When should Catholic parents have their children baptised?
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?
the Council of Florence, the Roman Church asked Catholic parents
to have their children baptised as soon as possible after
"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).
doctrine and this practice have been taught by the Catholic
Church many times, especially by:
Sixteenth Council of Carthage: Canon 2 against the
Pelagians. (A.D. 418; G 74).
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).
VI: Letter 'Super quibusdam' to the Catholicos Mechitar
(Consolator) of the Armeni-ans (Sept. 29, 1351; Dzs 1082).
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).
Pius X: The Decree Lamentabili, Proposition 43.
(July 3, 1907; G 354).
reason why delay should be avoided is that, without baptism,
one cannot save one's soul. This truth has been made clear
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)
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).
Council of Trent: Baptism is not "optional",
but "necessary for salvation." (VII Session, Canon on
Baptism 5; March 3, 1547; G 358).
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).
Isn't it a violation of the liberty of the child to baptise
him at birth?
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
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.
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.
What if during the first weeks after birth, one cannot gather
together family and friends for the ceremony of baptism?
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.
Conclusion: From an address of Pope Pius XII to young married
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.
All the above text cited have been drawn from the following
Catholic Catechism by Peter Cardinal Gasparri, London, Sheed
& Ward 1932. For easy reference consult the number
following the abbreviation: G.
Symbolorum by Denzinger & A. Schönmetzer, Herder,
Rome, 1976. For easy reference, consult the number following
the abbreviation: Dzs.
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