Circle of Prayer - The Sacrament of Baptism
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Baptism can be defined as:
  • A washing.
  • An affliction into which a man might be immersed, as he would into water (Mark 10 :38; Luke 12:50, "But I have a baptism to be baptized with").
  • An effusion of grace in which the soul is, as it were, immersed (Acts 1 :5, "baptized with the Holy Spirit").
  • The religious rite used by John the Baptist to symbolize the internal repentance of his followers as a preparation for the coming of the Messias. It disposed them to receive the sacrament of Baptism, instituted by Christ (Matt. 3 :7; Mark 1 :4).
  • The first of the seven sacraments. The essential rite is a pouring of water (immersion or aspersion would also be valid) on the person to be baptized, with at least the implicit intention of baptizing him, while saying the words, "1 baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This essential rite is now surrounded by many other ceremonies used by the Church to enhance its meaning for the faithful. The sacrament was instituted by Christ sometime before His Passion and Death, probably when He was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately before His Ascension Christ commanded His Apostles to baptize all nations (Matt. 28 :19). 
The chief effects of Baptism on the soul are the conferring of the sacramental character and the reception of grace (removing both original and actual sin). The character of Baptism conforms the soul to Christ by giving it a sharing in His priesthood; it designates the soul as that of a Christian and inserts it into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. The grace received in Baptism is as re-birth or regeneration of the soul (John 3 :5) and is vividly described by Saint Paul in Rom. 6:3-11. 

Ceremonies of Baptism

The essential ceremony of Baptism is the pouring of water on the head of the person to be baptized, while saying the words, "1 baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." However, to this essential rite, instituted by Christ, the Church has added other ceremonies, the sum of which form the baptismal rite. The Roman Ritual contains two forms of the baptismal rite, one for adults and one for infants. The rite for adults is longer and more significant than the rite for infants. However, since it is so long, most bishops have authorized their priests to use in the Baptism of adults the ceremonies prescribed in the ritual for infants, which includes exorcisms, the placing of salt (symbol of purification and preservation) in the candidate's mouth, anointing with oil and with chrism, a profession of faith by the candidate, the pouring of the water, placing a white robe on the newly baptized, and handing him a lighted candle.

Necessity of Baptism.

According to the will of Christ, no one can be saved without the Sacrament of Baptism (John 3:5). For unbaptized adults there are two substitutes tbat can supply some of the effects of the Sacrament of Baptism, if through no fault of his own an adult does not receive the Sacrament of Baptism. Infants and others who do not have the use of reason cannot, without the Sacrament of Baptism, receive sanctifyirig grace and, therefore, if they die, cannot enter heaven. Unbaptized infants who die, although they cannot enjoy the vision of God and will not be in heaven, are not condemned to the pains of hell. They will be in a state of natural happiness which is known as limbo. This belief has been challenged by many and remains a mystery as to its veracity.

Three Types of Baptism

Although there is only one Sacrament of Baptism, there are two substitutes for it, which, in certain cases, can supply some (not all) of the effects of the Sacrament. The two substitutes are also called Baptism, although they are not sacraments and do not have all the effects that the Sacrament has. 

Thus, there are three kinds of Baptism: 

  • Baptism of Water, which alone is a sacrament
  • Baptism of Desire
  • Baptism of Blood. 
Baptism of Desire is an act of perfect love of God made by one not yet baptized. Such an act includes perfect sorrow for all sins committed and the intention of doing all that God wishes (including, at least implicitly, receiving the Sacrament of Baptism). Through such an act, original sin and all serious actual sins are removed and sanctifying grace is infused into the soul. However, the sacramental character is not received, and the person with Baptism of Desire does not become a member of the Church, and does not have a right to receive the other sacraments. 

Baptism of Blood is the act of martyrdom of an unbaptized person. Martyrdom is willingly undergoing death, which is inflicted out of hatred for Christ or His teaching. Martyrdom not only removes original and actual sins (if the sinner has perfect or imperfect contrition for them), but it also remits all temporal punishment due to sin. But Baptism of Blood is not a sacrament.

Baptismal Name

A saint's name is genarallygiven to a person at the time of Baptism. The right to choose the baptismal name belongs first to the parents. If they do not select a name, the right passes to the sponsors. It is the duty of the pastor to see that a Christian name is chosen and that "obscene, fabulous, or ridiculous names" and "names of vain deities or of impious pagans" be avoided. If parents refuse to give a child a saint's name, the pastor adds the name of a saint to that chosen by the parents. There is no Church law against a person changing the name given him in Baptism. 

The following extracts are taken from the Catholic Church Code of Canon Law on Baptism:

Baptism, the gateway to the sacraments, is necessary for salvation, either by actual reception or at least by desire. By it people are freed from sins, are born again as children of God and, made like to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church. It is validly conferred only by a washing in real water with the proper form of words.


Baptism is administered according to the rite prescribed in the approved liturgical books, except in a case of urgent necessity when only those elements which are required for the validity of the sacrament must be observed. 

The celebration of baptism should be properly prepared. Accordingly: 

  • an adult who intends to receive baptism is to be admitted to the catechumenate and, as far as possible, brought through the various stages to sacramental initiation, in accordance with the rite of initiation as adapted by the Episcopal Conference and with the particular norms issued by it; 
  • the parents of a child who is to be baptized, and those who are to undertake the office of sponsors, are to be suitably instructed on the meaning of this sacrament and the obligations attaching to it. The parish priest is to see to it that either he or others duly prepare the parents, by means of pastoral advice and indeed by prayer together; a number of families might be brought together for this purpose and, where possible, each family visited. 
The provisions of the canons on adult baptism apply to all those who, being no longer infants, have reached the use of reason. 

One who is incapable of personal responsibility is regarded as an infant even in regard to baptism. 

Apart from a case of necessity, the water to be used in conferring baptism is to be blessed, in accordance with the provisions of the liturgical books. 

Baptism is to be conferred either by immersion or by pouring, in accordance with the provisions of the Episcopal Conference. 

Parents, sponsors and parish priests are to take care that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment. 

Though baptism may be celebrated on any day, it is recommended that normally it be celebrated on a Sunday or, if possible, on the vigil of Easter. 

Apart from a case of necessity, the proper place for baptism is a church or an oratory. 

As a rule and unless a just reason suggests otherwise, an adult is to be baptized in his or her proper parish church, and an infant in the proper parish church of the parents. 

Each parish church is to have a baptismal font, without prejudice to the same right already acquired by other churches. 

The local Ordinary, after consultation with the local parish priest, may for the convenience of the faithful permit or order that a baptismal font be placed also in another church or oratory within the parish. 

If, because of distance or other circumstances, the person to be baptized cannot without grave inconvenience go or be brought to the parish church or the oratory mentioned in can. 858 §2, baptism may and must be conferred in some other church or oratory which is nearer, or even in some other fitting place. 

Apart from a case of necessity, baptism is not to be conferred in private houses, unless the local Ordinary should for a grave reason permit it. 

Unless the diocesan Bishop has decreed otherwise, baptism is not to be conferred in hospital, except in a case of necessity or for some other pressing pastoral reason. 


The ordinary minister of baptism is a Bishop, a priest or a deacon, without prejudice to the provision of can. 530, n. 1. 

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. Pastors of souls, especially parish priests, are to be diligent in ensuring that Christ's faithful are taught the correct way to baptize. 

Except in a case of necessity, it is unlawful for anyone without due permission to confer baptism outside his own territory, not even upon his own subjects. 

The baptism of adults, at least of those who have completed their fourteenth year, is to be referred to the Bishop, so that he himself may confer it if he judges this appropriate. 


Every unapprised person, and only such a person, can be baptized. 

To be admitted to baptism, an adult must have manifested the intention to receive baptism, must be adequately instructed in the truths of the faith and in the duties of a Christian, and tested in the Christian life over the course of the catechumenate. The person must moreover be urged to have sorrow for personal sins. 

An adult in danger of death may be baptized if, with some knowledge of the principal truths of the faith, he or she has in some manner manifested the intention to receive baptism and promises to observe the requirements of the Christian religion. 

Unless there is a grave reason to the contrary, immediately after receiving baptism an adult is to be confirmed, to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist and to receive holy communion. 

Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized 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 baptized without any delay. 

For an infant to be baptized lawfully it is required: 

  • that the parents, or at least one of them, or the person who lawfully holds their place, give their consent; 
  • that there be a well­founded hope that the child will be brought up in the catholic religion. If such hope is truly lacking, the baptism is, in accordance with the provisions of particular law, to be deferred and the parents advised of the reason for this. 
  • An infant of catholic parents, indeed even of non-Catholic parents, may in danger of death be baptized even if the parents are opposed to it. 
If there is doubt as to whether a person was baptized or whether a baptism was conferred validly, and after serious enquiry this doubt persists, the person is to be baptized conditionally. 

Those baptized in a non-Catholic ecclesial community are not to be baptized conditionally unless there is a serious reason for doubting the validity of their baptism, on the ground of the matter or the form of words used in the baptism, or of the intention of the adult being baptized or of that of the baptizing minister. 

If in the cases mentioned in §1 and 2 a doubt remains about the conferring of the baptism or its validity, baptism is not to be conferred until the doctrine of the sacrament of baptism is explained to the person to be baptized, if that person is an adult. Moreover, the reasons for doubting the validity of the earlier baptism should be given to the person or, where an infant is concerned, to the parents. 

An abandoned infant or a foundling is to be baptized unless diligent enquiry establishes that it has already been baptized. 

Aborted fetuses, if they are alive, are to be baptized, in so far as this is possible. 


In so far as possible, a person being baptized is to be assigned a sponsor. In the case of an adult baptism, the sponsor's role is to assist the person in Christian initiation. In the case of an infant baptism, the role is together with the parents to present the child for baptism, and to help it to live a Christian life befitting the baptized and faithfully to fulfill the duties inherent in baptism. 

One sponsor, male or female, is sufficient; but there may be two, one of each sex. 

To be admitted to undertake the office of sponsor, a person must: 

  • be appointed by the candidate for baptism, or by the parents or whoever stands in their place, or failing these, by the parish priest or the minister; to be appointed the person must be suitable for this role and have the intention of fulfilling it;
  • be not less than sixteen years of age, unless a different age has been stipulated by the diocesan Bishop, or unless the parish priest or the minister considers that there is a just reason for an exception to be made;
  • be a catholic who has been confirmed and has received the blessed Eucharist, and who lives a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken;
  • not labor under a canonical penalty, whether imposed or declared;
  • not be either the father or the mother of the person to be baptized. 
A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community may be admitted only in company with a catholic sponsor, and then simply as a witness to the baptism. 


Whoever administers baptism is to take care that if there is not a sponsor present, there is at least one witness who can prove that the baptism was conferred. 

To prove that baptism has been conferred, if there is no conflict of interest, it is sufficient to have either one unexceptionable witness or, if the baptism was conferred upon an adult, the sworn testimony of the baptized person. 

The parish priest of the place in which the baptism was conferred must carefully and without delay record in the register of baptism the names of the baptized, the minister, the parents, the sponsors and, if there were such, the witnesses, and the place and date of baptism. He must also enter the date and place of birth. 

In the case of a child of an unmarried mother, the mother's name is to be entered if her maternity is publicly known or if, either in writing or before two witnesses, she freely asks that this be done. Similarly, the name of the father is to be entered, if his paternity is established either by some public document or by his own declaration in the presence of the parish priest and two witnesses. In all other cases, the name of the baptized person is to be registered, without any indication of the name of the father or of the parents. 

In the case of an adopted child, the names of the adopting parents are to be registered and, at least if this is done in the local civil registration, the names of the natural parents in accordance with §1 and 2 subject however to the rulings of the Episcopal Conference. 

If baptism was administered neither by the parish priest nor in his presence, the minister of baptism, whoever that was, must notify the parish priest of the parish in which the baptism was administered, so that he may register the baptism in accordance with can. 877 §1.

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