QUAERITUR: Can parishes stop baptizing during Lent?

From a reader:

Our pastor has a policy of no infant baptism during Lent. We have baby due prior to Ash Wednesday and would like to baptize son after.

I am under impression canon law mandates infant baptism soon after birth.

Can this policy stand in the face of the canon?

There is no canonical reason for prohibiting baptisms during Lent.

This is a practice pushed by the same sort of liturgists who came up with the dopey idea of removing holy water from stoups during Lent.  It’s silliness. It is more than silliness. It is dangerous.  It plays games with things that are truly important.

Canon 867 establishes that parents “are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks” (Parentes obligatione ne tenentur curandi ut infantes intra priores hebdomadas baptizentur).

There is admittedly some wiggle room there.  Nevertheless, “a few weeks” is ordinarily something less than a month.  A case could be made that a child born on Ash Wednesday who is baptized on Easter Sunday is baptized “within the first few weeks,” but unless there is a serious reason for delaying the baptism (e.g., travel time for distant relatives, military obligations, etc.), the question is: why delay the baptism?

If you want to do something about this, speak to the pastor first. Find out his reason is for the “policy”. It may be that he forgot to pay the water bill and the parish’s water supply has been turned off and it will take some time to reconnect the pipes, and, since he is embarrassed about the screw up, he is covering his tracks by imposing this silly policy.   If that is his explanation, offer to pay for a couple gallons of bottled water to assist the good pastor in the interim.

If the pastor refuses to allow an exception, let him know that you are going to make an appeal to the local bishop. Then write to the bishop (or perhaps to the “regional vicar” if this is a big diocese), with a copy to the pastor, asking if the policy could be changed, or if permission is needed to seek baptism at another parish that is more accommodating to the needs of the faithful. (No permission is needed, in fact, but ask anyway.)

Since time is of the essence, pursuing further recourse to the Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship would probably be pointless: you probably wouldn’t get a response back before Easter.

If no response is given from the bishop and the pastor is unwilling to budge, take your adorable little pagan heathen to another parish with a less rigid, less silly pastor and ask for the sacrament.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Scott W. says:

    “This is a practice pushed by the same sort of liturgists who came up with the dopey idea of removing holy water from stoups during Lent. It’s silliness. It is more than silliness. It is dangerous. It plays games with things that are truly important.”

    In case anyone is curious about where specifically this odious practice comes from, I have been informed that the font-draining is advocated in The Three Days: Parish Prayer in the Paschal Triduum by Gabe Huc. Check your parish library. If is there, chuck it into the dustbin. :)

  2. David D. says:

    My son was baptized during Lent using the old rite. Find an EF priest and he’ll do it if you explain the situation. Strangely, I think many pastors who don’t permit baptisms during Lent have no problem with weddings during the same season.

  3. priests wife says:

    This is holding sacraments hostage- and only slightly less odious that the DRE’s policy at my sister’s Roman-rite parish that requires two years of weekly two and a half hour evening classes for homeschoolers to receive their First Communion.

  4. capsela says:

    We had a priest refuse to baptize our 4th son during Advent. I was pretty mad and horrified because we had already delayed the baptism more than I was comfortable with since my husband was deployed when our son was born. So my child born at the end of October didn’t get baptized until January for no good reason other than my priest decided he wasn’t going to do baptisms during Advent.

  5. Blaise says:

    I have never heard of this canonical requirement for Baptism “within the first few weeks” before. But then when does anyone hear about canonical requirements in Church these days?

    I do think that “the first few weeks” is not by any means necessarily interpreted as within a month. For some reason I would interpret the phrase “the first few weeks” to be somehow a period further than “a few weeks”. But either way I think it could easily be more than a month. 5 or 6 weeks is certainly within the first few weeks to my mind.

    Not that Lent isn’t longer than that anyway.

    Maybe the priest is hoping to have someone to baptize at the Easter vigil.

  6. RichR says:

    I don’t presume to judge the pastor, but this is the type of stuff you get when you take “baptism of desire” to dangerous extremes. Symbols become more important than moral certainty of a state of grace.

  7. Choirmaster says:

    If she doesn’t get an answer quickly in the affirmative, I would baptize the infant myself, [I think it would be far better to find another priest.] and then be sure to warn my pastor to use the conditional formula and explain that I had to take matters into my own hands until it pleased the ordinary minister to return to his duties. This isn’t something to play political games with. This seems to be just such a situation that is trying to be avoided by allowing anyone to be a minister of baptism. There should be no excuse for excessive delays.

  8. Philangelus says:

    Father Z, I believe the baby wouldn’t be an adorable little pagan because s/he isn’t worshipping false gods. Technically speaking, the baby would be an adorable little heathen.


  9. Maltese says:

    If no response is given from the bishop and the pastor is unwilling to budge, take your adorable little pagan to another parish with a less rigid, less silly pastor and ask for the sacrament.

    And if that fails, why not baptize the child yourself?

  10. Now this is awkward. Whether by explanation while in seminary or just observing common practice, I had always understood this practice to have the force of canon law – and recently explained this to my parish as to why we couldn’t (not wouldn’t – couldn’t!) do baptisms during Lent.

    Guess I’ll be retracing my steps here. I know some parents who will be gratified to hear it! Thanks for the heads-up.

  11. New Sister says:

    Just last year, I was present when my pastor received a request for baptism from a family outside the parish. Their Franciscan-run parish had the same policy – no baptisms during Lent. Our priest got visibly angry (the only time I’ve seen him like that) and instructed the family to report this to the Chancery right away.

  12. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Thanks for the great blog entry, Father. My wife and I were initially concerned about this exact issue, but then she delivered 16 days early and we’re now having the Baptism Feb 19. :))

  13. Volanges says:

    Blaise, the canon has a bit more to it than what Fr. Z quoted.
    Can. 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.

    That gives a bit more urgency than 5 or 6 weeks.

  14. Legisperitus says:

    *opens rabbit hole*

    There are several definitions of “pagan,” of varying breadth. The narrowest definition is one who worships specific false gods, but the broadest definition encompasses anyone who is not Christian or Jewish. (Hence the references in older poetry to Muslims as “Paynims.”)

    *closes rabbit hole*

  15. Ben Yanke says:

    I might also add that the CDWDS specifically condemned with strong language the removal of holy water from the fonts. I wish I could find the letter now…

  16. Nicole says:

    I would say barring finding a sympathetic priest to baptize your child before Easter, be certain to baptize him yourself if you find him in danger of death…and be certain to inform your bishop of the goings-on. I honestly have never heard of deferring an infant’s baptism (and have, in fact, heard quite a bit against it…such as the admonition present in the Bull of Union with the Copts)…maybe it’s a local thing?

  17. Elizabeth M says:

    I’m quite surprised by all this. Our priest related the story of St. Louis (I think) and that his mother wouldn’t even kiss him until he was baptized so his father took the infant the same day. When my son was born in 2010 I couldn’t get him to the church fast enough! He was baptized 9 days after birth and only that late because our parish had chicken pox out-brake and our doctor told us to stay away.

  18. frsbr says:

    Baptism is only proscribed during the Sacred Triduum, except in case of emergency. During his apostolic visit to Brazil, Pope Benedict encouraged priests to be generous in administering the sacrament of Baptism. BTW, confessions may always be heard during the Triduum, even during the liturgical celebrations, if pastorally necessary, i.e., if that is the only time when people have the opportunity to receive the sacrament. Any priest who makes himself thus available can attest to the quantity of “big fish” who make it to confession, seemingly at the last minute.

  19. Actually, not baptizing babies in Lent, but waiting for Easter to baptize (and confirm and give communion to) was the near universal practice in Medieval Italy from at least 1150 to well after 1325. I have written extensively on his in my book _Cities of God_ (HERE).

    But then, they were already enrolled as catechumens, and since antiquity, catechumens were considered already Christians, not going to Limbo, and given Christian burial, the later problem of compression of the whole of the initiation rites into one ceremony did not present the problem of the rush to save the child from Limbo. Perhaps the pastor should just enroll those babies as catechumens if this delay is what he wants . . .

  20. Father and colleagues, seeing as this seems to be at the hand of the pastor, and as always, the soul’s salvation is the utmost concern of one’s self, could the parents, if all else fails, engage in an emergency baptism with a vial of holy water, just in case?

  21. Maynardus says:

    As an aside, kudos to Father Maurer for his humilty!

  22. I do baptisms all year long. We do have a requirement for a class before the first child is baptized, and we do find people get hung up finding godparents; and we have to press a little to make sure they are suitable–such as, Catholic…

    I do weddings too, which aren’t forbidden, but they are to be more subdued. Hah!

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  24. tonesing says:

    How about conditionally baptize and thank the pastor later?

  25. tonesing says:

    Er, I meant was, “How about baptizing the child yourself, then take him to the pastor for a conditional baptism?” Although we should attempt to politicize the sacraments, this would clearly make a point.

  26. tonesing says:

    *not attempt…

    I need more coffee… How quickly can that Mystic Monk coffee get here, Padre?

  27. I know of one diocese that has written in its policies that “It is recommended that baptisms not be celebrated during the season of Lent but, if possible, be postponed until Easter.” At least it doesn’t flat out say “no baptisms during Lent”, but it has been read to mean “don’t do baptisms during Lent” by most of the clergy of this particular diocese.

  28. Alice says:

    Father Z,
    Could you please clarify? I have always understood that a lay person may only baptize if the person being baptized is in grave danger and that for a layperson to baptize when grave danger is not present is both highly illicit and sinful. Also, I was taught that if a layperson must baptize, it is preferred that the person baptizing not be a the child’s parent. Every time these discussions come up, people advocate for lay Baptism “just in case” and I was taught that that is sinful and causes more problems than it solves. Were my homeschooling, Latin-Mass attending parents wrong?

    [Every situation is a little different. But, in general, people should have a proper minister of baptism do the whole rite. If there is danger of death, then, by all means, baptize. Otherwise, find a priest, get it set up as soon as viable, and have it done right. Let true emergencies be the exceptions.]

  29. APX says:

    I was always under the impression that Baptisms during Lent were forbidden too unless there was grave necessity to have the child baptized. But then again, I come from dioceses where first reconciliation happens after first communion, and baptisms are done once every 6 months on a Saturday service outside of Mass in a mass group of people, so I don’t know how reliable the information I receive is anymore.

  30. Mary Jane says:

    Baptisms are never forbidden, no mater what time it is in the liturgical year. Priests should not restrict this sacrament!

    I know a family who waited 3 months to have their baby girl baptized. I know another family who had their baby girl baptized 2 days after she was born.

    As soon as possible is best.

  31. cdruiz says:

    The Lenten prohibition is for Ritual Masses, which would include Baptisms during Mass. I think that this often gets interpreted as a prohibition of Baptisms in general.

    My suspicion is that for parishes where Baptism Ritual Masses are the norm, it is easier for the pastor to make a blanket prohibition.

    Of course, I think the laity could handle the distinction just fine.

    GIRM 329a. …ritual Masses, which are related to the celebration of certain sacraments or sacramentals;

    GIRM 330. Ritual Masses are prohibited on the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter season, on solemnities, on days within the octave of Easter, on All Souls, on Ash Wednesday, and during Holy Week.

  32. Margaret says:

    This reminds me– a friend told me recently that one of our local parishes, a super-solid, orthodox place, has instituted an insane baptism rule. You cannot even start the paperwork process for the baptism (much less take the class, etc.) until you have baby’s birth certificate in hand. In our county, the minimum wait to get a birth certificate is six weeks. What a needless impediment…

  33. Alice says:

    Wait, if ritual Masses are forbidden on all those days, why have so many of practicing Catholic couples I’ve known gotten married with a full Nuptial Mass on November 1, December 8, January 1, and Easter Saturday? When they’ve talked about it, it sounded like they had chosen those days because they felt that it would be a sign that they took their faith seriously to marry on those Solemnities. I know our priest offered us Easter Saturday and we’d already decided to have a Nuptial Mass. Are there exceptions for the Church in the United States?

  34. Cephas218 says:

    “Nevertheless, “a few weeks” is ordinarily something less than a month. A case could be made that a child born on Ash Wednesday who is baptized on Easter Sunday is baptized “within the first few weeks,” but unless there is a serious reason for delaying the baptism (e.g., travel time for distant relatives, military obligations, etc.), the question is: why delay the baptism?”

    While I heartily agree with your underlying query (why delay the baptism?) I question whether travel time for distant relatives should be used as a serious reason for delay. With families spread out the way they are, it could often be months before family could come together. Isn’t the Christening of the young’un more important than the attendance of the relatives? Does the attendance of relatives serve more than a feel good, let’s get together purpose?

  35. Volanges says:

    Alice, when you say ‘Easter Saturday’, I’m assuming you mean the Saturday after Easter?

    When it comes to Ritual Masses I think it needs to be understood that one can get married within Mass and not have it be a Nuptial Mass and one can have a Baptism during Mass and still use the Collects of the Sunday and not the Collects that are in the Rite of Baptism for Infants, where it clearly says “If this is not a Sunday of Easter, (or Christmas or Advent, etc. ) this Collect may be used.” Celebrating the Baptism during the Mass is not the problem, using the wrong prayers would be.

  36. neworleansgirl says:

    My brother’s parish in Dallas, TX only does Baptisms every few months. Their last child was born in June but just after the June Baptism Sunday where they Baptize a dozen babies at the Mass. So they had to wait for the next Baptism Sunday which was in September.

    I think it’s awful for a parish to limit it to a quarterly event where they Baptize a dozen babies assembly-line style.

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