Skip to comments.How Soon Should a Baby be Baptized?
Posted on 10/01/2009 6:29:50 AM PDT by NYer
Q: Our new next-door neighbors have a 14-month-old daughter. Theyre Catholics, but I just found out that they still havent had their daughter baptized yet! When our own children were born over 30 years ago, we had them baptized when they were just a couple of weeks old. Arent you required to have your children baptized quickly like that any more? Frances
A: The Churchs teaching on the necessity of baptism for salvation has not changed. Christ Himself, after His Resurrection, couldnt have spoken more clearly about the need for baptism, when He commanded the Apostles to go forth and baptize all nations (Matt. 28: 19-20). As the Catechism teaches, through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God (CCC 1213 ). It is only logical that Catholic parents should want to have their newborn children baptized as soon as possible, to free them from original sin and make them members of the Church.
As we have seen in this space so many times before, canon law follows theology. So it isnt at all surprising to find that canon 867.1 states that parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks after birth. And the very next paragraph, canon 867.2 , adds that if the child is in danger of death, he is to be baptized immediately.
Thus it should be clear that waiting for months, or even years, to have ones child baptized is not only not in keeping with the Churchs theological teaching, it is also contrary to canon law. It is difficult to imagine a legitimate reason why Catholic parents, who truly believe in basic tenets of our faith like original sin and Gods grace, would fail to arrange for their children to be baptized as soon as possible.
Ironically, it may be that the wonderful medical advances of the last several decades have inadvertently led many Catholic parents to lose the traditional sense of urgency about having their newborn children baptized. For centuries, the Churchs teaching about the importance of baptism for salvation dovetailed neatly with the fear of many parents that their newborn might not live very long, and so both supernatural and natural reasons tended to push parents to have their children baptized as quickly as they could. If you have ever read the biography of a medieval saint, or if done genealogical research on your own family members in centuries past, you might very well have come across an instance where someone was baptized the day after his birth, or even sooner. In fact, it isnt necessary to dig so far back in the historical past to find examples of this: in 1927, Pope Benedict XVI himself was baptized the same day that he was born.
This practice was, of course, logically consistent with Catholic doctrine. Given the extraordinarily high rates of infant mortality in generations past, and the fear that an infant might die before original sin had been wiped from his soul, what Catholic parent wouldnt rush a newborn child to the parish church for baptism as soon as possible?
While there still is always some risk that a child may not survive, nowadays the fear that a newborn infant might not make it is hardly so great as before, especially here in the US. At the same time, baptisms have become big family/social events, when relatives fly into town and there is often a big family get-together after the ceremony. Of course there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this; in fact, we do well to maintain our awareness of the importance of such an event by celebrating the occasion. But unfortunately, the desire to have all the family present at a childs baptism can naturally lead to postponing the sacrament until everyone is able to make it. While parents are waiting for this or that relative to have a free weekend to travel, their new baby remains in original sin.
There are other factors which now sometimes lead parents to put off having their new child baptized. As we saw back in the June 21, 2007 column , it is standard practice these days in the US for parishes to require parents to attend an evening class (or series of classes) before their child is baptized. This is designed to ensure that the parents truly intend to raise their child in the Catholic faithan intention that must be present if the priest is to agree to perform the baptism (c. 868.1 n. 2 ). Occasionally I have heard parents complain that they cant have their new baby baptized until they attend this class, and that in their parish, the class is held only once a month. But in every single case, I have found that these complaining parents had made no effort whatsoever to inquire about the requirements for their infants baptism ahead of time. Since parents obviously are aware for months in advance that they will be having a baby, it is difficult to understand their failure to do this. Why not arrange to attend the class a month or two before the childs expected birth-date, so that it will be possible to have the baptism soon afterwards?
Many parishes do an excellent job of publicizing the need for all parents to attend the baptism class, and class dates are announced well in advance. Others could probably do a better job of instructing their parishioners about the obligation of all parents to have their children baptized soon after birth. I have personally seen a disturbing pattern in many Catholic Hispanic communities, where children are routinely baptized when they are apparently two or three years old, if not older! If their parents had fallen away from the faith, and just recently returned to the Church, this of course would be an entirely understandable explanation for the delay. But if these families are regularly practicing Catholics, it appears that the pastor and parish catechists would do well to remind parents more forcefully and more often that by delaying their childs baptism, they are leaving that child in original sin. If, God forbid, tragedy strikes and such a child suddenly dies, he leaves this world without the sacramental graces gained from baptismand by his parents choice.
Another, more abstract factor that may cause some new parents to wrongly conclude that there is no need to rush to baptize their child, is the fallout from the fairly recent theological statement from the Vatican concerning Limbo . In 2007, many media outlets wrongly declared that Pope Benedict XVI had done away with Limbo. Even the most sincere journalist could perhaps be forgiven for being confused about what the statement actually meant! In its 2000-year existence, the Catholic Church has never made a definitive, authoritative statement explaining exactly what happens to infants who died before being baptized. Since they themselves are completely innocent, it seems absurd to conclude that God damns them to hell; although no less a theologian than St. Augustine really did reach this conclusion 1600 years ago, it was, understandably, not a position subsequently embraced officially by the entire Church. At the same time, the Church teaches that baptism is necessary to enter Heaven, since we must first be wiped clean of original sin and made children of God before we can be with Him there. It is thus a quandary with which theologians long have had to grapple, and the conclusion that there must be some third place (dubbed Limbo) was reached as a result. In Limbo, they said, the souls of unbaptized children enjoy some degree of happiness, but they are deprived of the Beatific Vision of God because they are still in original sin. This is not a teaching that can be found anywhere in revelation; rather, it is a logical conclusion of the Churchs teaching on baptism.
In the mid-2000s, the International Theological Commission (ITC)a team of theologians chosen from all over the world by the Pope to serve together as a joint committee of expertswas tasked with studying the issue of what happens to infants who die without the grace of baptism. The issue was not merely a theoretical, academic one: questions have been raised repeatedly about the fate of those millions upon millions of children who are killed by abortion. And what about those embryos which are created through in-vitro fertilization, and later discarded in the lab as superfluous? The Church needed to examine the issue more closely.
In their reportwhich was approved by the Popethe ITC provided no magic answer to this difficult theological question. It reiterated traditional Catholic teaching when it asserted that the necessity of the sacrament of Baptism is proclaimed and professed as integral to the Christian faith understanding (66 ), and it did a beautiful job of tracing the historical development of the belief in Limbo, the existence of which is not a dogmatic definition (38 ). The ITC emphasized that there is no need for such a place necessarily to exist at all, since God can therefore give the grace of Baptism without the sacrament being conferred (82 ) if He so wishes. In other words, God is not bound by the sacraments; He can, if He so wishes, freely allow the soul of an unbaptized infant into His presence in Heaven. Thus the ITC stressed the need for hope and trust in the mercy of God, since the point of departure for considering the destiny of these children should be the salvific will of God (41 ).
This report could too easily be misinterpreted as saying that there is no need to baptize our children, since God will allow them into Heaven anyway. But the report definitely does not exonerate parents whose children die without baptism, when the parents have not made an effort to have the baby baptized promptly. Thus it cannot be used as an excuse for failing to have a newborn infant baptized as quickly as the parents reasonably can.
True, there are tragic situations where a newborn dies unexpectedly in the first few hours or days of his birth; if the parents had been planning to have him baptized soon, it is certainly difficult to fault them for not being fast enough! But it is a very different matter when a child of several months, or even years, dies without having been baptized, solely through the negligence of his parents. New parents need to keep in mindand to be remindedof the incredible spiritual responsibility they bear toward their newborn children, who must depend on their parents to ensure that they are relieved of the burden of original sin so that they may someday see God face to face.
It never ceases to amaze me how many parents wait such a long time, even years! Last year, I attended the Baptism of two sisters, aged 10 and 12, whose parents had decided to leave the decision up to the kids. They brought the girls to classes all throughout the year. They made their First Penance and First Communion and then they were gone. The parents felt they had fulfilled their obligation. The girls are too young to drive themselves to Church on Sunday. It is simply heartbreaking, especially after seeing the joy on their faces when they celebrated the sacraments.
When was the thief on the cross baptized?
not being catholic, i won’t attack your beliefs. but as i was raised to believe, the decision should be that of the individual upon reaching an age of accountability- the age when they are old enough to know what baptism means, the reasons, the symbolism, etc. and that baptism is a confirmation of your personal choice to accept Christ, not a requirement to gain access to heaven.
Isn’t Baptism a Sacrament that can be performed by anybody? I recall that discussion from the good Sisters and all the enthusiasm only 4th grade boys possess.
This is an issue in our Spanish-speaking congregation. One reason is that many of the families did not have regular access to a priest and parish before settling in our community. We've had baptisms of whole families of children, from infants to teenagers!
Our deacon has discussed the problem in his homilies, encouraging everyone to have Baptisms held promptly. He does instruction after Mass on the second Sunday each month, and does baptisms after Mass on the last Sunday each month.
The thief on the cross, sometimes referred to as “Dismas”, was possibly Jewish, therefore he held to the Old Covenant and was circumscised at 8 days old. However, his true belief in Jesus came to light when he asked to be remembered when Jesus entered his kingdom. This faith alone was enough at that time to ensure his salvation.
Yes. A Baptism performed in the correct way, with clean water and the words, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," is valid no matter who does it.
It’s not the parents’ decision. The “child” decides when he wants to be baptized following his salvation. Baptism is a profession the church, community, etc., of one’s acceptance of Christ as personal Savior. Since a baby cannot accept Christ, he shouldn’t be baptized. It doesn’t get someone closer to Heaven.
In the Bible, a baby is NEVER baptized. Baptism occurred only after a person’s salvation. When in doubt, people should read the Bible and give it the same respect for accuracy that they give the Constitution. We don’t like it when people “make up stuff” that’s not Constitutional. Why is it OK to make up stuff that’s not Biblical?
I believe that when a baby or mentally retarded person dies he goes to Heaven since he did not have a capacity to make a decision for or against salvation. (Others believe they don’t go to Heaven.)
On the cross ... baptism of desire.
Where is that in the Bible?
Well, I would not be judgmental on their decision. Many factors could be involved in their decision that you are unaware of.
My first two were christened before 3 months, but my last child was just about 14 months old when I had her christened. There were many things that put off the christening, and there were also many that judged me for it.
Makes you kind of wonder why god fearing people would judge you on the decisions you make or have to make due to problems beyond your control. I thought that judgement was left for only 1, but hey that’s my belief!
She should be Baptized before doing a photo shot with Roman Polanski.
Clean water? So if the ocean is full of bacteria it doesn’t take?
That is ONLY in case of emergency.
In the Latin Rite Catholic Church, the ordinary minister of baptism is a bishop, priest or deacon (canon 861 §1 of the Code of Canon Law), but in normal circumstances, only the Parish Priest of the person to be baptized, or someone authorized by the Parish Priest may do so licitly (canon 530). “If the ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or some other person deputed to this office by the local Ordinary, may lawfully confer baptism; indeed, in a case of necessity, any person who has the requisite intention may do so (canon 861 §2).
By “a case of necessity” is principally meant imminent danger of death because of either illness or an external threat. “The requisite intention” is, at the minimum level, the intention “to do what the Church does” through the rite of baptism.
Please read Col. 2:11-12, wherein Paul uses circumcision as a parallel to baptism. Since circumcision was only performed on infants, and rarely on adults, it stands to reason that he would not have used that parallel if he intended to exclude infants from baptism.
Also John 3:5. Jesus states that no one can enter his kingdom unless he is born again of the water and the Holy Spirit.
Every instance of Baptism that is described in the New Covenant period follows salvation. This is demonstrated in various ways (the convert heard the gospel and believed, the convert repented, they confessed their belief, etc), but there is not one instance of a baptism occuring before conversion, and not one instance where a child is mentioned as being baptized.
My opinion is that, unless your child is old enough to understand what the gospel message is and confess their belief, they are not old enough to be baptized.
Sometimes, there’s only ONE class a month for the parents that is a PREREQUISITE to Baptism in many dioceses/parishes.
They want to make sure the parents understand what they are doing.
NOT DEFENDING - Having moved from Texas to New York, I’m amazed at what New York Catholics put up with after feeling that the Diocese of Dallas was a little overbearing 6 years ago. Now, Dallas has a Bishop from the Northeast... I’m all for the liturgical practices, but the “jump thru this hoop” is nuts!
When they can make a decision about Christ themselves.
Circumcision and baptism are similar because they are both outward seals of their respective covenants. The Old Covenant was based on the nation of Israel. If you were born into that nation, you were therefore expected to be circumcized as a sign that you were bound by the covenant.
The New Covenant is not based on your ancestry, but based on belief. Baptizing an unbeliever would be pointless, for without belief the baptism symbolizes nothing. I don’t think infants or small children can really grasp what is required of them for belief.
Based on biblical example, baptism should follow as soon as possible after conversion. Minutes, or perhaps hours, would be a normal time line.
IIRC there were several Biblical references to whole families being baptized - with no exclusions over age. While this does not guarantee infants were included, there is nothing to indicate infants were excluded. It was the association with the believing parent that warranted family-member baptism, not just individual faith.
Baptism is a choice; babies can’t make that choice.
Once a child has reached the age they are mature enough to make that choice, then the child should ask to be baptized. However, that age is dependent on the child.
I’m not sure that argument has enough validity. Circumcision was an outward sign of being bound by a Covenant with God, not just to show that you were an Israelite. The baby being circumcised did not have the capacity to understand the Covenant. What if later on he rejected God?
Infant baptism is an outward sign of a seal of the New Covenant. Certainly that infant may grow up and reject God as well. In the Acts of the Apostles you find stories of entire households being baptised. Those households almost certainly contained infants, or toddlers. Nowhere in the bible does it say (paraphrase) “And we baptised entire households, except the infants, because they were incapable of making their own choice.”
How do you know the thief on the cross WASN’T baptized?
The phrase in the catechism is "ordinarily necessary". Instances of salvation without baptism are envisioned.
I guess that whole “households were baptized” thing in the bible was only for those of the “age of accountability”. Babies and small children must have been exempt.
There is no infant baptism, a person is baptized when they realise the message of Christ is valid and they surrender thier life to him. If sprinkling water on a baby was a magical entry into heaven by sheer works then Christ died for nothing ...
If you are going to be consistent and rely on scripture alone, where does it say in the Bible that babies cannot be baptized. Hint - it doesn’t.
As someone in my 70’s I remember we had our kids baptized before they were one year old..usually first few months. But today it has changed and they now seem to have “baby dedication” day where parents take their babies to church for a ceremony of dedication to bringing up the child in the faith of the church. When I asked my granddaughter about the baby getting baptized she said they now believe it is left up to the child once they are old enough to make a decision. She likes the idea of baby dedication day as it is a statement of their faith and the need for their kids to be raised as Christians etc. It is a day of celebration for all of us as they make their commitment for their children. Our first great-grandchild is now 10 months and her dedication day is next month.
"Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:14-15>
Such was the case with Martin Luther, born November 10, 1483, baptized the next day, November 11 (the festival day for St. Martin of Tours, hence Luther's Christian name).
My daughter was born on a Sunday afternoon. On the first Sunday morning of her life, then--i.e., one week later--she was baptized.
Whatever, what a silly argument, the Bible doesn’t mention sticking olives in ones ears as means to salvatin either does it? Go head, sprinkle your babies, I was a Catholic for 30 years, then I heard the true gospel which was that salvation was by faith and not works, it was a real moment of conversion and sheer utter shock that I did not know the truth, Salvation was revealed to me by grace, all of my family, and wifes family are catholics, ask them if they are going to heaven they say “Yes” ask them why “Because I am a good person” is always the answer, this is true with almost every single catholic I meet, you can deny that all you want ...
The idea of baptizing a child comes from the belief that the baptism is what saves you. However, it is wrong to trust in your baptism as much as you trust in Christ Himself? If one believes that baptism saves them, they have moved too much of their trust to a symbol and away from the Savior, Jesus Christ.
It matters not what I or any other person thinks because it is what the Scriptures teach that is important. I believe in baptism and teach it as did Peter and the Apostles. Every one who trusts in Jesus Christ should be baptized. No one who truly trusts in Jesus will refuse biblical baptism. The biblical manner of baptism for the NT church (and the modern church) is by immersion in water with the name of Jesus Christ spoken over the believer. In Acts 2:38 Peter meant by, “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” that one is to “be baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ.” [A Translators Handbook on The Acts of the Apostles, UBS, 72, p. 60] The “name” stands for the person in which one has faith.
All of this being true, it is very important to realize that baptism is not something someone does. The verbs for “be baptized” and “you shall receive” are passive voice. This means that those to whom Peter spoke in Acts 2 were to be acted upon. It was not something that they do to or of themselves. Baptism in this sense is not a work. They are to SUBMIT to baptism and they are to RECEIVE the Spirit, all as a result of their faith. Baptism is not saving. One is not justified through baptism. One is saved when they are justified. Justification comes at the point when Jesus is trusted in true faith. True faith is the confident trust that one is right with God through the gift of Jesus Christ as ones forgiveness and righteousness. This is a personal relationship between the believer and God. It is not merely a confession or mental acknowledgment. It is a profound assurance or confidence in Jesus. Since baptism come after this faith, baptism is not an act of obedience for salvation.
It is act of obedience to the God who has saved them, and that is something that can only be done by one who is mature enough to make that decision on their own, at what ever age that may be. However a baby does not have the ability to choose whom they will follow.
” Please read Col. 2:11-12, wherein Paul uses circumcision as a parallel to baptism. Since circumcision was only performed on infants...”
If circumcision is parallel to baptism, where does this place infant girls with baptism?
John 3:5 Jesus says no one can enter into the kingdom of God unless he is born again of the water and of the Holy Spirit.
He did not exclude children from that statement. What happens to the infant or young child who, God forbid, dies before being baptised at 8 or 12 years of age? Please re-read John 3:5 before answering.
There is also baptism of desire. Dismas truly believed and was granted salvation.
We thought ourselves lax to wait nearly three weeks to baptize our guys. But we had folks coming from out of town, and as a favor to them, we delayed the baptisms.
Right. And, similarly, it is the child's decision when to eat, sleep, obtain education, and do all the things that would ensure his well-being in the secular realm.
Parents are merely vessels of delivery and have no obligations whatsoever to care for their infants and children, in either their temporal or their spiritual helplessness.
I find people who put off having their child baptized are mostly guilty of ignorance. If they understood that by having their child receive the sacrament of Baptism as soon as possible, that child is spiritually reborn; giving this child's soul a new life of santifying grace by which he/she become children of God and heirs of heaven. This is so awesome - why would anyone wait?
Paul used circumcision as a “parallel”. Definition: having the same nature or tendency, analogous.
Just because he used the parallel does not mean he was excluding females. He was merely making a comparison between Old Covenant and New.
Whether baptized at childhood or adulthood is irrelevant. One has the ability to reject their faith once they become conscious of such issues.
How can having absolute faith in God saving babies at an infant baptism be seen as “works” but making a person “realize the message of Christ” and take that step to “surrender” themselves not be seen as a work? You make no sense to me. Whole households were baptized in the bible. Are you saying it’s not possible that babies or small children under the age of reason didn’t exist in these households?
The thief on the cross encountered Jesus face to face during His crucifixion. To give some acknowledgment that such a conversion is unusual wouldn't be unreasonable.
Then, of course, there are the rest of us.
He *said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:15-17
A person who rejects the Church's teaching isn't likely to follow it in this matter. But a Catholic is obligated to baptise the baby. It is a matter of spiritual care-taking.
It is the spiritual parallel to feeding, bathing, clothing, and loving the child. In fact, it is the expression of it.
Parents who don't see this are a bit more concerned about their own beliefs that either their child's or the Church's, and, frankly, they are either ignorant (for which charitable allowances can be made) or frighteningly self-centered.
Your argument is specious. The 12 year old child into devil worship, Goth and blasphemy would most like resist all attempts at baptism in any case.
And if that 12 year old is into those things, the parents carry the burden that they have not fruitfully provided a proper spiritual upbringing. However, prayful supplication could change that child’s behavior and open his heart.
St. Monica prayed unceasingly for her non-Christian husband and son - St. Augustine. Have you heard of him? Following his baptism he became a fiercely devoted Father of the Church.
In our situation, our second child was born, and dh had just started a job in another state. Every other weekend, he came home.
Seven months later, another job out of state. Training. Selling house, moving across the country. My father suffered a massive heart attack during the move. The next year was mostly about him, husband flying & hardly home. Again, packed up our apt., and moved into new home in PBC, FL.
This was 8-9 years ago, too, when it was being discovered that many Priests were sexually abusing minors in the Catholic Church. I was disgusted with what was happening even in my own Diocese.
That said, when I approached a Priest in PBC, I’d asked him about Baptizing my nearly 4 yo, and I was told I’d needed to attend classes. EVEN though, I’d done that with my firstborn, I was already a Godparent times 2, and I’d attended Catholic School & received every Sacrament available to me. The Priest was unsympathetic that dh was flying for an airline, in a Reserve unit in WPB, and working a third job as an instructor at My Gym to help pay our bills and continue to keep our older child attending Christian School.
The following year, we moved out of FL, and into the DFW area. The Priest at our nearest Catholic Church wouldn’t told us right away that he wouldn’t Baptize our then 6 yo. until we were Parishoners for at least 6 months. We needed to take classes, too. And to save our child from a group Baptism with tens of babies, my inquiry about having a Baptism performed privately was falling on deaf ears. Oh...plus both of our child’s Godparents were over 2k miles away. That too was an issue with the Priest.
SO, ffw to today. My child is now 11 and where am I to turn? I’ve been so disheartened with the RC Church over the past decade. My children have both attended only Christian Schools. Priests don’t appreciate that I’ve fallen away from what once was my anchor to the Lord. I’m tired of the hypocrisy.
Anyone here a Priest in the Dallas area, willing to work with us?