ASK FATHER: Delaying baptism until after Lent

baptism ancientFrom a reader…


The pastoral associate at our NO parish makes a point of insisting every year that we don’t do Baptisms during Lent, supposedly as a way of showing unity with the Catechumens. A couple of years ago, for my daughter that was born in late February, I effectively demanded the sacrament for her based on on CCC 1250, which tasks both the Church and the parents to “confer Baptism shortly after birth” without noting any exception based on the liturgical calendar. Our pastor was on my side and so obviously the Baptism occurred (during Lent, much to the PA’s chagrin). This practice of delaying the sacrament continues at our parish unless one gets the pastor involved.

The question is: Is there a tradition of such a practice as delaying Baptism until after Lent? Is such a practice documented anywhere?

In the ancient Church, baptisms most often involved adults.  They were done at the Easter Vigil, after a lengthy period of catechesis.

While it’s always good to look back to the foundations of our faith for guidance and direction, it’s also good to look at why our forebears stopped doing what they did.

baptism_01Once Christianity was legalized and being Christian didn’t automatically subject one to suspicion, probable arrest and likely execution, we could be a bit more open about how we welcomed newcomers into the faith. Coupled with Christ’s clear command to baptize, we started baptizing new believers, including children, more frequently. No longer a once-a-year event, baptism came to be relatively commonplace.

Fast forward to today. There is no prohibition in the law against baptizing during the season of Lent. None.

Canon 867 in the 1983 CIC places on parents the obligation to have their infants baptized “in the first few weeks.”

The ritual books place a preference on baptizing adults at the Easter Vigil, but even that is not mandatory.

Baptism should come when the adult has “manifested the intention to receive baptism, been instructed sufficiently about the truths of the faith and Christian obligations, and been tested in the Christian life through the catechumenate.”

Baptism. It’s not a thing to be trifled with.  It should not be delayed too long, especially out of what might sometimes be but a sentimental reason.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. kat says:

    It saddens me when I hear about parishes, or friends who belong to them, where Baptisms are “scheduled” every few months. Of my six children, the longest delay was 8 days. Three of them were baptized at two days old. I call my priest from the hospital and schedule the baptism for ASAP after the birth. I don’t like driving unbaptized babies around, (and often had to take my babies for daily billirubin blood tests in their first week.). While we may not like to think about it, infants can die suddenly too. It almost seems as if the delay comes because of a lack of belief in the necessity of baptism for salvation, including for children. “God wouldn’t deny my baby heaven if he dies before I am able to get him baptized.” I have friends who lost their babies. Because they were baptized, we know for a fact that child is now interceding for its family before the throne of God.

  2. JamesM says:

    I am curious as to what level of authority a ‘pastoral associate’ has in this (or any) matter. As a layperson, my presumption is none at all.

    Having never been in a parish that has a ‘pastoral associate’, or ‘pastoral assistant’, or any of these other roles that I see mentioned at times, I’m not really an expert.

  3. MJFarber says:

    Not to get into non sequiturs but the picture is priceless!

  4. Skeinster says:

    We had a good sermon about this a while back. Father stressed the importance of an early baptism, and explained that it took precedence over having family or friends there. And that dad was to enforce this and deflect any resulting displeasure.

  5. Fr AJ says:

    JamesM, an assistant priest in a parish would have no authority as far as setting parish policy of when baptisms occur. The pastor of the parish is the one in authority.

  6. Johnny Domer says:

    Fun fact: Pope Benedict was baptized at the Easter Vigil, but his parents sure didn’t have to wait long! He was born in the wee hours of the morning on Holy Saturday, and his godparents took him to the Easter Vigil Mass that day to get baptized. Because the pre-1950’s Easter Vigil Mass was offered the morning of Holy Saturday, he was baptized only a few hours after he was born!

  7. ctln says:

    My former parish has the same policy- they DO NOT do baptisms during Lent unless it’s an “emergency.” When my daughter was born, they also did not do baptisms during ADVENT if you can believe it. Oh the irony. I actually had my daughter baptized in the university parish where my cousin belonged (she was the godmother, and we knew the priest there) because we were moving out of state and there was no way I was going to take an unbaptized baby on an airplane. Needless to say I was completely infuriated by this, and they have since changed that policy at least…. Baptism is not something to screw around with.

  8. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    Actually, the practice in the cities of Italy in the High Middle Ages (1125-1325), the age of Francis and Thomas Aquinas, was to do all the Baptisms (unless there was danger of death) at the Easter and Pentecost Vigils, which occurred on the afternoon of the Saturdays before Easter and Pentecost Sunday. This explains the huge baptistries in Pisa and Florence, for example. They are not ancient. I discuss this at length in chapter 8 of my Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes (Penn State Press, 2007)

    The great Thomist Cajetan, representing general option in High Medieval Italy, considered children of Catholic parents who intended to have the child baptized as receiving a vicarious baptism of desire, if they die before the Baptism itself. They were “virtual catechumans.” That mirrors the opinion of the ancient Church for adult catechumans—the origin of the doctrine of “Baptism of desire.” I think this is sound position.

  9. JamesM says:

    Fr AJ

    I am aware of the status of an assistant priest, or often called a curate here in the UK.

    I presumed the ‘pastoral associate’ was a layperson. Here in the UK they are often called ‘pastoral assistants’ and are found in more liberal parishes. I’m unaware of whatever canonical rights they have??

  10. baseballmom says:

    Our son and DIL had the same issue at their parish. But the DIL has a theology degree from an orthodox Catholic university and did not buy that nonsense for a minute… We were blessed to have their son and another grandson baptized at the same time. The Church Secretary tried to get it cancelled at the last minute but she was unsuccessful… I truly do not understand the motivations of these people – very strange indeed.

  11. My stance on this is this: nothing forbids baptisms during Lent, and the Church urges parents not to delay, so — we have baptisms during Lent.

    That said, in the ordinary form, there is an…anomaly. The ritual calls for an Alleluia and a verse with it, which accompanies moving from the baptistry to the altar — a procession, if you will. Nothing is proposed as an alternative during Lent; yet it seems odd to me to use the Alleluia, so I omit it. My guess is that it’s just one of those things that no one has noticed, let alone fixed — assuming it really needs “fixing.” (Meanwhile, our genial host is muttering, just the the older form then…)

  12. Joseph-Mary says:

    My parish will not do baptisms during Mass during Lent but will do them outside of Mass by the deacon. I myself was baptized during Advent.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re Fr. Thompson, I believe that was also the bit where only certain churches were baptism churches.

    I do agree with the virtual catechumen thing, but of course actually being baptized is better than having to ride on intention.

    Re the rest, it is marriages you are not supposed to do during Lent or Advent, not Baptisms!

    This year, a local parish decided that they should leave out the Gospel Acclamation during Lent, not just change the Alleluia to the Lent thing. People hear some crazy stuff.

  14. Gerard Plourde says:

    “The ritual calls for an Alleluia and a verse with it, which accompanies moving from the baptistry to the altar — a procession, if you will.”

    Could the thought here be similar to that which mandates the recitation of the Gloria on Solemnities occurring during Lent (Annunciation and the feast of St. Joseph)?

  15. While baptisms outside of Lent may be more liturgically appropriate, the practical effect of the sacrament trumps all that. If I had an infant early in Lent, I would demand baptism right away too. Maybe if the infant arrived in the fifth or sixth week of Lent, waiting might be appropriate. We can’t allow the symbolism of baptism to overshadow its reality. Fortunately, while common, this inane practice is not so widespread as to prevent one from voting with one’s feet if necessary. If I presented an infant for baptism and were refused for such a specious reason, I would take my family and my weekly contributions to another, more sensible parish. If they do things like that, the chances are good that they do other questionable things too.

  16. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:


    Yes, in the “pievi” (baptismal churches), which were in the country 20 miles or more outside the city, baptisms were also done only at Easter and Pentecost unless the child was in immanent danger of death. Then the bishop did a circuit to confirm the infants. The same early confirmation was typical in all of Europe, although in the large northern dioceses, it might take a couple years for the bishop to get around. The pievi, under an archpriest, had chapels (much like modern parishes but without baptismal rights) subordinate to them.

    In the Italian cities, the bishop baptized the first couple of infants, then stood aside to let priests baptize the rest so that he could confirm them all at the same ceremony. The infants then got First Communion at the Vigil Mass, or in some cases at the Easter Day Mass–since they did not have to keep as long a Eucharistic fast.

    As you probably know, before Pius X moved to early Communion, Confirmation was done before first Communion. That is why the order of sacraments in the old Baltimore Catechism is “Baptism, Confirmation, Communion,” not the modern order.

    For more on Italy, see my _Cities of God_.

  17. Nicholas says:

    If the baby boy grows up to be a man in a good Carholic household with a vocation to the priesthood, then he could lead his parish out from this craziness and even use the EF.

  18. frjim4321 says:

    I don’t believe in being more Catholic than the Church so I don’t prohibit baptism during Lent but we discourage them in deference to local liturgical sensibilities. I think they are officially discouraged in this diocese but frankly I don’t remember where I read that. There’s no canon preventing it.

    The buildup to the vigil is a big deal and deferring baptism until the Easter season is helpful since it associates the Easter Sacraments with the proper season. That being said, we don’t abstain from the Eucharist during Lent (although we have some home schoolers that oddly seem to think there is some spiritual benefit derived from “fasting from communion”). And we don’t empty the holy water receptacles during Lent (although we do after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper).

    We’ve had a few baptisms during Lent in the past. Special circumstances. Military family. Unhealthy baby. European family members in town. Etc. The fix is easy, we just explain to the assembly that although baptism are more appropriate during Eastertide, there are special circumstances in this case … No harm, no foul.

  19. Matt R says:

    Fr. Jim, whatever the merits of celebrating baptism at Mass, during Lent you could celebrate them outside of Mass.

  20. KateD says:

    frjim4321 – We belong to a huge Catholic Homeschool group with all flavors of Catholics (OF, EF, Easter Rite) and I don’t know a single family who errantly believes there is a spiritual benefit derived from “fasting from Communion”.

    Perhaps there’s another reason?

  21. frjim4321 says:

    “Fr. Jim, whatever the merits of celebrating baptism at Mass, during Lent you could celebrate them outside of Mass.” – Matt

    Why? All the more reason to avoid baptisms in Lent.

    Kate D., I really don’t know …

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