When May a Lay Person Perform a Baptism?

Dear Catholic Exchange:

Where does the Catholic Church stand in baptizing someone yourself with out a priest being present? If a child hasn't been baptized and a grandmother is worried that something may happen to the child before she is ever baptized, can she do it? If she can — what is the procedure, what does she need to have on hand to do it, etc?



Dear Belinda,

Peace in Christ!

The Rite for Christian Initiation (of which Baptism is a part) is clear that while a parish celebration is the norm and highly preferred, Baptism should be administered in danger of death and this might mean a lay person will have to do it. This is much more defined and much more serious than “worried that something may happen,” but it’s still a judgment call a person might have to make.

“In imminent danger of death and especially at the moment of death, when no priest or deacon is available, any member of the faithful, indeed anyone with the right intention, may and sometimes must administer baptism. In a case simply of danger of death the sacrament should be administered, if possible, by a member of the faithful according to one of the shorter rites provided for this situation. [24] Even in this case a small community should be formed to assist at the rite or, if possible, at least one or two witnesses should be present.” (“Christian Initiation, General Introduction” no. 16).

You can see that health of the person to be baptized precludes that person from receiving baptism under normal means. In other words, the person would have been baptized according to normal means had there been time. I gather in your case that there is plenty of time for the child to be baptized, but for some reason it is not being done.

According to Canon 868 of the Code of Canon Law:

§1 For the licit baptism of an infant it is necessary that:

1° the parents or at least one of them or the person who lawfully takes their place gives consent;

2° there be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such a hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be put off according to the prescriptions of particular law and the parents are to be informed of the reason.

§2 An infant of Catholic parents or even of non-Catholic parents is baptized licitly in danger of death even against the will of the parents.

In summary, the Church certainly desires that an infant be baptized. Canon 868 §1 shows that the Church first works through the faith of the parents. 868 §2 shows that, if necessary, the Church will act despite the parents’ lack of faith. However, “Worried that something may happen” must rise to the level of “danger of death.”

Eric Stoutz

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

827 North Fourth Street

Steubenville, OH 43952

800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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  • ldeuling

    Thank you very much for sending this to me, as my baby was not going to live, but die immediately.  we only had time to immediately get the hospital minister there, and he baptized him very quickly.  there was absolutely no chance for my baby to live any longer than that, I’m suprised he held on for it.  He actually barely held on.  I wasn’t sure.  He was only one pound.  My husband, mother and I were there, and we’re all Catholic.  We all agreed on the minister, it was our only choice.  so the level was “of danger of death” as it was put here.  It was even worse than that.  I don’t even know if he was breathing yet.  I was just out of my mind with fear.  My priest told me that the first thing I had to do was name him, so I will tell you his name…James Gabriel.  It sounded angelic, but it’s after my Dad and his Dad.  Nobody told me to hold him, take pictures, or anything.  They had me sign papers while in the condition I was in, to send him away to Michigan State University for genetic testing.  I wouldn’t have signed that if I was in my right mind!  I would have buried him, and brought flowers.  His name would officially be permamently there.  Now all I have is a little bit from the hospital, and a frame with the words “Gone but not forgotten, always loved, MY SON” in it. Anyway, so you DO think he’s in heaven?  I NEED him there, he’s got to be there when I get there!!  I’m still a lit5tle afraid…what if he died before he was baptized?  What happens then?  He was only an innocent little thing.  Can you baptize a baby who has already died, if we were too late?  please help me again…Laura Deuling

  • Mgeorge1

    Hi Laura,

    A priest has recently told me that the Catholic Church has never taught that unbaptized babies are destined for such a place as hell.  In fact, the theory that unbaptized babies were unworthy of heaven was oppossed by Pope Pius VI in 1794 when Jansenist heresies claimed otherwise. 

    I believe, truthfully, that Jesus Christ excepted your child into heaven. I would have excepted him, you would have, and so would the many people that visit this webpage; and all of us, absolutely everyone of us, are less merciful and compassionate than God Himself. 

    God is not the one who would look at the meagre seconds between your babies death and the time before the water hit his little head, that is cruel and vindictive — that is not of God.  He is the one who sees the love and effort you put into trying to save your child — even after an exhausting birth. Can a few empty seconds, or even hours, tell the eternal God that this baby can not live — no.  God, is God, He decides.  Let no one tell you otherwise: Your child is in heaven.

    What your child’s journey entails from here on out, no one knows. Don’t stop your journey with God, keep praying.  God loses children everyday, He’s the only one who can relate to your pain. But what do you do now? You could have another child, or you could adopt a child who has lost his or her parents as an offering for your lost child. There is still so much to be done my sister.

    Life isn’t for you, or your baby.

    God bless.

    Your brother by Christ,