This subject comes up constantly in Catholic mom groups online. I would love your take on it.
Canon 867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it. There are some who baptize their babies immediately after giving birth and some who wait 2-3 months. I’m in the second camp for several reasons…. Clearly, if there was an issue with the baby, a priest would be called in to do an immediate baptism or we would do an emergency baptism ourselves. Those in the other camp say that canon law must be followed to the T. Most parish/diocese policy also makes it difficult to do a baptism immediately after birth. My parish requires a birth certificate, which I didn’t receive until about 6 weeks after my son was born. Baptism prep classes can take up to a month to complete. Some parishes do not allow baptisms during Lent or only arrange one day for baptisms in each month. I’ve never even heard of someone baptizing their child before birth. Is this really done? So, what do you say to this? I feel that those of us on both sides of the\ issue are doing the right thing in seeking the sacrament for our children soon after birth. Is the difference between 2 and 12 weeks really a big deal? Are those of us who wait a month or two sinning?
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
First, a clarification, baptism is not done before birth – the canon refers to going immediately after or even before birth to talk to the priest to arrange for the baptism.
The deeper question – how long should one wait before having one’s child baptized? In some cultures and in some places, baptism take place almost immediately after birth. Pope Benedict XVI was born early in the morning on Holy Saturday and was baptized in his parish church later that same day.
The canon speaks of “the first few weeks,” without giving further specificity. A month? Two months? Three months? Perhaps a good litmus test would be: how do you refer to the age of your newborn? “Billy’s seven weeks old.” “Amanda’s just over 10 weeks now.” “The twins are five months old.” “Ryan is 37 years old, and almost ready to stand on his own now. We’re so proud!”
If you’re still referring to your child’s age in weeks, I would argue, you’re still within the canonical range of “the first few weeks.”
Making reasonable preparations for family members to attend, and giving mother and child a chance to rest up before making the big public appearance does not seem to me to be incurring any sin, especially if the parents are knowledgeable and prepared to baptize their child in case of an emergency.