Bishops would do well to quiz priests, and seminarians before ordination as deacons, about how to baptize. Some might find this insulting, but given how important this is… who cares? I have heard some pretty crazy things in my email. Some men trained in certain place and certain years – this includes especially permanent deacons, by the way – cannot be assumed to know how to baptize properly.
I mean … how hard is it, guys, to do it right? To do it in such a way that there can be no doubt in the minds of those watching that it was valid? How hard is it? For all love, if priests and deacons can’t do these basic things right, say the black and do the red, they should be sent to some… I dunno… “re-education” camp. No air-conditioning. No screens on the windows. Perhaps they should stay in camps on the model of Sheriff Arpaio’s in Maricopa County until they can demonstrate that they know the words and actions.
QUAERITUR: What if the water doesn’t flow on the head?
I put this to the CDF and received a response that the baptism is not valid. Other great writers have established that if they water does not flow on the head, the validity is doubtful and it should be repeated conditionally. Say there is an emergency, an accident, and only a leg can be reached: after the rescue, the person should be baptized conditionally. Bottom line: water must contact the head!
QUAERITUR: What if the water flows only on the hair of the head but not the skin?
If it runs on the hair of the head, the baptism is valid.
QUAERITUR: Does the water have to be poured, only poured?
No. Pouring, sprinkling and immersion or a combination of the three are possible for validity. However, the water must contact – say it together – the head.
Immersion: The water has to have contact with at least the back or base of – WHAT? – the head. Concerning babies and immersion, dipping, of just the “backside”. FAIL.
Sacraments have both matter and form. The matter of baptism is water (not something else) in contact with at least the head. The form is the speaking of the formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In my opinion it is best to do this in Latin, though approved translations are allowed. The form is absolutely essential. In no circumstance can it be altered. These words must be pronounced simultaneously with action of making the water contact the head. Not before. Not after. A good practice is to pour the water thrice, with the Names of the Persons of the Trinity, or continuously as the whole form is pronounced. That way there is no question about validity.
QUAERITUR: What about sponsors, godparents?
Having a godparent is important for baptism for liceity but not for validity. I am writing here about validity. I’ll leave godparent stuff for another post.
It is a constant source of amazement to me just how hard some priests find it to follow the book! Just do the red and say the black!
Well… I guess I do understand.
Priests are generally good-hearted men, even if some are dumb or have wacky ideas.
Sometimes priests err because they want to make the rite more “meaningful”. Sometimes they endure real pressure from poorly catechized lay people. Yes, it is good that they come to the church for these milestone moments. However, because their identity is tenuous at best, they want “meaningful” stuff put into the rite where it doesn’t belong. Priests sometimes cave in. Believe me, I understand the pressure. A bunch of people got really mad at me once because I wouldn’t interject goofy things they made up and wanted as part of the rite of baptism. Yes… there is pressure.
Some priests think they are doing something “more authentic” because they read somewhere that in the ancient Church baptism was by immersion. Liberal writers and workshops have fed them the line that if it is “pristine” then it must automatically be better. This is redolent of the false archeologizing Pius XII warned about in Mystici Corporis Christi and which the Church condemned when pushed by the infamous Synod of Pistoia. Just because something was done in the ancient Church, that doesn’t mean that it is better than what we do now. We’ve learned a few things along the way, after all, and therefore changed our practices.
So here is a message for priests about baptism, particularly by immersion:
If you are too dumb to do immersion properly, just don’t do it.
Otherwise, next time throw yourself into the immersion pool, preferably wearing a millstone.