WARNING – this has been updated and must be corrected!
READ THIS BEFORE READING ANYTHING ELSE BELOW.
If water does not touch the head, baptism is invalid.
But most of my comments below still have their use.
From a reader:
I am sure you must get many emails — I am hoping you could take time to answer mine or even just address it on your blog.
We had a baptism during Mass yesterday and the baby was baptized by ‘immersion’. Actually, the only thing Monsignor managed to get wet was the baby’s buttocks, which he dunked 3 times. I know this is not right — I realize that the proper form is for water to be poured over a baby’s head.
My questions are: 1. why does the Church require this? 2. Is this baptism in fact valid? 3. What can be done? 4. Should I approach our pastor (who did the baptism)?
Baptism of infants by immersion takes place 9 out of 10 times at our parish — its very popular. I have never seen a baby actually immersed however, but usually the back of the head gets wet. [Water must contact the head.]
I have dealt with questions of baptism before.
It is a constant source of amazement to me just how hard some priests find it to follow the book! Just do the red and say the black!
Well… I guess I do understand.
Priests are generally good-hearted men, even if some have wacky ideas. Sometimes they err because they want to make the rite more "meaningful". Sometimes they endure real pressure from poorly catechized lay people, who nevertheless do come to the church for these milestone moments, because they want "meaningful" stuff put into the rite where it doesn’t belong. Priests cave in sometimes. I remember a bunch of people got really mad at me once because I wouldn’t interject some goofy things they made up and wanted as part of the rite of baptism. Yes… there is pressure.
Also, some priests think that they are doing something "more authentic" because they read somewhere that in the ancient Church baptism was by immersion. The progressivist writers and workshops they attend have fed them the line that if it is pristine then it must automatically be better. This is redolent of the false archeologizing Pius XII warned about in Mystici Corporis Christi and which the Church condemned when pushed by the infamous Synod of Pistoia. Just because something was done in the ancient Church, that doesn’t mean that it is better than what we do now. We learned a few things along the way, after all, and therefore changed our practices.
I have nothing against the ancient rites, and the mystagogy, etc. It might be that the Church will shrink to the point where we will be doing what the ancients did. Sure it would be great to have everyone descend into the pool and then be anointed all over and clothed in the white garment. But we also have infant baptisms now, not to mention lots of lawyers.
Anyway… I implore you Reverend Fathers… Your Excellencies…. don’t go for gimmicks or cuteness. For the love of God, just do the red and say the black.
In the meantime, from what the writer said, it sounds to me that the baptism was valid. If the Trinitarian form of baptism was said while causing the water to flow across the skin, it was valid.
It is best, but not necessary for validity that water flow on the head. Again, for validity, water must touch the head.
But you know what? Had they held the child over the font and had the priest poured water from a proper baptismal "shell" or other good vessel over the little pagan’s head, no one would be wondering if it was valid.
Please, Fathers! Follow the book and don’t do anything creative.
Please, Most Reverend Bishops! Make it clear to your priests that you don’t want to have to get questions about whether sacraments were valid.
How hard is this?
Oh yes… since I am ranting now… one last thing.
Lay people: When you name your baby, just pick a saints name, spell it correctly and move on to the next task in your lives. We can discuss "name" issues under a different blog entry.
There… I feel better now.