ASK FATHER: What constitutes solid baptism prep?

From a reader…


What constitutes solid “prep” for parents of an infant to be baptized?

I (34, married, 4 kids) have been charged by our pastor with prepping the parents (one Catholic, one non, first child) of an infant to be baptized in our parish. I want to be thorough and formal, so I’m not asking our DRE. It seems like a great moment for catechesis, so I’d rather not just “put some stuff together.” Any suggestions of a text?

topics? sources?


I can’t recommend a particular resource. I’m not sure that a book (or video, or pamphlet) is the key here. Any basic resource in the right hands can be good, and an excellent book in the hands of someone who is inept is not going to fill the necessary gaps.

What goals are we seeking to accomplish? If we’re trying to fill in for a complete lack of catechesis due to shoddy Catholic schools, poor family backgrounds, and a lack of interest, it’s simply not going to happen in a one or two-session baptismal prep.

Ideally, parents have been raised in solidly practicing Catholic families, and/or attend Catholic schools where they learned the basics of the faith, developed habits of daily prayer, regular confession and weekly Mass attendance, while internalizing good moral discernment.

This is now relatively rare.

The purpose of baptismal preparation in these less-than-ideal situations is to try to impress upon the parents the need to live up to the responsibilities that they are agreeing to in having their children baptized.

Do they realize that they have a responsibility towards the young one? Do they understand that, in agreeing to have their child baptized, they are saying publicly, “We, the parents, are going to come to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day from now on”? Do they understand that they have a responsibility to teach their child the basics of the faith, which also that they have to know the basics of the faith? If they don’t already know these basics, do they realize that they spend the time and energy to learn?

One must convey all of this in an inviting way.  If you can get the parents to understand that this a great adventure, that living the Catholic faith to the fullest extent is the best way to live a happy and fulfilling life, then you are on to something. It’s a daunting task. You have a limited amount of time available to you. Pray to the Holy Spirit for inspiration, and to the guardian angels of the parents and of the child to guide you in saying the right things.

Good luck!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Use the Catechism to start. . .then switch to the rite itself.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  2. Margaret says:

    It’s been quite a while since we taught, but my husband and I would do an abbreviated history of salvation from the Catechism, plus the section on Baptism. IIRC, the Catechism discussion of Baptism steps through the various parts of the rite and unpacks the meaning. We also followed at the end with an reminder and exhortation that this is a *beginning*, an entry for this tiny babe, into the life of the Church. That parties and photos, while nice, are not the essential. Continuing the bring the wee one to Mass each weekend, and living out the faith at home, are the critical pieces. We’d remind them of a few basics like family rosary and grace and bedtime prayers. We didn’t have the budget to actually give each family a catechism and bible, but that would have been our preference.

    It seemed to work. We definitely saw some families step up their serious practice of the faith, and had at least one non-Catholic spouse convert.

  3. Margaret says:

    I should add, the “salvation history” bit above was put in the context of “Why Baptism?” Why would anyone do this or think it’s important?

  4. LarryW2LJ says:

    I serve on a Baptism prep team.

    Our sessions start out by giving a little “True or False” quiz on Baptism facts. It breaks the ice with the parents and godparents and it gives us an idea of what they know or don’t know.

    After that, one of our team members goes into the history of the sacrament. Why Jesus instituted it as a sacrament and how it changed (very little) throughout Church history.

    We then go through what is actually going to happen at the ceremony itself. We have a copy of the ceremony and go through it, so they know what to expect. When they should respond, how they should respond, etc.

    We finish with a session on nurturing the faith and how to build up the domestic church at home. I begin that by asking the parents and godparents what they remember from their childhood, how they were brought up. Then we go into ways that will help them continue with the work of raising their children as good, practicing Catholics.

  5. Gabriel Syme says:

    Fr Z makes an excellent point that its really how the resource is used which is important – and so even a basic resource can be excellent in the right hands.

    Years ago, I read on this blog a review of the Angelus Press booklet “Baptism” – the review concluded that the booklet is “useful” and as I now own a copy (child due in October!) I can certainly agree with that.

    The booklet is packed with everything you need to know about the traditional form of the sacrament and has other good content such as reflections and a bit about the ‘Churching of Women’ (a traditional blessing for a Catholic woman after she has given birth).

    Its so good, in fact, I might get other copies to hand out to baptism guests who are not familiar with the traditional form.

    I have found it very useful, as for one thing most people – Catholics and nominal protestants – where I live seem to understand Godparent roles chiefly as a way to make a sibling or special friend feel important.

  6. frjim4321 says:

    Use the Catechism to start. . .then switch to the rite itself.

    The Rite is a good place to start and the family home should have a Compendium.

    Since the Catechism is mainly a sourcebook for catechists, pastors and other professionals it does not work well as a primary text.

    There are number of good sources for pre-baptismal materials including video resources. XXIII (Twenty Third Publications) does a good job; they are neither overly progressive/left leaning nor traditional/reactionary/retro. I can usually rely on XXIII for a balanced approach.

  7. Uxixu says:

    Baltimore Catechism! You can go through the first two volumes pretty quick.

  8. Mike says:

    Recently I attended my first Extraordinary Form baptism (not counting my own at the outset of Vatican II, of which my newborn self retained no memory). I haven’t reviewed the rite but what snatches I could catch of the prayers — regular recent TLM attendance having been something of a help — was a blessed eye-opener.

    Based on that, I’d compare catechesis from (or participation in) the rite itself to a ride on water skis, and catechesis from the Baltimore Catechism to a ride in the tow boat.

  9. Kate says:

    Have you considered asking the parents (“one Catholic, one non”) where they are in their level of understanding of the sacrament? The “non” may well be a Christian who understands Baptism better than you think.

    Nothing turns off a listener faster the presentation of “new” information that’s already known. And if they catch a whiff of condescension, well, that can turn someone off completely…

    I suggest you find out the level of knowledge of the couple first. They may know more than you think they do.

    (Also, IMHO, learning about Baptism in the Extraordinary Form would be a fascinating!)

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