Ask a Priest

Early child baptism

Jul 31, 2016

Dear Father,

My question is in regards to how early one ought to baptise a child.

If baptism is indeed as the Church teaches (i.e. the means to gain salvation), and given that we don’t know when a person will die, it is entirely understandable that the Church teaches parents to Baptise their child in the first few weeks of the child’s birth (Can 867.1).

My questions are as follows:

1. Why does the Church teach to baptise “a few weeks” rather than “immediately” or “as soon as possible” after birth, given the gravity of the sacrament?

2. Is it up to the parents to decide what “a few weeks” means? i.e. is it 2 weeks? 8 weeks? or is it more to do with getting the practicalities sorted out that are beyond the control of the parents?

3. If one parent prefers to wait 6-8 weeks until certain people can attend the sacrament while another parent wants to baptise the child as soon as practicable, what would be your guidance as to how the parents should proceed?

Thanks Father.


Asked at 08:49 am on July 31st 2016

Hi Moussa, years ago, with sky-high levels of infant mortality-in the late 19th century, before the danger of bacterial infection was appreciated, 50% of children in Germany, one of the most prosperous countries at the time, died before they were five, and in most Western countries 20% of children died before they reached their first year.

With these statistics, it’s easy to see why children-including myself as late as 1941!-were baptized within days after birth. Nowadays, except in exceptional situations, baptism is generally a bit later. No priest is going to dictate to parents when their infant should be baptized, but the Canon you quote makes a lot of sense-the sooner the infant is made an adopted child of God the better.

Very best, Fr Brendan

Replied at 01:35 am on August 05th 2016

Father, the fact is that we don’t know when a child will die. I agree that “the sooner… the better”. But if this is the case, I don’t understand why Canon law suggests “a few weeks” after birth rather than “as soon as possible”. For example, if an unbaptised child dies in an accident on the way from hospital, the child’s salvation is not guaranteed. Therefore, it seems to me (considering the value of the child’s soul) more reasonable and responsible for the child to be baptised “as soon as possible”, meaning on the day of their birth.

To refer to my own situation: I would ideally like to baptise my (soon to be born) child in the hospital soon after he/she is born in an informal manner (i.e. without the paperwork and ceremony, and maybe without a priest depending on his availability etc). That way I would be at peace as to the salvation of the child. THEN we can do the usual routine of booking in the baptism at the parish, inviting family/friends, etc etc and so FORMALISE the baptism of the child publicly in a community ceremony.

Is this option completely anathema or could it be a legitimate way to proceed?

Thanks you Father.

Replied at 01:24 pm on August 07th 2016

Hi Father, do you have thoughts on the follow-up questions? Thanks.

Replied at 07:48 am on August 24th 2016

Hey Moussa,

I’m no priest, but my understanding of that Canon is that the Church is not putting undue pressure on the faithful to have the matter done in X number of days, remembering that there are many faithful throughout the world who do not have easy access to a priest to perform the Baptism. 🙂

Also, my understanding is also that you can have baby Baptised at the hospital and later complete the Baptismal ceremony at your church days/weeks later. Father Brendon may have another take on this.

From the AWESOME, which has all of the writings of the Early Church in an easy-to-search location, we have this perfect quote from Cyprian of Carthage:

“But in respect of the case of the infants, which you [Fidus] say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be followed, so that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For no one agreed with the course you thought should be taken; rather we all judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to anyone born of man.”

Cyprian of Carthage, Letters 58:2 (253 A.D).

God bless you!

Cam 🙂

Replied at 09:53 am on September 12th 2016