When should Catholic parents have their children baptised?

The rite and the discipline of baptism having undergone quite marked changes following Vatican II, Catholics may well have been given the impression that it is no longer important to have their children baptised as soon as possible after birth. May one not wait until all the family can be together or, indeed, should one not wait until the child has grown up so that he can decide for himself whether to be baptised or not?  Now, for centuries Catholic children have been baptised as soon as they were born. What, then, is the correct thing to do today?


At the Council of Florence, the Roman Church asked Catholic parents to have their children baptised as soon as possible after their birth:

"As regards children this Holy Synod admonishes people that owing to the danger of death, as may often happen, then, since children can be helped by no other remedy than Baptism whereby they are delivered from the power of the devil, and made the adopted children of God, their Baptism is not to be deferred for forty or eighty days as is done by some, but ought to be conferred as soon as can conveniently be done; and when there is imminent danger of death they should be baptised at once without any delay and, in the absence of a priest, even by lay people, by men or by women, in the form of the Church."  (Decree for the Jacobites; Feb. 4, 1442; G 354).


This doctrine and this practice have been taught by the Catholic Church many times, especially by:

The Sixteenth Council of Carthage:  Canon 2 against the Pelagians.  (A.D. 418; G 74).

Innocent III:  Letter 'Majores Ecclesiae causas' to the Archbishop Humbert of Arles (A.D. 1201; Dzs 780).
                       Letter 'Ejus examplo' to the Archbi-shop of Tarragona  (Dec. 18, 1208; Dzs 794).

Clement VI:  Letter 'Super quibusdam' to the Catholicos Mechitar (Consolator) of the Armeni-ans (Sept. 29, 1351; Dzs 1082).

Council of Trent:  V Session, Decree on Original Sin, Canons 3 & 4. (June 17, 1546; G 74).
                             VII Session, Canons on Baptism 12 & 13.  (March 3, 1547; Dzs 1625 & 1626).

Saint Pius X:  The Decree Lamentabili, Proposition 43.  (July 3, 1907; G 354).


The reason why delay should be avoided is that, without baptism, one cannot save one's soul.  This truth has been made clear by:

Our Lord Jesus Christ:  "Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."  (John III 5)

The Council of Florence:  "Holy baptism holds the first place among all the sacraments because it is the door of the spiritual life.  By it we are made members of Christ and of his body, the Church.  And since through the first man death has come to all men, unless we are reborn of water and of the Holy Spirit, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven(1) as the Truth himself tells us."  (A.D. 1439; Dzs 1314).

The Council of Trent: Baptism is not "optional", but "necessary for salvation."  (VII Session, Canon on Baptism 5; March 3, 1547; G 358).

Baptism is thus necessary for salvation. Since newly born children do not yet have the use of their faculties, it is impossible for them to receive baptism of desire or baptism of blood (martyrdom).  It is therefore of paramount importance that they receive baptism by water which the parents request for them, so that they will be able to possess the blessed life of heaven(2).

Objection: Isn't it a violation of the liberty of the child to baptise him at birth?

Answer: The child who comes into the world does not choose the time nor the circumstances in which he is born, and which will, nevertheless, condition his existence. Has he a right, then, to complain that no one asked his opinion or to protest that he did not approve of the obligations imposed on him by his position in life, his social milieu?

Before making his way in life by his personal initiative, man receives life from those who are charged with giving it to him; and while waiting to acquire autonomy, he is, in all things, dependent upon his parents, in particular when he is still under the care of his mother.

But the Church is commonly called Mother, precisely because of this spiritual fecundity which permits her to engender children of God through baptism. Shouldn't she invite her children to partake of the treasures of the divine life which she carries within herself before they have the capacity to accept or refuse them, before they begin to think for themselves? Who would dare reproach the parents who assured for their children, from the day of their birth, an immense fortune and a magnificent future? Holy Mother Church opens to the little baptised ones an incomparable spiritual treasure and a prospect of a heavenly eternity!

It is true that, at the same time, she outlines for them a prescribed behaviour and enjoins duties on them.  These, however, are no more onerous than the careful and laborious efforts which the child may be called on to make in the managing of a fortune found in the cradle or in the pursuit of a successful career as he grows into adult years.  If the baptised child should find the supernatural life too demanding when he grows up, he, sadly, always possessed the freedom to repudiate it and, if not to efface the character of baptism, to neutralise its benefits.


Objection:  What if during the first weeks after birth, one cannot gather together family and friends for the ceremony of baptism?

Answer:  If one cannot do this in the first few weeks, one must proceed with the baptism, even if it is necessary to have the godparents represented by proxy. This is all that is necessary. The purpose of baptism is to open the gates of heaven to the recipient of baptism, not to sanctify his attendants.  Later on, when everyone can be gathered, one can have in the church the ceremonies of 'churching'(3) and the consecration of the child to Our Lady.  The family party can thus take place as it would have if all had been present at the baptism.


Practical Conclusion: From an address of Pope Pius XII to young married couples:

"Yes, your children will be similar to you in all things because you, by procreating them, will communicate to them human nature.  But will they also be similar to you as regards their supernatural life?  We do not doubt your care to procure them promptly that Baptism which has also regenerated you before God as children of grace and heirs of Adam; even if your little angel asks of your faith and love, a sorrow or a sacrifice so that the gates of Paradise may be opened for him" (Allocution to Newlyweds, March 19, 1941).

(1) Saint John III, 5.

(2) Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston, Aug. 8, 1949, Dzs 3869.

(3) ‘Churching’ is an act of thanksgiving which enables all Catholic wives to thank God for their having become mothers.


NB.  All the above text cited have been drawn from the following books:

The Catholic Catechism by Peter Cardinal Gasparri, London, Sheed & Ward 1932.  For easy reference consult the number following the abbreviation: G.

Enchiridion Symbolorum by Denzinger & A. Schönmetzer, Herder, Rome, 1976.  For easy reference, consult the number following the abbreviation: Dzs.



This leaflet may be reproduced freely.
A ‘sampler’ of approximately 20 assorted leaflets may be obtained from:
Catholic Wisdom Publications

P. O. Box 4120, Makati City, Philippines

Home | Newsletters | Library | Vocations | History | Links | Search | Contact