ASK FATHER: Mom baptized my child in the bathtub

From a reader…


My five year old nephew, who wasn’t formally baptized as an infant (ie: with his parents’ permission, in a church, by a priest, etc). My mom baptized him in the bathtub (and didn’t tell anyone except me) and he’s been learning the Catholic faith, learning his prayers, he loves praying the Rosary, sits through Mass wonderfully and pays attention to what’s going on. He’s very intelligent, and despite only being 5 (and just turning 5 at that), I’m pretty sure he has the use of reason (he seems to know very well the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, etc).

Anyways, he has asked to be baptized and my mom spoke to the priest and told him that she baptized him in the bathtub. The priest told her that since it wasn’t an emergency, that baptism didn’t count [FAIL!] (not sure what he meant by “doesn’t count”, but I’m pretty sure my mom knows how to baptize validly, albeit illicitly). My understanding is that he would have to be baptized conditionally as opposed to baptized as if nothing had happened beforehand. What happens then if baptism is repeated? Is this something I need to worry about?

You should be able to sort this out fairly quickly.  Here’s what I would do.

To start, get your mother together with the priest and ascertain if your mother knows how to baptize.   Find out what she did.

Then you have three options.  First, if she didn’t baptize properly, then baptize the child absolutely.   Second, if she is squishy on the details and leaves you wondering about what she did, then baptize the child conditionally.  Third, if she baptized properly, then consider having the priest, using the traditional rite, “supply” the ceremonies that were omitted.  HERE

It was always the case that when baptism was administered in the case of necessity, or in the reception into the Church of adults or children, or in some situation like you described, the other ceremonies of the rite are to be supplied later by a priest.

Also, make sure that the fact of the baptism, etc., is recorded properly in the parish register.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Charivari Rob says:

    If the child’s parents are living, shouldn’t they be a part of that meeting with the priest?

  2. Malta says:

    I’m not trying to go too off-topic, but I think everyone should learn the right form of baptism (the only sacrament, except marriage-sort of-that lay people can confer) because I really do believe the s**t is about to hit the fan, and we’ll need people to baptize, because the Priests will be overwhelmed. Hey, this is not a conspiracy theory of my own making. I’ve read books on Our Lady’s message at Akita (which the local Bishop approved); we’re not talking about the end of the world, but a chastisement the likes of which the world has never seen. Even a Jewish journalist (who I greatly admire) wrote about a lights out scenario (cf. Light’s Out). [A good intro, along with Fortschen’s book HERE] And believe me, as I should know, having been in the Federal Government, the USG is very worried about such a scenario, which Koppel writes-based on sources-could kill 90% of us in one year.

    It is not something you ever want to imagine. He is speaking more of a cyber attack. But to tie in with Akita, I believe the “fire falling from the sky” will be a CME, or coronal mass ejection. If a Carrington Event (cf. were to happen today life on earth would be devastated; so, it’s not a bad idea to get some holy water, and learn how to baptize.

  3. APX says:

    For the sake of clarity, the priest seems to think that it has to be an emergency in order for the baptism to be valid.

    As to the parents, the mother isn’t baptized and the father (my brother) isn’t a practicing Catholic. When my nephew was born, knowing what he was being born into, I had a Mass offered for him that he would be baptized and things seem to be unfolding.

  4. Thank you, you beat me to it. I agree that the details and validity of the bathtub baptism need to be ascertained, the sooner the better. However, my understanding is that a child of 5 cannot seek baptism on his own initiative as he is under the age of reason. His parents would have to seek it for him. The grandmother and uncle (aunt?) need to inform the parents what is going on, in my opinion. Unless there is a guardianship situation not stated in the post, of course.

  5. Charivari Rob says:

    In the absence of an emergency, it is the parents’ prerogative (until the child is of an age to ask) – not the grandmother’s.

    [Let’s keep in mind that children really should be baptized in church by the priest.]

  6. APX says:

    FWIW: the mother is fine with it, but she’s not baptized. My brother is/was. He may be softening it up to it now that my nephew is starting Catholic School in the Fall.

  7. Ave Maria says:

    Having taught baptism classes for years, we taught about how to baptize in an emergency. It is not difficult and folks should be aware….in the case of those emergencies.

  8. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    How much bubble bath does it take for the water to cease to be valid matter for baptism?

  9. hwriggles4 says:

    I asked a good priest a few years ago about baptism, not long after a conversation with a Baptist friend.

    We have quite a few converts to Catholicism in the South from mainline Protestant traditions (i.e. Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Church of Christ primarily) who were baptized in their faith tradition. If the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit ” were used, that a valid Trinitarian baptism. Some converts know they were baptized as infants (relatives remember this), but many times the convert cannot remember the “proper wording” used at the Baptism. Therefore, some converts are baptized again when entering the Catholic Church as a “way of having a record that yes, they were baptized in the name of the Trinity.

    This same priest also mentioned that many Protestant denominations do not keep complete baptismal records like the Catholics do, although this priest did say that LCMS (Lutheran Missouri Synod) was good at record keeping.

    Note: When I mention Protestant brethren, I speak of them respectfully, particularly Baptists. My dad is Methodist, and growing up, most of my friends were either practicing Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, and I did have one Jewish friend (a family across the street) and a few Catholic friends. I do admit as a kid I envied some of my Protestant friends because in junior high they spent two weeks at church camp (usually co-ed) and I didn’t have a church camp (or didn’t know of one) to attend.

  10. JesusFreak84 says:

    If I were the priest, I think I would do a conditional baptism regardless of if it offended the grandmother, simply for the sake of the child’s peace of mind over the years and to avoid future wrinkles when it comes time for other Sacraments. May as well smooth this over now in case some DRE in the future wants to be a pistol.

  11. Charivari Rob says:

    Agreed, Father.

    My point was that in the absence of an emergency, it is the parents’ prerogative (not anybody else’s) to arrange for baptism.

  12. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    Baptizing is easy. It isn’t like non-linear differential equations!

    This is arguably the simplest “thing” in the Church… Jesus did it. Jesus told us how to do it. That there is any confusion on this issue shows how bad catechesis in the Church is today.

  13. Dear YoungLatinMassGuy,

    That Our Lord taught the Apostles how to baptize is clear. But it is not clear that he ever baptized anyone himself.

    The only text that suggests that Our Lord may have baptized (John 3: 22) is ambiguous. And is clarified latter (John 4: 2) that it was the Disciples, not Jesus, who was doing the baptizing. So, although it is not impossible that Our Lord baptized, there is no scripture evidence for this, nor, as far as I know, any suggestion that he did in tradition (the Fathers).

    He does, of course, baptize today, because it is he who performs all the sacraments, through the agency of the minister acting in persona Christi.

  14. Malta says:

    @Fr. Z [A good intro, along with Fortschen’s book HERE] Well, of course the Russians and Chinese are already in our power grids (cf. This article doesn’t tell half of what’s really going on; the Russians and Chinese already have “kill switches” that could turn off our electricity tomorrow embedded in our grids. Much like Stuxnet they are incredibly sophisticated.

  15. paulchandler19 says:

    I’m confused. Where is the emergency that permits a lay person to baptise? I thought it was danger of death that was the emergency that permitted this.

  16. Charivari Rob says:

    Ah – much clearer, thank you.

  17. Traductora says:

    The anxious poster’s mother (great aunt of the child) probably knows that prior to VII and for a few years after, everybody was taught to baptize in an emergency. Nurses used to baptize newborns in the hospital right after birth if it didn’t look like the child was going to make it.

    If there was doubt at a later date about whether or not a child had already been baptized, the priest would do a “conditional baptism,” since Baptism is a sacrament that cannot be repeated. Maybe NuChurch no longer does this…or maybe it no longer cares about baptism anyway.

  18. rhhenry says:

    Confusion abounds about baptism by laity. My father once told me, in all seriousness, that when he was a child (mid to late 1940s), “all children were automatically baptized in the hospital” by nurses or other medical staff. Knowing that couldn’t be right, but not knowing how to correct him gently, I leadingly asked, “So, what was the point of the Church ceremony later?” His serious reply was, “Oh, that was just for show. For the parents or whoever else came.”

    Of course, this was near the end of a conversation wherein he tried to convince me that we should delay the baptism of one of our children to a more convenient time for far-away family to come. We didn’t. And we believe that was the right choice.

  19. trekkie4christ says:

    The age of reason isn’t a set number, but rather a requirement for evaluation of the child. In canon law a child is presumed to have the use of reason by age 7, but a particularly bright child could attain use of reason earlier. Given the description the aunt/uncle provided, this child likely understands what baptism is and could validly request it. It is up to the priest involved to evaluate the situation for himself. All this being said, it is still very important to involve the parents, since they presumably will have a great deal of influence on the child and the growth of his Christian values and practices.

  20. trekkie4christ says:

    Canon 861 §2: When an ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or another person designated for this function by the local ordinary, or in a case of necessity any person with the right intention, confers baptism licitly. Pastors of souls, especially the pastor of a parish, are to be concerned that the Christian faithful are taught the correct way to baptize.

    Can. 862 Except in a case of necessity, no one is permitted to confer baptism in the territory of another without the required permission, not even upon his own subjects.

    Because the code speaks about permission rather than validity, we can’t assume that the baptism isn’t valid, although it was illicitly performed.

Comments are closed.