Emergency Baptism

Do you know how to baptize in an emergency?

Baptism is so important that anyone can celebrate it – under certain conditions. Anyone – even a non-Christian, or someone who doesn’t believe in God. There are stories of fallen soldiers during the World Wars who, as they were dying, asked a fellow soldier – perhaps a Jew – to baptize them. As long as that person had the intention to do what the Church does, poured water over the head, and said the correct words, then the fallen soldier was validly baptized before his death.

Christ said in the gospel, “Amen, amen, I say to you: unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5); baptism is necessary for salvation.

Nurses and doctors used to be trained to baptize infants in emergency situations. I understand that they used to practice with dolls in their classes, so that they would be ready and capable of fulfilling this urgent task in dire instances.

The Code of Canon Law indicates that infants are to be baptized in danger of death, even against the will of their parents (canon 868 § 2). This is how important baptism is!

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Arlington Catholic Herald, that explains in summary fashion the regulations for baptizing in emergency situations:

The Rite of Baptism says, “All lay persons, since they belong to the priestly people, and especially parents and, by reason of their work, catechists, obstetricians, … nurses of the sick, as well as physicians and surgeons, should know the proper method of baptizing in cases of necessity” (Rite of Baptism, 17).

In the case of necessity (e.g., the danger of death), the person who baptizes pours water three times over the candidate’s head, or immerses the candidate three times in water, while simultaneously pronouncing the baptismal formula:

NAME, I baptize you in the name of the Father (the minster pours water or immerses the first time), and of the Son (the minister pours water or immerses a second time), and of the Holy Spirit (the minister pours water or immerses a third time).

A lay person who administers an emergency baptism must at least have the intention to do what the Church does when baptizing. It is also desirable that, as far as possible, one or two witnesses to the baptism be present.

When baptism has been administered neither by the pastor nor in his presence, the minister of the baptism, whoever that was, must inform the pastor of the parish in whose territory the baptism occurred, so that the pastor may record it in accord with canon 877, §1.   (source)

Please note that I have been speaking all along of emergency baptisms – basically, 99.9% of the time, in danger of death, when a priest or deacon is not available or it is too dangerous to wait for one who is available to arrive. I am not talking about those sad family situations where some child really should be baptized, but that has not happened for one reason or another. In those situations, it is not licit for a concerned family member to baptize the child secretly. It is sad, and you might be tempted – but don’t do it!

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3 Responses to Emergency Baptism

  1. Analda Anglin says:

    I teach about emergency baptism in RCIA and emphasize the “emergency” aspect. It generates many, many questions: “What about these circumstances? What about a case like this? What about if the parents don’t want to baptize the child?” (as you explained above). I may have to quote your write up next year.

  2. I’ve heard that “Amen” should NOT be said at the end of the formula..
    Which is correct?

    • I can’t imagine what could be wrong with saying it, but I did just check the ritual and see that it isn’t included. Thanks — I’ll update the post.

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