Baptism of Children

from the Rite of Baptism for Children (1969) by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship

Importance of Baptizing Children

1. The term “children” or “infants” refers to those who have not yet reached the age of discernment and therefore cannot profess personal faith.

2. From the earliest times, the Church, to which the mission of preaching the Gospel and of baptizing was entrusted, has baptized not only adults but children as well. Our Lord said: “Unless a man is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The Church has always understood these words to mean that children should not be deprived of baptism, because they are baptized in the faith of the Church, a faith proclaimed for them by their parents and godparents, who represent both the local Church and the whole society of saints and believers: “The whole Church is the mother of all and the mother of each.”

3. To fulfill the true meaning of the sacrament, children must later be formed in the faith in which they have been baptized. The foundation of this formation will be the sacrament itself that they have already received. Christian formation, which is their due, seeks to lead them gradually to learn God’s plan in Christ, so that they may ultimately accept for themselves the faith in which they have been baptized.

Ministries and Roles in the Celebration of Baptism

4. The people of God, that is, the Church, made present by the local community, has an important part to play in the baptism of both children and adults. Before and after the celebration of the sacrament, the child has a right to the love and help of the community. During the rite, in addition to the [other] ways of congregational participation…, the community exercises its duty when it expresses its assent together with the celebrant after the profession of faith by the parents and godparents. In this way it is clear that the faith in which the children are baptized is not the private possession of the individual family, but the common treasure of the whole Church of Christ.

5. Because of the natural relationship, parents have a ministry and a responsibility in the baptism of infants more important than those of the godparents.
     a. Before the celebration of the sacrament, it is of great importance that parents, moved by their own faith or with the help of friends or other members of the community, should prepare to take part in the rite with understanding. They should be provided with suitable means such as books, letters addressed to them, and catechisms designed for families. The pastor should make it his duty to visit them or see that they are visited; he should try to gather a group of families together and prepare them for the coming celebration by pastoral counsel and common prayer.
     b. It is very important that the parents be present at the celebration in which their child is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit.
     c. In the celebration of baptism, the father and mother have special parts to play. They listen to the words addressed to them by the celebrant, they join in prayer along with the congregation, and they exercise a genuine ministry: a. they publicly ask that the child be baptized; b. they sign their child with the sign of the cross after the celebrant; c. they renounce Satan and recite the profession of faith; d. they (and especially the mother) carry the child to the font; e. they hold the lighted candle; f. they are blessed with the prayers formulated specifically for mothers and fathers.
     d. A parent unable to make the profession of faith (for example, not being a Catholic) may keep silent. Such a parent, when making the request for the child’s baptism is asked only to make arrangements or at least give permission for the child’s instruction in the faith of its baptism.
     e. After baptism it is the responsibility of the parents, in their gratitude to God and in fidelity to the duty they have undertaken, to assist the child to know God, whose adopted child it has become, to prepare the child to receive confirmation and participate in the holy eucharist. In this duty they are again to be helped by the parish priest (pastor) by suitable means.

6. Each child may have a godfather (patrinus) and a godmother (matrina), the word “godparents” is used in the rite to describe both.

7. …[T]he following should be noted [about the ordinary minister of baptism]:
a. It is the duty of the priest to prepare families for the baptism of their children and to help them in the task of Christian formation that they have undertaken. It is the duty of the bishop to coordinate such pastoral efforts in the diocese, with the help also of deacons and lay people.
b. It is also the duty of the priest to arrange that baptism is always celebrated with proper dignity and, as far as possible, adapted to the circumstances and wishes of the families concerned. All who perform the rite of baptism should do so with exactness and reverence; they must also try to be understanding and friendly to all.

Time and Place for Baptism of Children

8. As for the time of baptism, the first consideration is the welfare of the child, that it may not be deprived of the benefit of the sacrament; then the health of the mother must be considered so that, if at all possible, she too may be present. Then, as long as they do not interfere with the greater good of the child, there are pastoral considerations, such as allowing sufficient time to prepare the parents and to plan the actual celebration in order to bring out its true character effectively. Accordingly:
     a. If the child is in danger of death, it is to be baptized without delay; this is permitted even when the parents are opposed and even when the infant is the child of non-Catholic parents….
     b. In other cases the parents, or at least one of them or whoever stands in the place of the parents, must consent to the baptism of the infant. So that proper preparation may be made for the celebration of the sacrament, as soon as possible, if need be even before the child is born, the parents should be in touch with the pastor concerning the baptism.
     c. An infant should be baptized within the first weeks after birth. In the complete absence of any well-founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion, the baptism is to be delayed, in conformity with the provisions of particular law…, and the parents are to be informed of the reasons.
     d. In the absence of the conditions laid down in nos. b and c, it is for the pastor, keeping in mind whatever regulations have been laid down by the conference of bishops, to determine the time for the baptism of infants.

9. To bring out the paschal character of baptism, it is recommended that the sacrament be celebrated during the Easter Vigil or on Sunday, when the Church commemorates the Lord’s resurrection. On Sunday, baptism may be celebrated even during Mass, so that the entire community may be present and the relationship between baptism and eucharist may be clearly seen; but this should not be done too often. Regulations for the celebration of baptism during the Easter Vigil or at Mass on Sunday will be set out later.

10. So that baptism may clearly appear as a sacrament of the Church’s faith and of incorporation into the people of God, it should normally be celebrated in the parish church, which must have a baptismal font.

11. After consulting the local pastor, the local Ordinary may permit or direct that a baptismal font be placed in another church or oratory within the parish boundaries. In these places, too, the right to celebrate baptism belongs ordinarily to the pastor. However, distance or other circumstances may make it seriously inconvenient for the candidate to go or be brought to the usual place for baptism. In such a case, the sacrament may and should be conferred in another, more accessible church or oratory, or even in some other suitable place. The provisions laid down here…on the time and structure of the celebration are to be followed.

12. Outside of necessity, baptism is not to be celebrated in private homes, unless the local Ordinary has, for a serious reason, granted permission.

13. Unless the bishop decides otherwise…, baptism should not be celebrated in hospitals, except in cases of emergency or some other compelling pastoral reason. But care should always be taken that the pastor is notified and that the parents are suitably prepared beforehand.

14. While the liturgy of the word is being celebrated, it is desirable that children should be taken to some other place. But provision must be made for the mothers or godmothers to attend the liturgy of the word; the children should therefore be entrusted to the care of other women.

Structure of the Rite of Baptizing Children

15. Baptism, whether for one child, or for several, or even for a larger number, should be celebrated by the ordinary minister and with the full rite when there is no immediate danger of death.

16. The rite begins with the reception of the children. This is to indicate the desire of the parents and godparents, as well as the intention of the Church, concerning the celebration of the sacrament of baptism. These purposes are expressed in action when the parents and the celebrant trace the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the children.

17. Then the liturgy of the word is directed toward stirring up the faith of the parents, godparents, and congregation and toward praying in common for the fruits of baptism before the sacrament itself. This part of the celebration consists of the reading of one or more passages from holy Scripture; a homily, followed by a period of silence; the general intercessions, with its concluding prayer, drawn up in the style of an exorcism, to introduce either the anointing with the oil of catechumens or the laying on of hands.

18. In the celebration of the sacrament:
a. The immediate preparation consists of:
     1. the solemn prayer of the celebrant, which, by invoking God and recalling his plan of salvation, blesses the water of baptism or makes reference to its earlier blessing;
     2. the renunciation of Satan on the part of parents and godparents and their profession of faith, to which is added the assent of the celebrant and the community; and the final interrogation of the parents and godparents.
b. The sacrament itself consists of the washing in water by way of immersion or infusion, depending on local custom, and the invocation of the blessed Trinity.
c. The completion of the sacrament consists, first, of the anointing with chrism, which signifies the royal priesthood of the baptized and enrollment into the company of the people of God; then of the ceremonies of the white garment, lighted candle, and ephphetha rite (the last of which is optional).

19. Before the altar to prefigure the future sharing in the eucharist, the celebrant introduces and all recite the Lord’s Prayer, in which God’s children pray to their Father in heaven. Finally, a prayer of blessing is said over the mothers, fathers, and all present, to ask the outpouring of God’s grace upon them.