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If a Parent Baptizes Their Child at Home Is It an Authentic Baptism?

In this segment from the Busted Halo Show, Father Dave answers a question from someone who attended a recent mission he preached: “If a parent baptizes their child at home in the sink, tub, etc. and not in a church by a priest — and not due to danger of death — is the child baptized completely?”

Father Dave starts out by saying that he’s glad the person who submitted the question included the caveat “not due to danger of death,” because, he explains, “The Church does provide that any baptized person can baptize another person if they’ve not been baptized — and if you don’t know, you can take the chance and that’s no problem — [if that person] is in danger of death.”

The conditions needed for a valid baptism are having “water come in contact with the person … It doesn’t matter what the temperature of the water is, doesn’t matter how murky or clear the water is, it doesn’t need to be holy water …” and using “the trinitarian formula: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Father Dave explains a situation in which this might occur: “This will often happen in a hospital if a baby is born either prematurely or with some medical issues — whether it’s the priest that comes running over, or even the nurse or a relative that baptizes the baby right there in the hospital …”

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Now, once that person is baptized, they are completely baptized and don’t need to be baptized again. But as Father Dave points out, “This is the Catholic Church, and there are, ya know, lots of footnotes and nuances and procedures … For instance, [an emergency baptism] would not have been recorded in the baptismal records of a parish, which is the only way we can tell officially if somebody is baptized. Also, the rite of baptism … does involve more than that bare bones ritual that I just described … There are other rituals that accompany the pouring of the water and the words ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ We do the ritual of anointing with oil, we have a candle that is given to the godparents, we have parents and godparents there …”

In the scenario with an emergency baptism for a baby in the hospital, Father Dave explains that typically when the child is well enough, he or she would be brought into a church for the rest of the ceremony to be performed — a baptism without the baptism part, strangely enough.

So, as is the case in this particular question, if the baptized person isn’t technically in danger of death that doesn’t necessarily make their “bathtub baptism” invalid, but it does miss out on some of the important elements, and it also is missing the real point of baptism. Father Dave explains that this question most often comes up when a grandparent is concerned that a grandchild won’t be baptized. He recalls the old episode of the sitcom “All in the Family,” where Archie Bunker baptizes his grandson on his own because his parents don’t want him to be baptized. Father Dave expresses a deep understanding of a grandparent’s desire to see their grandchild baptized into the faith and raised in the Church. But he also explains that bypassing the parents to perform a covert baptism isn’t the right way to go about it — and it even veers slightly away from the religious meaning of the ritual and towards superstition. Brett raises the point that we need to engage in these serious conversations with our loved ones, rather than shy away from them and take the expedient path. So, while a baptism in that situation would be considered valid, it is not the course of action we should take unless there is an emergency. (Original Air 04-07-17)

Photo credit: Godmother Oksana Vydash holds Veronika Victoria Shalai during her baptism at St. Mary’s Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)