Radio Show

Father Dave Explains What Makes a Baptism Valid


Father Dave discusses the recent news of the resignation of a priest in Arizona after it was revealed that he performed thousands of baptisms with the wrong word, rendering the sacrament invalid. Father Dave explains what this means.

Father Dave explains what is required in order for a valid sacrament to take place. “For a sacrament to be valid in the Catholic Church, there needs to be two elements that we have in our Church law that we believe have been revealed to us by God. These two things are called matter and form… The matter for baptism is water. Water must be used. A person would not be validly baptized if we used vinegar or Pepsi… If you didn’t use water at all, and you only used the words, ‘I baptize you in name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,’ we would not consider that a valid baptism. 

WATCH: Sacraments 101: Baptism

The second part is form. Form is almost always the words used… For example, in the case of the Eucharist, the form is what we call the words of institution: the words that Jesus used at the Last Supper, ‘This is my body given up for you.’ The priest is saying those words in the person of Christ, and that’s one of the main factors explained by the Archbishop of Phoenix in his letter about this whole situation. It’s that we believe that in the sacraments, Christ is the one who is working. It is Christ who is actually making that sacrament. So when the priest says the words of Christ at that part of the Mass, ‘Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body.’ We believe that, sacramentally, it is Christ working through the priest saying that. Think about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When the priest says, ‘I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and the son, and Holy Spirit,’ it is Christ who is absolving you of your sins. So that first-person pronoun is Jesus.”

RELATED: The History of Baptisms

“It’s not completely off base to say that there’s an important role that the community plays in the baptism of a child. However, we draw the line at the form of the valid sacrament because the priest is acting in the person of Christ. The priest in Phoenix was saying, ‘We baptize you in the name of the Father, and the son, and Holy Spirit.’ Yes, the parents and the godparents, and even the entire gathered assembly will play a role. But when it comes to the actual moment of the sacrament and its validity, the Vatican has affirmed the word needs to be first-person singular. Because the ‘I’ in this case, is Jesus. The ‘I’ is Jesus working through the priest, and not mom, dad, and the godparents.”

Father Dave points out why sticking to matter and form is important. “Yes, we would certainly believe in a merciful God, but if we start pulling at some of these and say that it doesn’t really matter, then the tower kind of starts to collapse. And is not up to an individual to change or modify matter and form.”

Father Dave goes on to explain that the Sacrament of Baptism can be performed by a layperson in emergency situations, but the proper baptismal formula still needs to be used. He also points out that if a person was invalidly baptized they would need to be re-baptized and confirmed. 

“I know this is very painful. I don’t mean to merely be academic about it or be dismissive because it is very difficult pastorally, and I’m sure it’s very difficult for the bishop to make this declaration.”