ASK FATHER: Is it wrong to use Holy Water to bless my unbaptized children?

From a Protestant, catechumen…


My husband and I are Protestant Christians, both baptized. We have three young children, all under the age of 5, and none of them are baptized. We are beginning RCIA and have been regularly attending a Catholic parish for about 9 months now. I was under the impression that it is alright to make the sign of the cross on the foreheads of my toddler and baby with holy water, and to teach my 4 year old how to bless herself. My husband disagreed, saying that only Catholics should do this. We asked our priest, who agreed with my husband that the use of holy water is only for the baptized; however, since we are praying that our oldest will soon choose to be baptized (we feel she is too old for us to force it upon her and the priest agrees), it is alright to teach her how to use it. So, then, is it wrong for me to use holy water to bless my other unbaptized children who are too small to reach into the font properly and then make the sign of the cross on themselves? Thank you for your help.

I see no reason why sacramentals cannot be used, within reason, by – or in this case on – the unbaptized.  Certainly it would not do to sprinkle holy water on an adult heathen who rejects the faith. Can. 1170 states,

“Blessings, which are to be imparted first of all to Catholics, can also be given to catechumens and even to non-Catholics, unless there is a prohibition of the Church to the contrary.”

The mother raises an interesting issue.

Children are presumed to attain the age of reason at 7 years old.  Prior to that point they are considered infants.  As such, they are unable to make the adult choice to be baptized.  They therefore fall under their parents’ rule.

However, if  – as seems to be the case here – a younger child demonstrates a maturity beyond her years, she may have prematurely attained the use of reason.  Thus, she could be able to make the conscious choice for baptism.

I strongly caution against the notion of all children being allowed to “make their own decision” with regards to Faith. Parents have a right and the responsibility to raise the children whom God has entrusted to them.  That responsibility includes having them baptized and catechized.

Work with the parish priest closely in the decision making process.

In the meantime, keep using that Holy Water. Keep teaching little fingers to make those little Crosses.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Welcome home! May I just comment on the baptism. A four-year old should be baptised, after some age appropriate faith instruction of course. Baptism is so crucial for us! I also think she could feel left out. That could cause quite a lot of harm to her.

  2. Rachel K says:

    Totally agree that the four year old should be baptised on the wish of the parents. I am baffled that the parish priest has not suggested this course of action, that when the parents enter the Church all three little ones should be baptised too, after all, their parents are already beneficiaries of this great sacrament and so their souls are marked now for Christ. Why wouldn’t they want that for their lovely children too?

  3. Phil_NL says:

    Well, a 4 year old that receives proper and age-appropriate instruction would want to be baptized, right? If not, it was hardly proper instruction; at that age they will not likely to revolt against their parents for the sake of it, but are responsive to promised benefits – and what greater promise is there than in baptism?

    A few sessions of half an hour or an hour would get that sorted, and then you’d be making a lot out of it, in my opinion. I guess that the real ‘issue’ here is that someone is too influenced by the route the parents are taking (and the fact I never read anything good about RCIA here doesn’t commend that road….), and making it into a months-long process, while the kids’ baptisms could be sorted in a few days. Even if you wish to give the 4 year old a say in the matter.

  4. Phil_NL says:

    On another note, since a 4 year old (and younger) would not be expected to receive any other initiation sacrament, and it is the wish of the parents for their children to be Catholic, couldn’t we say that the children are in fact Catholic from the moment of their baptism?

    Practically, I reckon that this knowledge (beating his/her parents to the punch) would bring a smile on the face of the 4 year old.
    Philosophically, it makes you wonder when a conversion process is completed, especially for those unable to receive Communion for any reason they cannot fix on short notice.

  5. Unwilling says:

    PhilNL says “a 4 year old who receives proper and age-appropriate instruction would want to be baptized.” Correct! What I see under the surface here is a lack of understanding of the concept of objective Truth.

    There is a very bad tendency to misunderstand the meaning and reality of acceptance of the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God in his Mystical Body, the Catholic Church. Obedient acceptance of Revelation is not the same as deciding/choosing to “belong” to a political party or to “support” a sports team.

    It makes no more sense to forebear directing children to the Way of Salvation than it would to suggest they make up their own minds when to cross busy streets or what bottles under the bathroom sink they should drink out of. Etc.

    Of course, if the child, for whatever unhappy cause, objects and refuses to be Baptized, he should not he forced.

  6. acmeaviator says:

    “I strongly caution against the notion of all children being allowed to “make their own decision” with regards to Faith. Parents have a right and the responsibility to raise the children whom God has entrusted to them. That responsibility includes having them baptized and catechized.”

    The “make their own decisions” crowd are really saying to parents “stand back and let us determine what your children should think and believe – you just keep them clothed, fed and housed and we’ll take care of the rest.”

  7. Yes, I have a missal from the 1965 Mass. I got it for a few dollars at a used bookstore in Vancouver, WA….

  8. Supertradmum says:

    In all my years working with families in RCIA, I have never heard a priest tell parents to a child under 18 that the child should decide on their own.

    What is this all about? Children are under the guidance and in obedience and can learn to love Catholicism. This false idea creates a division in the family.


  9. Patti Day says:

    I’m wondering what reason a child under the age of five could give as to why she didn’t wish to be baptized.

  10. Susan G says:

    Hmmm. I’m not sure and wouldn’t presume to speak on the appropriateness of allowing the child to choose in this situation but am very excited to attend the baptism of a two year old this weekend who is bursting with joy in anticipation of her baptism. Her mother is non-Catholic, but she spends much time with her grandparents and the mother has agreed to Baptism. The child is so excited and loves church. This post reminded me of her and made me wonder how we respond to the contrary. Clearly a child cannot be baptized without parental consent but it would seem that the sacrament would be rendered useless by someone who doesn’t believe it or desire it until such time as they do in the case presented. Still an act of grace but unless we are receptive to it and properly disposed it cannot be efficacious.

  11. Unwilling says:

    Patti Day
    1. Grandma says being baptised [religious, church going] is bad
    2. Uncle George says the priest will try to touch me bad
    3. I don’t want to have water poured on me
    4. I don’t like that man [Fr X]
    5. Imagine

    Of course, parents who accept the Gospel have a duty (lovingly and rationally) to remove these false or silly “reasons” from the mind of the child until he ceases to refuse Baptism.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Well, obviously you wouldn’t want to haul a four-year-old to the font, kicking and screaming. If the kid’s in a “No” stage, it’s pastoral to wait a little bit, even though the parents’ consent would make the Sacrament totally valid.

    OTOH, I agree that there are probably plenty of ways to present this to the kid more sweetly. Any opposition is probably just the kid worrying about the big changes going on, or having a picture in her mind that she’s going to be dunked face-first.

    Holy water is for everybody. In the case of the unbaptized, it’s a symbolic call to BE baptized, and that’s nothing but good!

  13. kittenchan says:

    One of the best responses I ever heard to the idea of not raising a child in any religion but instead waiting until he was old enough to “decide for themselves” was that we wouldn’t similarly raise our child without a language but instead wait for him to choose his own, now would we?

  14. Imrahil says:

    Dear Supertradmum,

    maybe they didn’t tell them because there was no need. But all children that have use of reason – that is roughly, all children of and above the age of 7 – need to accept their own baptism, even (I hear) for validity.

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