Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Why are Catholics baptized as infants?
This is a commonly asked question about Catholic baptisms in particular. The origin of infant baptisms goes back to the days of the Old Testament when God established his covenant with Abraham. Back in those days, male infants would enter covenant with God by being circumcised at just eight days old through their parents faith. St. Paul explains in the New Testament that circumcision is no longer needed since the coming of Christ and the institution of baptism. However, the practice of inviting infants into the Church through the faith of their parents still stands.
Just the same, St. Augustine recognizes infant baptism as a “tradition received from the apostles.” This can be seen in Acts 2:38-39 when Peter addresses the crowd, saying:
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
When Peter would baptize people in the New Testament, he would often baptize them as well as their entire household, which would include babies of the family. As Father Josh explains in one of his podcasts:
“God never denied children being involved in his covenant relationship.”
Baptism is never administered without faith, for it is the faith of the parents and of the Church who guide the infant in baptism. Even more so, given what we know of baptism being an essential part of gaining salvation, parents choose to baptize their son or daughter for the sake of their soul, not to impose any religious beliefs upon them. As LaBanca puts it:
“To consciously withhold that grace from my child, when I know it will remove original sin and incorporate my child into the Church, making him or her a son or daughter of God, would be to betray the very duties a parent has to the wellbeing of their child … Since we believe in that supernatural grace given to us by God in the sacraments, we certainly want our children to take part in these graces as well.”
For More Info: The Love and Logic Behind Baptizing Infants
Q. Why was Jesus baptized?
If the purpose of baptism is to eliminate original sin and grant us the graces necessary for salvation, why did Jesus need it? This question makes a lot of sense; Jesus, being God, is perfect and therefore did not need to be baptized to remove any sin or secure a spot in heaven. However, Jesus, in being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, gave us a model for our own baptisms. It wasn’t that Jesus needed to be baptized, it was that we needed to be.
Chris Mueller explains, “Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders,” plunging them into “the depths of the Jordan.” When Jesus was baptized, he rose from the water bearing our sins with him, and carried them to the Cross. Mueller goes on:
“Just as Jesus’ public life and mission began in the waters of the Jordan, our lives begin through repentance and baptism as well. We should never forget that Jesus lived his life, not as some unattainable goal, but as a template of how we are called to live.”
Jesus was baptized to take on our sins and to give us a model for our own baptisms, giving us the means to accept our spot in heaven.
For More Info on Why Christ Was Baptized:
Q: How are godparents chosen?
Fr. Mike Schmitz says:
“You don’t have to be perfect to be a godparent! All you have to do is do your best to love Jesus, to love the Church, and to love this child.”
These requirements mentioned by Fr. Mike imply that you are a practicing Catholic. A godparent also needs to be at least sixteen, baptized, and confirmed. Godparents are expected to help the parents raise the baptized child in the Faith, and therefore need to be practicing it themselves.
Q. Are there any exceptions?
You may be asking yourself, “Are there any exceptions to the graces received in baptism? Is one automatically bound for hell without them?” The Church recognizes that baptism is an essential element in the salvation of a soul, however, there are some extraordinary circumstances that could grant a soul salvation without having received baptism.
The two exceptions are these: martyrdom and an untimely death. For example, if someone dies for the Faith but never was baptized, their act of martyrdom can grant them the same graces one would receive in baptism. Likewise, if one is truly seeking to be baptized, but is unable to due to extreme circumstances (such as dying before they could receive the sacrament) those graces can be bestowed upon them as well. These two circumstances are often called baptism by blood and baptism by desire.
In the case of infants, there is a theory that infants who die before receiving the gift of baptism are placed in limbo, a place that lacks the beatific vision, but does not inflict any punishment on its residents. This theory has never entered dogmatic definitions, and the mention of limbo has yet to be seen within the Catechism of the Catholic Church, although limbo remains a possible theological hypothesis.
Q. Do I need to be Catholic to get my child baptized?
While you don’t need to be Catholic to get your baby baptized, due to the nature of the sacrament as an initiation into the Catholic Church, the parents or legal guardians of the infant must agree to raise the child in the Faith upon being baptized. If the parents refuse to raise their child in the Catholic Faith, in most circumstances the infant may not be baptized.
Now, there are certain scenarios where a baby can be baptized without their parents promising to raise them in the Catholic Faith. An example of this situation would be if the baby is in serious danger of death, and someone in the family wants to have the baby baptized in fear that the child will not reach heaven without it (since baptism is one of the four things needed for salvation), then the baby can be baptized even if the parents don’t agree to raise the child in the Catholic Faith. For this instance, the faith required for the baptism would be coming from the Church and whoever wants the baby to be baptized, and it becomes a direct concern for the salvation of the infant’s soul rather than the responsibility of the parents.
Q. How can I get my child baptized?
The short answer to this would be to go to your parish, or a church you trust, and meet with the priest. However, catholiccompany.com lays out four steps in getting your child baptized:
- Choose a Church: If you are already enrolled at a parish, you would most likely go there for your child’s baptism. However, if you are not yet enrolled in a parish, you’ll want to choose one in your area and schedule a baptism. The church you choose will probably have a set of classes for the parents and godparents to go through before the child is baptized. This is to help those involved better understand the sacrament, and to dive deeper into the meaning of what baptism really is.
- Set a Date: Talk with your parish about what dates are available to have your child baptized, keeping in mind that the prep classes will take some time. It is preferred to have a baptism on a Sunday, but many baptisms are performed on Saturdays as well.
- Ask the Godparents: Next step is to ask the godparents. It can be tricky business when choosing a godparent for your child, but ultimately, the godparents should be in communion with the Church, love your child, and be an active part in their Catholic upbringing. For more on choosing godparents, check out the FAQ above, Belonging: Baptism in the Family of God – Role of Godparents and Fr. Josh’s podcast on choosing godparents.
- Buy a Baptismal Gown: Although tradition states that the godmother buys the gown and the godfather buys the cake, you can absolutely buy your child’s gown yourself. The benefit of this, of course, is that you can choose something you would love to see passed down from generation to generation. Also, you might want to consider buying a more casual outfit for the child to wear after the baptism; you don’t want that family heirloom to get covered in cake!
If you still have questions about scheduling your child’s baptism, we suggest you contact your parish priest, or talk to friends who have baptized their kids.
Q. Emergency baptisms?
When it comes to emergency baptisms, it’s not as simple as just saying the words and blessing the individual. There are, of course, certain rituals that must be respected, the most important of these is to keep the matter of the sacrament, the water, intact. If the baptism does not use water, then it is not believed to be a valid baptism. As explained by Colin B. Donovan from EWTN:
“If it’s called something else it’s not water (e.g. IV fluids). Even something so predominantly water as tea or coffee is doubtful matter. One could baptize conditionally with doubtful matter IF that was indeed all there was available and time was of the essence.”
When it comes to the form of the sacrament, the words said, it must be the Trinitarian baptismal Formula:
“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
This must be said out loud, even if it cannot be heard by others. As faith is a necessary component in any baptism, a person in the age of reason must want to be baptized. You can’t just go around baptizing whoever you like. If the person is a child who has yet to reach the age of reason, then the faith of the baptizer is sufficient, as is the case when baptizing infants.
Information courtesy of Ascension Press