Baptism is the first of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. It welcomes the person into the Church community. The baptised person becomes a member of the Body of Christ and the Church. They now share in the rights and responsibilities of the Church.
It is traditional in the Roman Catholic Church that parents bring their children to Baptism. The parents participate in a formation programme so that they understand their role as the ‘first educators of faith’. Adults interested in Baptism are walked with through the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, often referred to as RCIA.
Why do we Baptise?
Parents are responsible to help their child live out his/her Baptism. This responsibility is contained in what might be termed the Three R’s of Baptism. They are named at the very beginning of the rite of Baptism. The priest enters into dialogue, with the parents saying:
You have REQUESTED to have your child Baptised. In doing so you are accepting the RESPONSIBILITY of raising him/her in the faith. Do you clearly REALISE what you are undertaking?
When parents answer, “I do” to this question, they are taking upon themselves before God and the faith community a task of great importance. This is particularly important in today’s world where the values of Christ are not as evident as they were in the past.
Baptism is a responsibility which is not entered into lightly, and that is why preparation for Baptism is so important. It gives parents a chance to think everything through before making the commitment.
Norms Regarding Baptism
Both the Code of Canon Law and Rite of Baptism for Children define the normal procedures for Baptism.
Canons 849 – 878 pertain particularly to Baptism. They can be viewed from the Vatican website (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P2U.HTM). Significant interest regarding the Baptism of Infants is placed on the following aspects:
Can. 851 “The celebration of baptism must be prepared properly; consequently:
The parents of an infant to be baptised and those who are to undertake the function of sponsor are to be instructed properly on the meaning of this sacrament and the obligations attached to it. The pastor, or others working on the pastor’s behalf, will personally take care so that the parents are properly instructed through both pastoral advice and common prayer, bringing several families together and, where possible, visiting them.”
Rite of Baptism for Children (5.1) adds that parents should be provided with suitable means such as “books, letters addressed to them and catechisms designed for families. The pastor should make it his duty to visit them or see that they are visited. He should gather a group of families together and prepare them for the coming celebration by pastoral counsel and common prayer”.
Parents interested in presenting a child for Baptism need to contact their local parish.
Only one Godparent is required.
To be a Godparent a person is required to be:
- 16 years or older
- A confirmed Catholic who has received first Eucharist
- Not a parent of the child
Traditionally a second person has often been asked to be a Godparent.
A baptised member of another Christian Church may be a witness rather than official Godparent. Culturally, this second person is referred to as a Godparent. By cultural tradition other witnesses to the Baptism are often also referred to as Godparents.
Growing Faith Together
The Role of Godparents in Infant Baptism
It is a great honour and responsibility to be asked to be a godparent
Godparents have two key roles:
- Assisting and supporting parents in the Christian upbringing of the child.
During the liturgy of baptism they will be asked;
Are you willing to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?
Therefore they need to live a faith-filled life.
- Represent the Church family into which the child is being baptised.
During the liturgy of baptism they will also;
- Renew their baptismal vows
- Renounce Satan
- Profess the creed
Godparents may also be asked to participate in other ways during the liturgy such as holding the candle.
HOW TO BE A GODPARENT
To be a good Godparent does not require a person to be a saint. A good Godparent gives example by living in the Catholic faith. They provide guidance, support and inspiration to their godchild as they journey with God.
Baptism: Frequently Asked Questions
These responses are only indicative. To have questions fully answered according to your particular situation please contact your local parish priest or pastoral worker, or talk to a priest you know.
At what age should a child be baptised?
The Church says that children should be baptised “within the first few weeks”. Baptism is God’s way of demonstrating love for your child. A child needs to know the love of their parents to grow as a human being. Being told is not enough, they need a parent’s touch. Baptism enables God to touch the child in a particular and special way. It says God overwhelmingly loves me.
Baptising a baby, before they can make any effort to do anything for themselves towards their relationship with God, says very dramatically that all salvation is from God. The child is carried to the front by the faith of their family.
Can my non-Catholic best friend be a Godparent?
The short answer is no. But you need to read all of this section before you make your choice or get upset because of that answer. First you need to understand the role of the godparent.
God-parents have two key roles:
- Assisting and supporting parents in the Christian upbringing of the child. During the liturgy of baptism they will be asked, are you willing to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents? Therefore they need to live a faith-filled life.
- Represent the Church family into which the child is being baptised.
During the liturgy of baptism they will also;
• Renew their baptismal vows
• Renounce Satan
• Profess the creed.
Therefore to be a Godparent a person is required to be:
• 16 years or older
• A confirmed Catholic who has received first Eucharist
• Not a parent of the child
The Church requires only one Godparent. Traditionally a second person has often been asked to be a Godparent. A baptised member of another Christian Church is technically a Christian witness rather than official Godparent. Culturally, this second person is referred to as a Godparent.
If my wife is a practicing Presbyterian, can she take part in the ceremony?
Certainly. The question of how you want your child to learn about and to grow up in the Catholic community is an important one when you are thinking about Baptism. You will need to talk these issues over with your parish priest or pastoral worker and with the minister of your wife’s Church.
When is Baptism celebrated?
Different parishes have different ways of celebrating baptism. It is a community affair so you will need to contact the parish and find out how they operate. Do this sooner rather than later and remember;
- You will be required to participate in some form of preparation
- While some parishes include baptism as part of Sunday Mass, other parishes have regular baptism ceremonies on Sundays after Mass or in the afternoon
- It is likely that other babies will be baptised at the same time
Do not make arrangements with family and friends about the baptism date until you have contacted your local parish.
Do not contact the parish and tell them you want your baby baptised on a particular day.
My other children have already been Baptised. Do I need to go through the preparation programme again?
Yes. Every child is different. The arrival of every child changes the family dynamics. Therefore, the preparation programme will speak to you differently because everyone is different. As the process of life begins, the same medical practices are prepared differently amongst your children. Similar logic applies to Baptism. Preparing to bring your child into the family of faith means they must have their own preparation process. They must be treated as an individual.
My grandmother says that the baby must have a Saint's name. Is that true?
You can give your child any name you choose as long as it does not mean something contrary to Christian teaching. The taking of a Saint’s name comes from the early years of the Church when at the time of Baptism adults changed their names to something that expressed a Christian ideal. In later centuries when infant baptism became the norm parents were encouraged by the Church to call their children after a Saint.
Including a Saint’s name is therefore traditional and does provide a role model and guide to the child but it is not necessary.
What happens if a baby dies before Baptism or is stillborn?
God loves us all and is full of mercy. God loves each child baptised or unbaptised. Unbaptised babies are not guilty of personal sin and we commend them to the loving care of God in heaven.
Older people may talk about ‘Limbo’ a place where unbaptised infants went after death that was neither heaven nor hell. This was never an official Church teaching. A baby dying before baptism is entrusted to the mysterious but infinitely kind and powerful love of God.
Our child was baptised at birth because they were in danger of dying. Do we have to have another Baptism?
Baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime event and as such cannot be repeated. It is however good to have a celebration in your local Church that acknowledges your child’s place in the family of faith. This particular ceremony would include prayers for the baby, blessings for the parents and family, as well as prayers of thanksgiving. This would also be an opportunity to give the baby godparents if there were none at the Baptism.
If we are lapsed Catholics, can our child be Baptised?
Yes. However, you will need to be willing to participate in baptismal preparation which may ask you to answer some tough questions about why, if you are not sharing in the Church’s life, you want your child baptised into the Church family.
It can be daunting to approach a priest or pastoral worker about these sensitive issues. Don’t be put off. Think about when would be best to approach them and be prepared to spend a bit of time talking.
The fact that you are looking for baptism for your child would suggest something is stirring within you, so don’t be afraid. Perhaps you have a friend or family member that might come and support you the first time. Remember the story of the Prodigal Son you are welcome home.
If we are not married, can our child be Baptised?
Yes. There is no reason for your child not to be baptised. You will need to explain the situation to the priest and others involved in the preparation programme, to which both parents are invited.
Who do we contact if we want our baby Baptised?
The first step in presenting your child for baptism is to contact your local parish. http://www.aucklandcatholic.org.nz/parishes/all/ provides information about all the parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Auckland.
The parish will inform you of their local way of providing baptism preparation programmes. It could be any of the following processes or a combination.
- Meeting with the priest or pastoral worker.
- Having a member of the parish visit you in your home.
- Attending parish provided sessions.
Even if a family friend or relative (who is a priest or deacon) has agreed to baptise your child you need to contact your local parish.
What does it cost to have our child Baptised?
Nothing. There is never a charge for sacramental celebrations in the Church. It is customary to make a donation to the Church, which helps to pay for such costs as materials involved in the baptismal preparation course.