers the sacrament. The Church intends to give the sacrament in such a way that original sin and personal sin are taken away, an indelible character is given on the soul and the person is made a member of the Catholic Church. Even if the minister does not know these things, he can still administer the sacrament if he has the proper matter, form and the intention to do what the Church does when it gives baptism according to the command of Christ. 

 
Conditional Baptism

If a former baptism is doubtful, e.g., a Novus Ordo baptism, then it must be done over to have it valid. Conditional baptism is also given when one is doubtful whether the person is dead or alive. As a practical solution, all Protestant baptism are done over conditionally. When a conditional baptism is given, here is the deal. If the person is baptized, nothing is done; if the person is not baptized, then it is given. Here is how conditional baptism is given: "If thou art not baptized (If thou art alive), I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." 

 
Sponsor

If a sponsor is had, that sponsor must be a true Catholic. This is not just a friendly gesture to a friend or relative. If there is no Catholic present or at a distance (represented by a proxy) then there will be no sponsor at all. 

 
Minister

The above article in Moral Theology tells us quite clearly who should be chosen as the minister of the sacrament. The most basic qualification is that the minister can and will perform the rite correctly. Never invite a non-Catholic minister unless there is no other way to get the rite performed. 

 
Supplied Ceremonies

If the person baptized continues to live, a priest can supply the ceremonies later on. He will not repeat the form, "I baptize thee … etc." He supplies the exorcism, gives the salt, and anointings and the like. 

 
Records

In today's situation, if you have a priest, the priest should issue a baptismal certificate, and keep all the records. The newly-baptized (or the parents in the case of a child) should provide the priest with the full name of the person baptized, the date and place of birth, the date and place of baptism, the father's name, the mother's maiden name, the minister of the baptism and the sponsors if there are any. Of course, the address of the person baptized must be included too. 

 
Time

In ordinary circumstances, baptism is given from a week to two weeks after birth. It is a practical issue that you let the priest know when the baby is due to be born. If the priest can make it to your home within two weeks of the birth, the priest will administer the sacrament as usual. If the priest cannot get there or if there is danger of death, just go ahead as instructed and directed in this article. 

 
Miscarriage

Anything that passes after conception, that appears to be the baby, is to be baptized absolutely if alive and conditionally if there is doubt that it is alive. The water (warm if possible) must run over the fetus as the form, "I baptize thee … (etc)." is said. 

 
When Not to Baptize

Unless there is imminent danger of death (just about ready to die) you are not to baptize an infant that will not be brought up in the Catholic Faith. Here we mean the Faith as we know it as true Catholics, that is, as taught and practiced from the founding of the Church by Christ. A non-Catholic (as a non-Catholic) cannot be saved. "Outside the Church there is no salvation." It is less terrible to go to hell without the indelible character of baptism than to go there with it. 


Our Journey Towards Heaven

My heart burns in loving concern for the eternal salvation of all those God permits me to help on the way to heaven. Never lose this valuable instruction and live by it. God will reward you. 


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