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
The Sacrament of Baptism
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
"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
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Not to Baptize
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.
Our Journey Towards Heaven