QUAERITUR: “We baptize you…” valid?

A friend asked a question by telephone.

A priest in a parish baptized two children using the proper rite for baptism, pouring water properly, but saying "WE baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

The proper form for baptism in the Latin Church is "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Ego te baptizo….".

It seems there was nothing wrong with the rite, or the intention of the minister, or the matter, but the form left a big question mark.

The questioner asked: "Was that valid?"

First and foremost priests should stick to the form as it is so that people don’t have to wonder or be puzzled.

That said, my first inclination was that it might be invalid

I have rethought my position.

First, there is a possible use of the plural first person for the singular, the so-called "royal we".

Second, the core of this form is the invocation of the Holy Trinity.  And not just any Trinity.  The Mormons invoke their own "Trinity" and their baptism is invalid.  Some progressivists and heretics in the Church use titles other than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, such as "Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier".  That is also invalid.

That is not what happened here.  Also, the priest used the rest of the Rite properly.

Furthermore, in the Greek East the form of baptism is (transliterated): "Baptizestai ho dolous tou theo (ho deina) eis to onoma tou patros kai tou huiou kai tou hagiou pneumatos… The servant of God is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  This is a declaration, in the third person passive, rather than the acting of the minister speaking in the first person.  Again, the invocation of the Holy Trinity is a key, together with the expression of the effect, the sacrament.  If the third person passive can be used, why not the first person plural?

Moreover, in the so-called Decree for the Armenians in the Bull Exsultate Deo of Eugene IV in 1439 we have this famous teaching: "Se exprimitur actus, qui per ipsum exercetur ministrum, cum Sanctae Trinitatis invocatione, perficitur sacramentum… If the act which is exercised through the minister is expressed with the invocation of the Holy Trinity, then the sacrament is effected."  (Cf. DS 696).

So… I think what that priest did, even in changing the form illicitly, was probably valid. 

If anyone who hears something like is concerned enough to want to raise questions, he should approach the local bishop right away.  If no clear answer is obtained, then the proper dicastery of the Holy See to write to for a clarification would be the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, send exact details about what was said and done in that instance leaving aside speculations or rambling irrelevancies.

The CDF answers questions about specific, concrete instances of celebrations of the sacraments while the CDW would respond to the more generic or theoretical questions.

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30 Responses to QUAERITUR: “We baptize you…” valid?

  1. Great analysis, Father Z.

    My mother-in-law contacted me the other day. Her priest was baptizing babies by using the proper words of Baptism, but only immersing the bare bottom of the infant in the water. She was asking me if this was valid.

    Any thoughts? I was always told that if the whole body was not to be immersed, pouring water over the head was the appropriate substitute. I cannot imagine, for instance, pouring water over the hand of someone to baptize them. The full integrity of the sign needs to be respected.

    Why a priest cannot at least observe the bare minimum (no pun intended) of the Church’s discipline is beyond me!

  2. Fr. Deacon Daniel: Yes, I think that is valid, since there is an ablution with natural water.

    However, I would – again – say to such a priest “Don’t leave people in doubt!”

  3. Michael says:

    Just baptize your child yourself CONDITIONALLY and be done with it.

    These are just more reasons to ABANDON the Novus Ordo rite completely. [This is a poorly thought out statement. The problem here was that the priest changed the rite. One can have reservations about the changes in the newer rite itself, but this particular example doesn't support such a statement.]

  4. RJSciurus says:

    Thank you for this!

  5. Juliann Russo says:

    We avoided a similar problem by asking a friend who is a deacon to baptize our son in 1998. The pastor was saying: “I baptize you in the name of the Father” then he had the mother say: “and the Son” and then he had the father say: “and the Holy Spirit”. To add insult to injury, when I tried to write to the bishop to explain what was going on my letter was simply forwarded to the offending pastor! You can guess how much he appreciated my effort. We left the diocese soon after. [That would be, I am sure, invaild.]

  6. Tom says:

    I once attended a baptism where the priest said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN”

    A friend leaned to me and said the word AMEN made it invalid.

    I’ve often considered getting a conditional baptism for myself because those involved are quite avant guard now and I wonder what they were up to then

  7. Martin says:

    ”I once attended a baptism where the priest said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN”

    A friend leaned to me and said the word AMEN made it invalid.

    I’ve often considered getting a conditional baptism for myself because those involved are quite avant guard now and I wonder what they were up to then”

    Is that really the case? I imagine it would be an easy thing for a priest to say Amen. I’d probably have done it myself if I was called upon to baptise in an emergency as a layperson! Maybe someone can confirm this.

  8. Baron Korf says:

    Well Christ’s command to go out and baptize after the ressurection was “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, yes?

    I would hold (whatever that is worth) that the Trinitarian formula is suffienct for being valid.

  9. I *believe* that the third person passive is also used in the prayer for absolution at the end of Confession (in Greek tradition).

  10. Geoff says:

    St. Thomas says that it is not valid; see ST III.66.5:

    Objection 4: Further, it may happen that several are baptized by several at the same time; thus the apostles on one day baptized three thousand, and on another, five thousand (Acts 2, 4). Therefore the form of Baptism should not be limited to the singular number in the words, “I baptize thee”: but one should be able to say, “We baptize you.”

    Reply to Objection 4: Several cannot baptize one at the same time: because an action is multiplied according to the number of the agents, if it be done perfectly by each. So that if two were to combine, of whom one were mute, and unable to utter the words, and the other were without hands, and unable to perform the action, they could not both baptize at the same time, one saying the words and the other performing the action.

    On the other hand, in a case of necessity, several could be baptized at the same time; for no single one of them would receive more than one baptism. But it would be necessary, in that case, to say: “I baptize ye.” Nor would this be a change of form, because “ye” is the same as “thee and thee.” Whereas “we” does not mean “I and I,” but “I and thou”; so that this would be a change of form.

    Likewise it would be a change of form to say, “I baptize myself”: consequently no one can baptize himself. For this reason did Christ choose to be baptized by John (Extra, De Baptismo et ejus effectu, cap. Debitum).

    [I don't think this article applies to the case described above.]

    ========

    OTOH, I did find a diocesan web site that said they accepted such baptisms. I’m thinking I’ve already seen a dubium on this at some point. I’ll keep looking.

  11. supertradmom says:

    In a diocese we left many months ago, priests were baptizing “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer” The new bishop had to write a letter telling those priests that they had to contact all the people they had baptized in that pseudo-rite and re-baptize them properly. This craziness had been going on for years, and people had complained about it. How many people have moved and not realized the mistake, especially if they were babies at the time.

  12. Trevor says:

    “I once attended a baptism where the priest said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN”

    A friend leaned to me and said the word AMEN made it invalid.

    I’ve often considered getting a conditional baptism for myself because those involved are quite avant guard now and I wonder what they were up to then.

    I don’t think the additional ‘Amen’ would invalidate your baptism. The priest made an illicit change to the Rite of Baptism, however he said the necessary parts, and the additional ‘Amen’ didn’t radically alter the form of the Sacrament to signify a change in the effects of the Sacrament.

    ……………………………

    In regards to Father’s analysis, it seems logical. However, when looking at the English translation of the Summa, to respond to the above poster, I came across this:

    Tertia Pars, Q 66, Article 5, Objection and Response 4:

    “Article 5. Whether this be a suitable form of Baptism: ‘I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’?

    Objection 4. Further, it may happen that several are baptized by several at the same time; thus the apostles on one day baptized three thousand, and on another, five thousand (Acts 2, 4). Therefore the form of Baptism should not be limited to the singular number in the words, ‘I baptize thee’: but one should be able to say, ‘We baptize you.’

    Reply to Objection 4. Several cannot baptize one at the same time: because an action is multiplied according to the number of the agents, if it be done perfectly by each. So that if two were to combine, of whom one were mute, and unable to utter the words, and the other were without hands, and unable to perform the action, they could not both baptize at the same time, one saying the words and the other performing the action.

    On the other hand, in a case of necessity, several could be baptized at the same time; for no single one of them would receive more than one baptism. But it would be necessary, in that case, to say: ‘I baptize ye.’ Nor would this be a change of form, because ‘ye’ is the same as ‘thee and thee.’ Whereas ‘we’ does not mean ‘I and I,’ but ‘I and thou’; so that this would be a change of form.

    Likewise it would be a change of form to say, ‘I baptize myself’: consequently no one can baptize himself. For this reason did Christ choose to be baptized by John (Extra, De Baptismo et ejus effectu, cap. Debitum).”

    If the Church has not issued any subsequent clarification on the matter, then it would seem that the form using “We baptize you” would be of dubious validity, since the ministers are multiplied. However, granted, the circumstances are different since it wasn’t multiple ministers performing the action (such as the case with the mute and the hand-less). (P.S. Was the priest inviting the whole congregation to baptize this individual?)

    I’m not trained in theology, so I’ll heed to the more experienced if they want to clarify St. Thomas’s position.

  13. Maureen says:

    Why would “amen” make it invalid? Is the priest not allowed to say anything after the Trinitarian formula? For how long?

    ‘Cause usually, that’s where priests get rather chatty. Like, say, when I’ve watched the Pope baptize in the Sistine Chapel. He shakes the parents’ hands and blesses younger siblings and sends people off to their seats before the next baby comes on. Maybe I’m forgetting something, but that’s how I remember it.

  14. Mark says:

    Adding an Amen at the end certainly does not invalidate! Whoever leaned over and said that to you was just being a know-it-all who obviously didnt know-it-all. Amen may not be called for by the books, so if they want the brownie points for noticing a technical little error fine…but it definitely doesnt invalidate.

    As the proper form is already COMPLETE at that point and “Amen” is simply the next thing the priest says. Is he required to remain silent for the rest of his life after uttering the Form? No. Additions before and after the form itself certainly dont invalidate unless they directly express contradiction of intent, (like, “I baptize you…and of the Holy Spirit. Just kidding!”)

    In absolution, for example, the Trinitarian invocation is actually NOT considered part of the minimal essential Form which is merely “I absolve you of your sins” or even just “I absolve you” (or the Eastern passive/deprecatory version), according to Aquinas and the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Absolution. And yet the addition of the Trinitarian invocation afterwards doesnt invalidate, just like the “Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis” doesnt invalidate the consecration of the wine, even though it occured immediately following the words in bold and even before the elevation. And, heck, assuming that “This is…my blood” is the minimal essential form…do the rest of the words used at the consecration of the chalice invalidate? Of course not!

    So neither does an “Amen” afterward invalidate a baptism. There is no doubt here, not even remote.

  15. Mark says:

    “The pastor was saying: “I baptize you in the name of the Father” then he had the mother say: “and the Son” and then he had the father say: “and the Holy Spirit”.”

    This would be definitely invalid. As would having one person pour the water while someone else said the Form.

  16. Mark says:

    “My mother-in-law contacted me the other day. Her priest was baptizing babies by using the proper words of Baptism, but only immersing the bare bottom of the infant in the water. She was asking me if this was valid.

    Any thoughts? I was always told that if the whole body was not to be immersed, pouring water over the head was the appropriate substitute. I cannot imagine, for instance, pouring water over the hand of someone to baptize them. The full integrity of the sign needs to be respected.”

    [Edited out by Fr. Z]

  17. Ad Orientem says:

    I am not sure how you all do it in the uniate churches, but we Orthodox baptize using a slightly different formula…

    After the water is blessed and exorcised and the person to be baptized enters the water or if an infant is held over the font and the priest says…

    (P) “The (servant – handmaiden – child) of God N is baptized in the name of the Father…”

    (here the subject is fully immersed in the water by the priest)

    (All) “Amen!”

    (P) “… and of the Son…”

    (again the subject is fully immersed)

    (All) “Amen!”

    (P) “…and of the Holy Spirit.”

    (The subject is immersed for the third time.)

    (All) “Amen! Amen! Amen!”

    Immediately after this the subject is Chrismated and shorn and they receive their first communion typically at the next Divine Liturgy (yes infants too).

    In ICXC,
    John

  18. Mark says:

    Fr Z, I usually wouldnt question your decisions, but why edit out the quote from Catholic Encyclopedia which seems to say that immersing just a baby’s bottom, without pouring any water over the head, should be conditionally re-done? It seems that there could be many doubtfully baptized (or, at best, “probably” baptized, if the bottom is considered a “principal part”) babies out there that should be conditionally re-baptized and that Fr Deacon Daniel might have to contact the Holy See about.

    Or is it because there has been a later decision by the Holy Office that has stated that such baptisms are totally without doubt that we should know about? If so, could you provide the information on this decree?

  19. Mark: A quick answer. This entry isn’t for all sorts of additional questions and anyone’s additional answers. I can try to keep this entry restricted or shut down the combox.

  20. Mark says:

    Understood, thank you.

    Where would you recommend people direct such questions, besides their own priest (who, obviously, often might not know in such situations where his ignorance, in fact, is the potential problem)?

  21. Ioannes Andreades says:

    At the Easter Vigil, a baptized Christian was welcomed into the Church was was “…sealed with the gift of GOD’S Holy Spirit.” If the Holy Spirit is God, why the bizarre wording?

  22. Mark: I think their marriage problems are best addressed with a sound local parish priest.

  23. Tom says:

    I suspect most of the regulars here would know it, but in case someone is just passing by: Baptism on the HAND is NOT VALID!

  24. Juliann Russo says:

    Now I feel worse for not having tried to write again to Archbishop Buecklein (sp?) in Indianapolis. Who knows if he ever saw my original letter regarding dividing up the words of baptism between priest and parents. I doubt it. Most likely there are quite a few invalidly baptized individuals left in Fr. Charlie’s wake. He did it at all the baptisms we saw him do. He’s no longer baptizing, but now knows that he was also wrong about purgatory (he died a few years ago), may God have mercy on him.

  25. Mark says:

    “I suspect most of the regulars here would know it, but in case someone is just passing by: Baptism on the HAND is NOT VALID!”

    I wouldnt go so far. I would say it is of very doubtful validity, such that any such baptisms should be re-done, perhaps even non-conditionally. But, it is not SO certain that in an emergency, if that is the only available option, one shouldnt still try it and hope for the best. If in an emergency the hand is all that’s available…then do it. And if the person survives, it can be done again (conditionally or even unconditionally depending on the judgment of the proper authority).

  26. Jason Keener says:

    I agree with you, Fr. Z. These two Baptisms using the word “We” were most likely valid. The use of the word “We” does not seem to change the essential form of the sacrament. The priest still used the words “baptize you” and the proper Trinitarian formula.

    If “I” were absolutely essential to the form of the Sacrament, the Eastern Christians would not be able to validly substitute “The Servant of God is baptized…” for the word “I.”

    I imagine the priest could have been using the word “We” to demonstrate that the entire Catholic family welcomes the child into the Mystical Body of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism. Nonetheless, the proper formula should always be used.

    In the end, if the parents of these children remain in doubt about whether or not the sacrament of Baptism actually took, they could always have the children conditionally baptized.

    (Also, adding the word “Amen” to the end of the words used in the form of Baptism would NOT invalidate the Sacrament.)

  27. anon for now says:

    what happens if the baptizing minister says something in the middle of the
    Trinitarian formula? My child was baptized by an orthodox priest at an
    orthodox parish – no creator-redeemer-water-on-the-butt silliness there. But
    in between “in the name of the father” and “in the name of the son” the priest
    said to the baby something to the effect of “God bless you sweetie.” It
    was totally spontaneous, just the kind of reaction to a cute baby that lots
    of folks have. He finished the Trinitarian formula. I hope this doesn’t
    mean the baptism was not valid! Please let me know Father Z!

  28. Michael J says:

    If the intent of the Priest by using the word “we” was to indicate that the entire Catholic family welcomes the child into the Mystical Body of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, I would think that St. Thomas’ Reply to Objection 4 is pertinent.

    The baptism, then, seems to me to be invalid.

  29. GLF says:

    Quite clearly the Greek minister uses the passive voice to indicate the same thing the Roman minister intends using the active voice. The concern about form isn’t one of simple grammar. St. Alphonsus Ligouri explains in Theologia Moralis how the Greek and Roman traditions are the same in form by arguing that the Greek minister takes as understood “through me” when he says “the servant is baptized”. However, St. Alphonsus goes on, if the Greek minister used the words to exclude his own agency in the sacrament, then the baptism would be invalid. A priest who uses “we baptize” raises serious doubts about his intentions. Does he think he is insufficient as agent, such that it would be untrue to say “I baptize”? If so, I don’t see how the baptism could be valid. It seems similar to the idea that confecting the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist requires both priest and laity.

  30. Jason Keener says:

    Michael J,

    The priest could have used the word “We” without intending or meaning to multiply the actual number of ministers administering the Sacrament of Baptism to these children.

    “We” could have just been more of a general statement the priest made referring to the communal nature of the Sacrament of Baptism whereby an individual is welcomed by the entire the Church into the Communion of Saints.

    In the end, it’s hard to tell exactly what the priest meant by the word “We.” Did the priest really mean to convey that the community present was actually administering the Baptism with him? I hope not, but stranger things have certainly happened.

    This case is just another reason to SAY THE BLACK, AND DO THE RED.

    Pax.