Valid Conferral of the Sacrament of Baptism

Introduction

In some places in the English-speaking world, under the influence of a false feminism, a new and unauthorized practice has been introduced into the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism. The practice consists in substituting for the names of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, in the formula for Baptism, the names of three functions. In one formula, the three functions named are: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. In another formula, they are: Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer.

Recently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office of our Holy Father with responsibility “to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world” (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus, “On the Roman Curia,” 28 June 1988, art. 48), responded to two questions regarding the use of the unauthorized formulas in the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism. The response was signed on February 1st last and was officially published on March 1st last.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the text of the two responses and ordered them to be published.

Response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

How did the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith respond? The full text of the response can be found online at: www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents.

The first question to which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded was: “Whether the Baptism conferred with the formulas ‘I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier’ and ‘I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer’ is valid?” The response was: “Negative,” that is, the attempt to confer the Sacrament of Baptism by the use of either of the two formulas is invalid, empty and without effect.

The second question to which the Congregation responded was: “Whether the persons baptized with those formulas have to be baptized in forma absoluta?” The response was: “Affirmative,” that is, the persons involved must be baptized absolutely, not conditionally. In other words, when such formulas are used, there is no doubt that the Sacrament of Baptism has not been validly conferred, and, therefore, the person must be baptized.

To understand more deeply the responses of the Congregation, the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Sacrament of Baptism should be consulted (nos. 1213-1284). I now offer some brief reflections which, I hope, will be helpful for your reflection upon the significance of the responses.

Conferral of the Sacrament of Baptism

The Sacrament of Baptism is conferred or administered through the pouring of water over the head of the baptized person three times or the immersion of the head of the baptized person in water three times, while saying the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” There are also other ceremonies which accompany the administration of the Sacrament, for example, the anointing of the crown of the head with Sacred Chrism, the clothing with the white garment, the handing over of the lighted candle, and the praying over the ears and mouth. The essence of the Sacrament of Baptism, what is called the matter and the form of the Sacrament, is, however, the pouring of water or immersion in water while speaking the Trinitarian baptismal formula. Without these two elements, the matter (the pouring of or immersion in water), and the form (the speaking of the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”), the Sacrament of Baptism is not conferred.

The essence of the Sacrament of Baptism comes to us from our Lord Himself. After His Resurrection and before His Ascension, our Lord sent the Apostles into the whole world to teach the faith and to baptize those who receive the gift of the faith “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).

The outward sign, the water and the Trinitarian formula, as Christ instituted it, confers the grace it signifies. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the essential rite of Baptism “signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal Mystery of Christ” (no. 1239). The water of Baptism, united to the words of Baptism, both signifies and accomplishes the cleansing from sin and the giving of new life.

The cleansing of sin is accomplished by the mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we share in the victory of Christ over sin and death, accomplished by His Passion, Death and Resurrection. In Baptism, we die with Christ to sin, and we rise with Him to eternal life.

Eternal life is a share in the very life of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian formula for the conferral of Baptism expresses the great mystery of God’s love of us, which we first know and experience in this Sacrament by which we come to life in Christ and enter into the life of the Church. God, in His immeasurable and unceasing love of us, desires that we share in His own life, the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Necessity of Baptism for Eternal Salvation

From the time of the Apostles, the Church has always shown the greatest care in the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism, as in the celebration of all of the Sacraments. Baptism has received special attention because it is the foundation upon which our whole life in the Church depends. Baptism is the door, so to speak, through which we enter the Church. Our Lord Jesus Himself made it clear that reception of Baptism is necessary for our eternal salvation (cf. Mk 16:16; and Jn 3:5; cf. Tit 3:5). The Church cannot permit, then, that the Sacrament of Baptism be conferred invalidly, leading the person “baptized” and those who witness the “baptism” into a most serious confusion and error.

Can the Church simply overlook the false practice, trusting that God will supply the grace of Baptism, notwithstanding human error? The answer is: No. Christ entrusted the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism to the Apostles and their successors. Christ works through the Church; He depends upon us to carry out His mission which He has entrusted into our care. We must, therefore, exercise every possible care to do everything which our Lord has commanded us to do.

Can the Church change the matter and form of the Sacrament of Baptism, in order to achieve some other purpose, for example, to advance the use of “inclusive language”? Clearly, the answer is: No. The Church does what Christ does. Christ has made clear how He cleanses us of the stain of original sin and all actual sins, and brings us to life in Himself in the Church. It is Christ Who acts through the Sacrament of Baptism, according to the unchanging will of the Father. It is an offense to Christ Himself to use the sacred rite for the conferring of Baptism for any other purpose than what He intends.

Are not the functions described in the unauthorized formulas equivalent to the names of the Persons of the Holy Trinity? The answer is: No. The Persons of the Holy Trinity are persons whose names have been revealed to us by God Himself through His inspired Word in the Holy Scriptures. They are not functions and are not adequately named by substituting their names for functions ascribed to them. When we baptize, we express our faith in the three Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in one God.

Conclusion

I have no knowledge that the practice addressed by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has ever been introduced into the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. I certainly hope that it has not been ever introduced in the Archdiocese. Given, however, the mobility of our society and the instantaneous communication of information worldwide, it is important that you be informed about the matter, especially because it deals with the sacrament by which we are washed clean of sin and receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, bringing us to life in Christ as members of His Mystical Body, the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1213).

It is my solemn duty, as Archbishop, to see that the Sacraments are validly conferred and to prevent, as much as possible, the invalid celebration of a sacrament, which involves a deception of the most serious kind, that is, deception about the eternal salvation of the person who falsely believes that he or she is receiving a sacrament. It is my responsibility to teach all of the faithful, so that not even one person is led into error about the most sacred realities of our faith.

In conclusion, if you or someone you know has witnessed the attempted conferral of the Sacrament of Baptism by the use of the unauthorized formulas described above, please contact your parish priest. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear, in such a case, the person involved is not baptized, and the Church is obliged to repair the most unjust situation by providing to the person the valid conferral of Baptism. As should be clear, the responses of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith apply to any attempt to confer the Sacrament of Baptism, whether in the Roman Catholic Church or in another Christian Church or ecclesial community. In the case of any doubt, the matter is best referred to your parish priest.

Even as we reflect on the sad situation of the invalid conferral of the Sacrament of Baptism, we have the occasion to reflect upon the grace of our own reception of Baptism and the gift of Christ’s life which we first received through water and the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity in the Sacrament of Baptism.

May we all be renewed in our reverence for the Sacrament of Baptism.

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