Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 12, 2003
What is a Catholic Baptism?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
My daughter, raised Catholic but married United, now has a child that she'd like to have baptized. Her husband insists that the child be baptized anything but Catholic because "the Catholic religion does not recognize any other Baptism but its own while other religions do." I say that the Catholic Church does recognize other Baptisms.
My daughter says that since she is not married in the Catholic Church, the baby could not be baptized in it anyway so it is irrelevant.
I realize that the final decision is certainly not up to me but I would like to have clarity in my own mind. Can you clarify this for us?
I will try to address briefly the points in your question. First, you are right in saying that the Catholic Church does recognize the Baptism of other Christian traditions. If the baby is baptized in the United, Anglican, Lutheran or any other Christian tradition that baptizes babies, that baby is baptized for good and cannot be re-baptized.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council (which was over 40 years ago), Catholics used to re-baptize a person but even then, the formula for Baptism would be preceded by: "If you are not baptized." So, in reality, the Church was simply taking precautions in case a previous Baptism was not done properly but was not negating a previous Baptism in another Christian tradition.
Your daughter is right in that the Catholic Church does not normally baptize babies of those who are in a situation such as hers. That's not saying, of course, that this is never done. But the real key to what could or would happen is the reason for her wanting the baby baptized, what she understands about the nature and meaning of Baptism, and what kind of commitment she could or would make to raise the child as a Catholic.
Baptism is not some kind of magic that is performed once and for all that wipes the child clean of original sin and then nothing more needs to be done. Through Baptism, the seeds of grace and God's life are planted in the heart of the baby. These must be nourished in somewhat the same way as the body of the child is nourished so that it may grow and develop into a healthy individual.
For the parents, that means teaching by word and example, nurturing the child's faith from a very young age, making the child part of the Church community, accompanying the child to the sacraments, and continuing to form and develop within the child a sense of the holy and of morality through adolescence and young adulthood. I would say these are serious responsibilities of parents regardless of the Christian denomination in which they choose to have the baby baptized.
Baptism also brings the child into a faith community, which helps to nourish the child's faith by example and by giving the child a sense of belonging. Jesus did not work in isolation. He brought together disciples to work with him and to continue his work after he was gone from them with the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit whom he promised to send and did send.
Therefore, as Christians, we are not isolates; we come as loving members of the one family of Christ to worship together and to strengthen one another in faith. Are the parents of your grandchild ready to be part of that faith community in which they will have their child baptized? Are they ready to take their full responsibility for this child's spiritual as well as material welfare? These are the real questions that need to be asked.
You're right; it's not your decision and any influence you might exert would have to be tempered with the responsibility that would be inherent in that decision. That responsibility belongs mostly to the parents, although you may have a positive role to play. In the past, grandparents often were very instrumental in nurturing the faith of a child. And let's hope and pray that may be the case in your situation too.