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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