Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Catholic Topic of the Week 2

A friend of mine recommended looking at the Sacrament of Baptism for this second installmend of the Catholic Topic of the Week. So I thought about this and tried to think of the various questions a non-Catholic would ask about Baptism. I came up with the following questions:

1. Why does the Catholic Church baptize infants?
2. What makes a baptism valid? And does a Protestant convert have to be baptized?
3. Who can baptize?

There are probably many other questions. I don't have a lot of time, but I want to offer some brief answers to the three questions above, offer a personal reflection on the sacrament, and then provide some web links for more information.

1. Why does the Catholic Church baptize infants?
This is a question I have been asked many times and it's not an easy one. Often the question is asked because in many of the Protestant faiths it is believed that it is up to the individual to decide if they are going to be a part of the church or not. Well, the Catholic Church believes that first it is up to the parents to educate their child and to set an example of Christian living. In many other things, parents make the choices for their children because the children are too young. They decide where they will send their kids to school, where they will go to Church, how long they can stay outside to play, and so on and so forth. Therefore, the Church believes that as part of educating our children and making many other decisions for them we should also baptize them into the Church. There is a second part to this. The child does make a decision later in life to continue to fulfill the promises made by their parents on their baptism. This is the Sacrament of Confirmation. At this point the child/young adult re-dedicates their life to the faith. There is a lot more about this in some of the links I will provide below.

(As an aside: I will also say that the order of Confirmation and Baptism has actually varied in some parts of the world and has been experimented with some in the US. From what I have learned about what is called "Restored Order," many of the US Bishops have reverted back to Baptism for infants and Confirmation for older children after trying Restored Order in their dioceses.)

2. What makes a baptism valid? And does a Protestant convert have to be baptized?
A valid Baptism is one in which the words are "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That's it. For this reason, to answer the second question, a Protestant who is converting to Catholicism and who was baptized in their original church with those words is not "re-baptized" in the Catholic Church. They will however receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Confirmation, and first Eucharist. The Church does recognize valid baptism from other faith communities.

3. Who can baptize?
I threw this question in because it was refered to in my last Catholic Topic posting. I mentioned in there that Deacons can also baptize. There are actually three groups of people who can baptize a baby (or an adult) in the Catholic Church. The first two groups are obvious: priests and deacons. The third group is less obvious and usually happens in an emergency sitution and almost always involving a baby. The third group is the laity. Most people don't know that, but in the case of an emergency an unbaptized baby can be baptized with water by a lay person. This would have to be a special case; for example, a baby is born and something is wrong, there is the fear of death, so someone there can baptize the child.

Personal Reflection
I love baptisms. I always find myself crying at them, even when I just happen to view one from across the church. Occasionally there have been baptisms on Sunday mornings between the Masses (there is about an hour break between 2 of the 3 Sunday morning masses at my church). When I was in the choir, we'd be setting up during that time and if a baptism was going on, we had to set up fast and get out of the way. On occasion I've been able to watch some of the ceremony and it always brings tears to my eyes. To me it is such a special occasion for the parents, the godparents, all the other members of the family, and especially the child. The stain of original sin is being wiped away and the child is welcomed into the church by all those family members gathered around. I especially like the personal baptisms, where one family presents a child to be baptized into the Church, rather than the large gatherings of 5-10 babies at one time.

I'm not sure I can totally explain the overwhelming feeling I have when I watch or have actually been in attendance at a baptism. It is such an awesome mystery and such a beautiful Sacrament.

Additional Information
Here are some links for more info:

This first one is a list of links to articles on baptism as well as some Q&As.

This second link comes from the Catholic Answers website and is specifically about infant baptism:

Finally, if you really want to read something scholarly, here is the part of the Cathechism regarding Baptism or the Christian Rite of Initation, from the USCCB website:

Hope this was interesting and that the links above will be even more informative.

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