From a priest…
Are partial immersion baptisms valid?
Where the baby is dipped up to the waist 3x, with valid words of baptism spoken.
Here’s the deal.
The “proximate matter” of baptism is ablution. This means physical contact of the water and the person’s body. The ablution symbolizes outwardly what happenes in the soul.
There are different ways to accomplish this ablution. There is dipping or immersion (immersio), pouring (infusio) or sprinkling (aspersio).
The immersion does not, apparently, even have to be a three-fold immersion. Pope Gregory the Great, in a letter to the Church in Spain, permitted a single immersion. According to Ott’s helpful book this was to symbolize against the Arians the unity of the divine substance of the Trinity.
However, in all cases, the water must flow on the head.
I have had to write about this in the past. Hence, back when I consulted a friend of mine who worked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about validity of baptism when the water a) does not touch the head or b) flows only on the hair, and doesn’t touch the skin of the head. In the case of b) yes, that is valid. However, in the case of a) there are big problems.
If the water does not touch the head, at least the hair of the head, the baptism is invalid.
However, it is possible to find in some manuals – and we like manual – that if water touches, say, only the shoulder, the baptism could be valid. The far away from the head, the more doubtful. In all those cases where the water touched something other than the head, there should be a conditional baptism. Consider: in an emergency where someone is stuck in a hole and you can only reach a leg, and water is poured on the leg, that baptism is doubtful and should be repeated conditionally.
That’s why I wrote to my friend in the CDF with the question. He responded: water must flow on or touch the head, at least the hair of the head.
To be sure, the water should be poured in enough quantity and on a place of the head where there is exposed skin, while the Trinitarian form is recited: “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, directly on bare skin of the head. That way there is no question about validity.
There is no reason to FOOL AROUND WITH SACRAMENTS!
Bishops would do well to quiz priests about how to baptize. Some might find this insulting, but I have heard some pretty crazy things. It may be that men trained – this includes permanent deacons, by the way – in certain places during certain years 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… remedial summer camp. No air-conditioning or screens on the windows until they can demonstrate that they know the words and actions.